Many students and professionals at all stages in their careers are seeking guidance about planning their futures, gaining experience, and setting themselves up for success. Mentorship and coaching are one of the most valuable aspects of any educational path.
And who better to give career advice than the Chief Executive Officer of a high-profile global coaching and mentoring firm?
David Reimer leads the ExCo Group, a global firm of experienced CEOs, independent directors, and global business leaders. The firm provides executive mentoring for organizations around the world.
David is an expert when it comes to leadership, living your values, mentorship, and many other essential elements of business success. He shared some of his best advice and experiences with Johanna and Paul on an episode of The Intern Group’s Podcast How to be the Difference. You can listen to the full episode here.
Advice on Mentorship
While the work ExCo Group focuses on higher-level executives, mentorship can apply at every level in your career, David said.
He highlighted the difference between a mentor, and a coach, and said that while many people believe them to be similar, the relationship is quite different.
A coach is someone who will ask you good questions, David said. Questions that force you to step back, to look and think about things from new angles, to try new things, and challenge yourself.
“A mentor should do that, but a mentor also needs to bring other things to the table,” he explained.
For example, mentors have a network of people they can connect you with to help you answer those questions when you can’t find the answer yourself. A mentor is someone who doesn’t just ask questions, but critiques and advises you, and is willing to push back, David said.
A mentor has a personal interest in you, a personal stake in your success, and is probably willing to take some level of career risk on you. Finding mentorship and coaching advice from them has highly beneficial value in the long run.
Finding a Mentor
The process of finding a mentor who can give you mentorship and coaching guidance can be uncomfortable for people on both sides of the relationship, David said. For example, most people wouldn’t walk up to a relative stranger and say “ I really admire you, will you be my mentor?”
David advises people to take the word “mentor” off the table. If there’s someone you greatly respect, and whose advice you would listen to, approach them and ask them to get a cup of coffee, to pick their brain for a few minutes, he says.
The mentor/mentee relationship often develops slowly over time, so don’t try to rush things. See how that first coffee conversation goes, and expect to share about yourself and to ask questions about them.
“People like to know that you’re interested in them and their story,” David said.
If that conversation goes well, David recommends a closing question. “I want to be incredibly respectful of your time, but would you be open to meeting with me once a quarter? I’ve learned so much today.”
Once you have established a mentor, you start to invest in one another, David explains. “There’s a slow, organic model that’s about caring about the person on the other side of the table, and being willing to listen to them.”
David knows a lot about leadership. A leader himself, he now works with leaders from different industries every day. He interviews them, reviews their profiles, learns from them, and also selects certain leaders to be mentors at ExCo Group.
He presented a few key pieces of advice about what the best leaders have in common:
Whether a company’s leader is present affects everything, David said. It affects the lives of employees, investors, and their families. The difference between someone who stays engaged when times get hard, and someone who distances themselves is night and day, David explained.
To be an effective leader you also have to be a voracious learner, he said. The best leaders are constantly learning and trying to better themselves. And on the other hand, you have to be able to unlearn, David explained.
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That ability is a distinguishing characteristic of leaders that wasn’t as true five or ten years ago. However, it has become incredibly evident and important in the wake of the immense change brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, he said.
When David asks a CEO about what they learned during the pandemic, he says he’s also listening for what they unlearned, and how they dealt with that change.
Untitled, by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash
Don Kao, by Monica Melton on Unsplash.