Image of a magnified spotlight in a book reading "Mentor"

As CEO of a growing business, I use every tool at my disposal to support my company’s vision as well as be an example to my team. One of the best ways to grow personally and professionally is to surround yourself with a network of trusted advisors — people to reach out to regularly who will help you through the challenges every business owner faces. However, there’s an art and a science to selecting these valuable mentors who can help you realize your company’s vision.

Look Inside Your Existing Network

When I started my entrepreneurial endeavors, I did what most new business owners do when choosing my informal board of directors. I purposefully called on those within my existing circle of friends and reached out to family members. These are the people who knew me best, understood my passion, and would support me through those early days of my business.

When building your inner circle of advisors, it’s important to include people who know you well – who have a long history with you and understand how you work best. Because of this long-standing relationship, you can rest assured that their pearls of wisdom will resonate with you. While it may be tempting to choose the “smartest person in the room” to guide your business operations, not having a personal relationship can potentially do more harm than good as you may be swayed by their expertise and ignore your instincts.

Know Yourself and Your Business

Speaking of instincts, one of the critical factors in choosing a mentor is having a solid sense of self. Just as you conduct research on your competition, you should do the same with yourself. Spending time in personal discovery will provide insights into things like your preferred work style, how you function best in relationships, what type of risk-taker you are, and how much core business knowledge you possess.

Identifying your business knowledge deficits will better guide you in your selection of advisors. If finance or marketing are not your strong suits, you can search for experts in these areas to guide you. Knowing yourself fully will also help you cull through the many suggestions you’ll receive and land on those that’ll work best for you. The best mentors share insights and guidelines, not checklists for you to follow. The role of a trusted advisor is to provide guidance, not to provide all of the answers.

Look Outside Your Comfort Zone

In the beginning, it is comforting to surround yourself with people who know, yet as an entrepreneur you always have to be willing to look outside your comfort zone. The same holds true for choosing a new mentor. A few years ago, I joined the Young President’s Organization, a group comprised of like-minded business owners who recognize the importance of sharing experiences, insights, and lessons with others. This organization has provided me with the opportunity for valuable relationships with a variety of business experts.

It’s important for my team to see that I continue to grow my support network. This dispels the “lone ranger” myth so many employees have of their leaders. It also empowers them knowing that it’s completely acceptable and encouraged that they too ask for help when needed. No one goes it alone and as a leader, it’s your job to set the example.

Just as athletes need coaches to help them improve their game, leaders also need valuable mentors to help them elevate their expertise and achieve their business goals. Surround yourself with a variety of trusted advisors who will challenge you to step out of your comfort zone – these advisors will make a difference for your business, your team, and yourself.

Kristen Bunnell

Innovative CEO, Expert Business Manager, Entrepreneur