Most of us have had a special person in our lives who made a big difference. The person who when we were young told us we could when we thought we couldn’t, who helped us see things from different angles when we were stuck, who saw things in us that we couldn’t see in ourselves and who encouraged us to move beyond where we were to someplace better.
Whether that person was a teacher, a grandparent, an older brother, a counsellor, they were in the truest sense of the word, a mentor. The question is, if it worked for you when you were a kid, could it work now?
Mentoring has enormous potential to change lives, increase productivity, reveal answers to difficult questions, encourage growth and nurture self-esteem. Sadly, most adults still think mentoring as the purview of the young.
Webster’s definition of a mentor is “a wise and faithful advisor”, and who couldn’t use one of those in life, or in business? Mentoring, as it relates to small business, is a relationship with someone more experienced in business than you. Someone you trust and whose successes and integrity you admire. Someone you have faith in, can talk to, ask advice of, and get honest feedback from.
Mentoring relationships can be set solely around business. Meetings take place regularly, they are structured and focused on issues and results. This type of relationship appeals to people who don’t have a lot of time, who have directive personalities and who don’t like mixing business with pleasure. Clear boundaries are evident and the relationship is issue-driven. The mentor offers advice on specific problems or concerns the mentee is experiencing in his or her business, guides future decisions, and counsels on any other aspects of the business experience. The mentor draws on his or her own successes and failures to provide guidance to the mentee.
Mentoring relationships can also be informal, where the mentor and mentee are more like friends than business associates. Meetings take place regularly but are less structured and focus on all aspects of home and business life. Meetings are casual in nature and may take place over a walk in the park, or a coffee, as opposed to a boardroom. Guidance, counsel, advice and wisdom are imparted to the mentee on all issues relevant to their lives. This type of mentoring is relationship-driven and appeals to people who have a more casual approach to business, people who don’t mind their business and personal lives mixing a little and who learn better from relationships than from structured meetings.
Make a list of all the people you’ve come in contact with who you respect. Think all the way back to teachers or professors, leaders of associations you belong to, churches you’ve attended, boards you’ve sat on, or organizations you’ve worked for. Think about other business people you’ve met or worked with. Think of all the activities you’ve been part of, charities you’ve contributed to or worked for, or even people you’ve just admired over the years for their wisdom. As you begin to write these names down, you’ll find some immediately appeal to you as you think about yourself relating to them, and gleaning wisdom from them.
Once you’ve come up with two or three you feel strongly about, simply ask them if they’d be interesting in mentoring you for a period of time (choose a start and end date). Let them know what kinds of things you’d like to see as part of the relationship and what you hope to gain from it, along with what time commitment you are looking for. Choose someone:
Having someone to talk to outside of your business, someone who you can run ideas past, who is unbiased, honest, and whose experience and integrity you value can be one of the biggest assets your business possesses. Find the right mentor and take your business to new heights.