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How finding a great mentor could help you to grow, and your business to flourish

August 18, 2015

If you could have lunch with any businessman or woman in the world, (alive or dead), to discuss your commercial/professional situation, whom would you choose – and why?

Chances are that you’d choose someone you admire or are intrigued by, perhaps because of their achievements, their values or their reputation/personal brand.

Most of us recognise the need to learn from the life experience and wisdom of others. We also aspire to accelerate the pace towards our own success, or at least smooth a few of the bumps in the road. A business mentor can be an invaluable asset to enable us to identify relevant principles of success and adapt them for our own situations and use.

Much of what makes a good mentor for you is your own understanding of what you are looking for as you develop your business. Your own self-awareness and sense of priorities is key to finding the right mentor, and to helping them to focus with you on the right things.

Test your own mentoring goals

Whom would you choose from the following as a mentor to offer you wise counsel and guidance for your business success?

  • Lord Sugar
  • Mary Berry
  • Jamie Oliver
  • Deborah Meaden
  • James Dyson

Actually, it matters less whom you chose and more why you would choose them. Your reason for choosing them is a projection of who you think this person is, and what qualities you aspire to. The person you choose may also change depending on your needs at the time.

Think about your chosen mentor from the list, or one that you have chosen yourself, and try these two activities:

  • What qualities does the person have that you feel drawn towards? Pick at least one or two which inspire you. Perhaps you are drawn to Mary Berry’s gentle strength, or Lord Sugar’s apparent unwavering self-belief. Maybe you’re excited by James Dyson’s willingness to challenge the norm, or Deborah Meaden’s determination to only make choices that are right for her.
  • Now reflect on your own tendency to express that quality, e.g. if you’ve chosen determination, how much more determined could you be and what would be the benefits of that? Chances are that the qualities you’ve chosen are where you have a gap in your current performance, and closing that gap would help you and your business.

How do I recognise my mentors?

In film, fiction and everyday life, people who express the mentor archetype are all around you. Consider Professor Dumbledore’s role in Harry Potter’s quest to defeat Voldemort, or Saul Berenson’s support for Carrie Mathison in the TV series Homeland.

Whether it’s Mister Miyagi for The Karate Kid, or Obi-Wan Kenobi for Luke Skywalker, we see what mentors do for others. Here’s some ways to spot your own:

  • During your childhood, excluding your parents, who had a positive influence on how you see the world?
  • In your youth, was there a particular teacher, family relation or friend who you would credit with having taught you lessons in life that you are grateful for?
  • During your career, who has had a positive influence on how you operate professionally?
  • What relationships do you have right now that appear to fit the criteria of mentorship? For example, someone you respect, someone you learn from, a relationship that feels ‘personal’ in a positive way?

The everyday presence of mentors is so natural, so normal, that we almost don’t notice them. Yet they are hugely important in shaping our world, how we think and what we believe. Mentoring is a relationship of productive support and positive influence where your thinking and actions are shaped by your exposure to someone else.

In practical terms, mentoring is defined more by the nature of the relationship than the activities within it. The importance is in the impact that person has upon you and your thinking whether you meet often or infrequently, face to face or not.

A mentor is related to a part of your journey

When we consider the classic mentors, such as Dumbledore, Mary Poppins, etc. we also realise another truth of mentoring; namely that mentors are passing features of our quest towards success.

Your own mentors will come and go, being more or less relevant to you during formative periods such as when you launch your business or expand your product range. It’s certainly possible that you may know your mentors all your life, but they will be more or less active in that role during that time.

When you know why you want a mentor, you’ll also be able to know when your relationship is complete and you can release each other from the agreements you made as you began the relationship.

Who makes a good mentor, great? You do!

Much of the effectiveness of a mentoring relationship is determined by what the person being mentored (often called the ‘mentee’) brings, in the form of his/her goals, their focus of attention, levels of engagement in the process, etc.

Quite simply a mentee with a disengaged or unhelpful attitude can ruin any mentor’s chances of being a great (including those on my initial list). Common examples of ‘unhelpful mentee attitude’ include:

  • OK, you’re supposed to be successful; you’ve got contacts – so how can you help me?
  • I’m not sure we’ve got anything in common, you’re just not like me at all – I think I’ve probably got the wrong mentor
  • It’s really not obvious to me what I can learn here, I think I’m probably wasting my time

As a mentee, most of what makes a relationship effective is the effort you make. As a mentee you need to be engaged in the process, follow up on ideas, stay clear and focused on your goals etc. Too many mentees give up on the process when results aren’t instant, or their ‘dream mentor’ turns out to be human after all.

Remember any mentor can appear imperfect, frustrating and even flawed, but in most instances you can still learn from them. As a mentee you must be willing to engage with the process to build an effective relationship with your mentor, knowing that, as in life, what tests us can often make us stronger.

A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials’. (Lucius Annaeus Seneca)

About the author

This article has been written for ByteStart by Julie Starr. She is a coach, mentor, writer and speaker, and is the founder of starr consulting. She is the author of The Mentoring Manual, The Coaching Manual and Brilliant Coaching, all by Prentice Hall. Visit www.starrconsulting.co.uk.

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