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How to find and what to expect from a mentor

Maybe  I just hadn’t noticed until recently but it seems that every other person I meet either has a mentor or is a mentor!

So I recently caught up with executive coach Lindsay Paterson to find out about what people should look for in a mentor/life coach.

Ben Smith: What are the advantages to an individual of getting a coach?
Lindsay Patterson: Bill Gates says everyone should have a coach! I think that having a coach quite simply helps you to do better quicker and to keep on doing better through challenging times and difficult circumstances.

I tend to work with two distinct categories of people – established leaders, and rising stars who are stepping into leadership roles, and the advantages for the two groups are quite different.

With established leaders, I act as a sounding board; someone who the leader can trust and be really honest with, right down to discussing what’s keeping them awake at night. It’s lonely at the top, and regular sessions with a coach give you time to reflect, as well as the feedback and confidence you need to perform at your best. Sometimes it’s a bit like business therapy!

With rising stars, I help them to deliver on new expectations around business focus, to understand how they should be spending their time in a new leadership role, and to develop their management skills. It’s often all about confidence or imposter syndrome and it can be a bit like a mini personalised MBA.

BS: Should a coach always be someone who has held a senior position in your area of work?
LP: It’s comforting for a lot of people that the coach knows their business and the way their industry works, but a good coach should be able to coach anyone. It’s not about what you know, but about being honest about what you see and hear, and having the courage and insight to ask challenging questions.

BS: What's the best way of finding a coach?
LP: Probably word of mouth. People won’t always tell you that they have a coach, but if you say that you’re interested in working with one, you’ll probably find that someone in your circle can recommend one. If not, then I would recommend going to one of the professional bodies such as the Association for Coaching. Anyone can call themselves a coach, but I think it’s essential to go for someone with a professional qualification and a commitment to a code of ethics.

BS: How much should a coach cost?
LP: That’s a hard one! I vary my pricing depending on the level of the person I’m working with. As a rule of thumb, you should be prepared to pay your coach at around your own hourly rate, or the rate you pay your other senior professional advisers. If you trust them and they help you to do better, they’re worth the investment.

BS: What should you get for your money (in terms of tangible deliverables)?
LP: An action plan which helps you to lead effectively and deliver results for the business. Increased confidence. Better management skills. Increased self-awareness. An ability to see things from other perspectives and make better decisions. You should also be less stressed and more able to cope with the everyday challenges of the role. ‘Aha’ moments.

BS: How long should the coaching sessions last? Do these need to be face to face?
LP: The typical pattern is to start with five, two-hour sessions about a month apart. But I also deliver coaching sessions of an hour, and have a client who has signed me up for a full year. Face to face is good, but I also coach by phone, Facetime or Skype.

BS: How do people know whether a coach/potential coach is any good?
LP: The results usually speak for themselves. I know it’s gone well when people leave sessions saying ‘that was great – I feel so much clearer now’ or with an action plan that they’ve developed during the session, which they’re itching to implement. They often come back to the next session excited to talk about what they’ve achieved. And the ultimate proof is that they and their businesses do better quicker.

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