The word mentor has its roots in Greek mythology. It was the name of Athena disguised as a trusted adviser to the young Telemachus. Sometime between then and now the name stuck and usually these days refers to a trusted and experienced advisor, mostly in business relationships.
Having a business mentor is one of the things in life that those that most need it – either don’t know about it or don’t know how to find one; and those that we would consider as least needing one i.e. they are already successful – almost without fail currently have or have had one in the past, because they know and understand the value a good advisor brings.
So while most young entrepreneurs may smirk and be a little nonchalant at the thought of needing to find a business mentor, an older and wiser person will put them right by explaining that if you want to do better at what you do, advance your career, try a new venture, increase the chances of your start-up’s survival, etc. – you need a mentor. Someone you admire, in whose footsteps you want to follow, someone who can provide you with the guidance you won’t find anywhere else.
So after years of helping countless friends, friends of friends and now people I meet through my business here is what I have come to believe and would love start-up entrepreneurs to hear.
1. A business mentor is someone who must have experience and a proven track record.
Depending on what you are looking for, he/she does not necessarily have to hail from within your industry. What they must have regardless, is the experience to be able to help you navigate difficult situations, help you find long-term strategies, stop you from making some mistakes, guide you and help you accelerate your growth. Whatever you’re going through, there’s a good chance that your mentor has been there already.
2. A business mentor is not someone who works for you
or in your business, nor is he/she a business coach. They won’t or shouldn’t tell you what to do and absolve you of your responsibility. A mentor is someone whose breadth of experience and all the failures and wins accumulated over the span of their career allows them to act as a sounding board to you and bring an unbiased opinion and new perspectives. A mentor can help you look at situations in new ways, ask hard questions and help you solve problems, keep you focused and get you to see the bigger picture and set clear goals.
3. Mutual trust and respect are paramount
The relationship between a mentor and mentee is a personal one, based on a mutual understanding – and is entered into on a voluntary basis. Mentors don’t get paid for what they do, and cannot be forced to become one. Mentors mentor because they want to share what they have learnt (often the hard way); because they wish to help those following in their footsteps the way they were helped or perhaps because they wish they had that kind of help when they were starting out. Once that trust and respect are there, your mentor will become your ally and supporter, your challenger and defender.
4. If the trust and respect are there, a good business mentor can expand your network of contacts
and business acquaintances; they can open doors and make new introductions to influential people in your field.
Related reading: How to Network even if you Hate it?
5. A mentor will be responsible and will hold you accountable
Setting goals and reaching them is pivotal to the success of your business and the mentoring relationship. A mentor is not some friend to whom you can over-promise and under-deliver.
But let’s face it – finding any business mentor, let alone a good one, is not easy. If you decide you want to have one, then start with evaluating your own network and trying to find an advisor among your contacts and connections. If that exercise fails to land you one, then perhaps approach someone you know of and admire. If you don’t ask the answer will always be a “no” so it’s worth a try, right? And if you for whatever reason cannot yet find one – then perhaps do as I did – use all the bad bosses you’ve had in the past and all the wrongs they did, the many examples of bad business you have witnessed, and other people’s mistakes and failures, act as a form of mentorship for you.
A sort of reverse psychology of how not to be, how not to act, what not to do. Being an avid observer and open to learning from the mistakes made by others is a powerful short-term form of mentorship and may be just as helpful to you as the real deal.
And remember, once you’ve found a good business mentor, don’t let it be just a one-way street. Always end your meetings by asking, “Is there anything I can help you with?”