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Why You Should Enlist a Business Mentor, Or Be One

Posted on the 15 May 2017 by Martin Zwilling @StartupPro

mentor-menteeBuilding a business is not rocket science, so there is no magic success formula. Some people think you need to get an MBA to get it right, while others are convinced that those who drop out of school early (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg) have the advantage. In my experience working with startups, the best approach these days is to find and use a good mentor (been there, done that).

Of course, mentoring is not new – it’s been the favored way to learn arts and crafts since way back in the middle ages. And I certainly believe that running a new business is more an art than a science. Yet in this age of technology, many seem to favor tools and data to get the edge, or can’t find the time to talk to real people. But I assert that mentoring in business is making a comeback.

In fact, the best mentoring doesn’t have to be a huge time sink, and can be done most often by short but regular discussions and message exchanges. I just finished a new book that highlights this approach, “One Minute Mentoring,” by the legendary business consultant Ken Blanchard, in concert with Claire Diaz-Ortiz. They detail the key action steps required, including the following:

  1. Agree on the objectives and vision up front (Mission). A mentor/mentee relationship must be a win-win and learning experience for both. Each time I mentor an entrepreneur, I learn new things about their technology, customers, and business domain. Just like any partner agreement, it minimizes misunderstands to have objectives written down early.

  2. Set a regular schedule and way to share (Engagement). Determine the type of engagement that works best for your personalities and other commitments. Good mentoring partnerships require both the flexibility to engage in digital communication and the power of in-person meetings when possible. Meetings can be informal or structured.

  3. Expand your network on both sides (Networking). A key value of mentoring is getting access to each other’s networks, who can be new business partners or new mentors. True business leadership is more about relationships and knowing who knows, rather than personally knowing all the answers. Shared social media is the new networking.

  4. Build and maintain a trusting partner relationship (Trust). Building trust takes time, but it can be destroyed in an instant. It starts with always telling the truth, staying connected, and being dependable. A good mentor won’t always tell you what you want to hear, but rather what you need to hear, but always with courtesy and respect.

  5. Create opportunities for your mentee to grow (Opportunity). As a mentoring partner, you will have access to personal and business opportunities that simply aren’t available to non-mentors and non-mentees. These opportunities can be cross-generational, which is an excellent way to exchange and compare time-tested as well as new knowledge.

  6. Regularly review progress and adjust focus (Review and Renewal). You will never get to where you want to go if you don’t have a roadmap, and you’ll never know if you have arrived if you don’t take checkpoints. These days, flexibility and agility to meet new customer requirements is a key to success. Practice how to do this with your mentor.

Most people don’t realize that even the most successful people in business have benefited from mentors, and don’t try to dodge or hide these relationships. Bill Gates often refers to his ongoing relationship with Warren Buffett as a mentor, and Mark Zuckerberg counted Steve Jobs as a key mentor. I wonder who the lucky people are who now count Gates or Zuckerberg as their mentor?

Some people ask me about the difference between a coach and a mentor. In my view, coaches focus on bringing out the best in an individual’s generic skills, while a mentor adds the element of sharing information about the industry, company, or business unit that the mentor believes is relevant to the mentee. Good mentors also must be role models and advocates for the mentee.

If all these points are already clear to you, then it’s probably time for you move from the role of mentee to the role of mentor for someone else. Those who extend a helping hand to others always have much to gain, in business as well as their own personal satisfaction. In the words of an ancient Buddhist proverb, “If you light a lamp for someone, it will also brighten your own path.”


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