Take five seconds and think of your ideal mentor or coach. OK. Who did you think of?
Whether we’re 15 or 55, most of us probably thought of someone older than ourselves. That makes sense, because we tend to value mentoring most when it comes from someone who has more experience and expertise. Accumulated knowledge typically comes with age.
I’ve sought out mentors, coaches and advisers since I was 18, which was when I started my life’s adventure of writing, speaking and being an entrepreneur. But not until this past week did it occur to me that all my mentors, coaches and advisers were older than I was—and many were 20, 30 or almost 50 years my senior.
Their experience, beliefs and perspective changed the course of my life. I am grateful for them every single day. But life gives us a unique lens through which we perceive our world, think and make decisions.
So what if we turned this paradigm on its head and sought out coaches younger than we are? What would they help us see that we hadn’t considered before? What if we’re missing out on younger people who could turn out to be exactly the wise experts we’re looking for?
With the encouragement of a trusted friend, I did exactly that. It started when my friend hired a business coach who helped him dramatically grow his $20 million company in one year. You can imagine my surprise when I met the fabled coach, and he was younger than I am—and I’m not that old!
It turns out this younger coach was exactly what I needed. In fact, I found that having coaches or advisers younger and older offers an ideal balance and is a learning experience in itself. Finding a coach, mentor or adviser who is younger than you could be a great experiment for you, too. Furthermore, it opens the door for younger experts to not only give back, but also to honor their predecessors who paved the way.
Here are five steps for you to find a great coach, whether younger or older:
1. Identify one “accomplished” person in the professional area in which you want to grow.
2. Try different approaches to find the right coach. First ask friends and people you respect if they can recommend a coach or adviser. You can also search online for coaches and advisers with the expertise you want. I prefer in-person coaching sessions, but you might be fine with a phone call or Skype session.
3. Meet the coach to ask about his style and approach. Some use a defined system or process, some are certified by an organization, and others have a more organic approach. Interview at least three coaches before making a decision. Keep in mind that just because someone claims to be a coach doesn’t mean the fit is right for you. Always speak to a coaching candidate’s references.
4. Start small. Don’t sign a long-term contract until you’ve had a few sessions. Coaches may not like this, but it’s always better to test-drive before you buy.
5. Stick with it. Good coaches will challenge you. That’s their job! You’re probably not going to grow until you get uncomfortable.
In my case, choosing a younger coach opened my eyes on where I can find wisdom. As one of my mentors told me, age is not a number as much as it is a point of view.