The Value of a Mentor
Mentor-mentee partnerships have, for centuries, been at the heart of thriving, forward-thinking civilizations and businesses. Think, for example, of how Homo heidelbergensis (+300,000 years ago) taught their children how to use tools and make fire, or the mentorship relationship between Plato and his pupil, Greek philosopher and polymath Aristotle. Vincent van Gogh was mentored by Jean-Francois Millet, and more recently, we have the famous mentor-mentee relationship between Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.
In our personal lives, we all have someone whom we look up to or lean on in times of uncertainty. In business, it should be no different. There is great value in having a mentor for your startup or existing company. Someone whom you can consult when in doubt or when you lack the necessary knowledge or skills to see a deal through. “Today, we use the word mentor for anyone who is a positive, guiding influence in another (usually younger) person’s life.” – Merriam-Webster Dictionary
There are all kinds of mentors: writing mentors, self-development mentors, business and startup mentors, you name it. The essence of a mentor remains the same, though, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Synonyms: Counsel, guide, coach, shepherd, tutor.
The word “mentor” originated in the time of Homer, a Greek author, and his work, the Odyssey, written around the end of the 8th century BC.
Homer writes of Mentor, the son of Asopis and Heracules and a friend of Odysseus (the Greek hero and king of the island of Ithaca), whom Odysseus asked to oversee and teach his son, Telemachus, while he (Odysseus) was fighting in the war in Troy.
Over time, the word “mentor” became associated with the transference of knowledge, information, and skills to someone less experienced.
The Value Created
Benjamin Disraeli, a British politician who was twice prime minister (1804-1881), famously said: “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.”
To me, that is one of the most important aspects when mentoring – helping business owners and startups find their own riches, their own knowledge, and their own success through working together and sharing information and expertise. As the wise saying goes, “Two minds are often better than one.”
Why Even Consider a Mentor for Your Startup or Company?
The value a mentor can create is priceless. Think, for example, of one or two businesspeople whom you admire – did they have mentors? I can guarantee that 85% of all successful individuals today consulted one or more mentors during their lifetime.
There is tremendous value in the transference of knowledge, information, and skills from someone who has more wisdom and experience to another person who is willing to learn and grow. Through this transference of information, several things can happen:
- Accelerated Learning
A mentor can help you accelerate your learning experience in your chosen industry since knowledge and expertise are shared and transferred from a more experienced individual who has already achieved success in the industry.
- Objective Observation & Guidance
A mentor can also help you examine your own values, beliefs, mission, and goals in life and business.
Often, we are so blinded by our convictions and beliefs that we don’t see the truth of the matter. Having another person look from the outside in can provide one with more objective alternatives. You, the mentee, can then use the mentor’s advice and feedback to either improve or alter your goals, mission, vision, and beliefs to create more successful outcomes.
- Improved Perspective on Shortcomings
A mentor can help you understand your shortcomings and either help you overcome these or show you how to hire skilled and knowledgeable employees and managers who can do what you can’t.
- Professional Experience
Due to a mentor’s years of experience in a field, they are able to guide and help you when obstacles and difficulties arise.
- Invaluable Expertise
Expertise gained over years of experience is more valuable than any algorithm. When you consult a mentor, you gain access to a wealth of expertise not available in any book, on the Internet, or via an algorithm.
The Mentoring Relationship
The mentoring relationship is not a charitable situation or a hand-holding event but a partnership built on trust, respect, and taking action.
The basis of a successful mentoring relationship is the transference of knowledge, information, and expertise. What the mentee does with the information they glean from their mentor is their responsibility. The mentee has to take personal responsibility for their action or i-action when working with a mentor. A mentor might supply the mentee with a wealth of knowledge and information, but the mentee might not apply it. A mentee should be proactive, honest and truthful with themselves and their mentor, willing to learn, and open to being challenged.
The mentor, in turn, needs to be patient, supportive, encouraging, and empowering, an excellent communicator and teacher, an active listener, and a partner who continues to challenge the mentee.
Principle Attributes of a Successful Mentoring Relationship
Building a successful mentor-mentee partnership requires both the mentor and mentee to embrace the following attributes:
The mentor needs to have the desire to teach someone with less experience.
Patience is the key to most everything in life. Successful mentors have a lot of patience.
- Relevant Experience & Availability
A mentor shares relevant experiences and information with a mentee and ensures he/she is available for consultation and advice when the mentee needs it.
- Skill in Developing Others
A mentor is, in essence, a teacher who imparts practical and applicable knowledge. A mentor thus has to have the ability to communicate well with his/her mentee as communication forms the basis of transferring knowledge and information to the mentee.
- Trust & Respect
Trust and respect are two of the most important building blocks of a successful mentor-mentee partnership. Successful mentors have respect for their mentees and afford them the trust and time they need to learn and grow individually.
- Allowing the Mentee to Grow & Find Their Own Path
It is not the job of a mentor to hold the hand of their mentee all the time. A mentor provides insight, advice, guidance, and advanced knowledge, but the mentee has to take the next steps to improve themselves and their business by absorbing this new knowledge and processing relevant information.
The mentee needs to have the desire to learn from someone more knowledgeable.
The mentee who has the patience to learn without his/her ego getting in the way will be the most successful.
- Commitment & Availability
The mentee needs to commit to a learning experience from his/her mentor. Without commitment, failure ensues.
- Specific Goals
Having a list of personal and business goals is extremely important before starting a mentor-mentee relationship. The mentee has to commit to setting goals and have an actionable plan to achieve those goals
- Trust & Respect
Without trust, all relationships break down. It is no different with mentor-mentee relationship. The most successful mentees trust that their mentors have their best interest at heart and afford their mentors the respect that they deserve.
- Willingness to Ask for Help, Openness & Teachability
The famous saying “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” is so true. A mentee has to ask for help and be open and teachable – even if they don’t always agree with their mentor.
- Personal Responsibility & Accountability
A mentor can do only so much. To be successful, a mentee has to take personal responsibility for their own learning, actions, and failures.
The mentor-mentee relationship has, for centuries, helped the next generation of entrepreneurs and startup owners overcome the knowledge and experience gap, decision-making difficulties, and the challenge of raising capital. If you’ve done everything you can in your business but are still hitting a wall, consider finding and working with a mentor. You might be surprised by how much value you gain.