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Who Needs a Mentor!

By Reg Pirie |

A short time ago I was asked to teach a continuing education course for adults. I didn't know quite what to expect as I walked into the classroom. The most noticeable "first impression" was that the vast majority of the attendees were young - well, relatively young compared to the instructor!

During the usual round of introductions it also became apparent many of the participants were either in business for themselves or they were making an effort to prepare themselves for an entrepreneurial venture. I couldn't help but notice the raw enthusiasm displayed by these business people of tomorrow.

About half way through the class I began discussing the need to establish mentorship liaisons with successful business people. As I explained why I felt mentors were so important to new entrepreneurs, I could sense the class was drifting. Clearly there was some confusion or misunderstanding about the significant roll which a mentor or mentors could play in assisting and guiding any of us who are in business.

When I asked the class how many of them had developed an ongoing relationship with someone who could provide them with support and advice, I was surprised to see how few raised their hands.

So for those of you who are thinking about, or are just starting your own business, let me attempt to clarify some points concerning mentoring and why it is so critical for entrepreneurs.

What is a mentor? When all else fails, consult your Webster's Dictionary and you will find phrases like "a wise and trusted counsellor" or some similar words.

Why do we need mentors? I've often posed this question to successful entrepreneurs. The following responses will offer some insight as to why mentors are so important:

  • "Being in business for yourself can be a lonely occupation. Sometime you just need someone to talk to."

  • "I don't need a mentor to give me ideas or to tell me what I should do. I need a mentor to act as a sounding board so I can refine and fine-tune my thoughts."

  • "As an entrepreneur you are often faced with tough decisions. More often than not you instinctively know what has to be done but seeking out a valued second opinion allows you to make better informed decisions."

  • "When I first started in business I was fortunate enough to have a couple of people who I viewed as my mentors. In the beginning I sought their advice about specific matters but I soon found I learned even more by simply listening to what they had to say."

What should you look for in a mentor? Perhaps in bygone years you'd have been searching for a white-haired elder who had been blessed with a long life and the wisdom which comes from experience and time. That scenario may not necessarily be true in today's fast-paced business world.

If you are serious about success you will want to seek out and develop a meaningful relationship with a select few individuals who will become your mentors. The following comments and suggestions (offered by those who value the importance of having wise and trusted counsellors) will hopefully assist you in your quest to find the right mentor:

  • Don't assume age is a factor and for that matter, don't assume a mentor has to be older than you are. A mentor is someone who has in-depth experience and is willing to share those experiences.

  • Mentorship is not a business association - it is a personal relationship between two people who are committed to communicating with one another.

  • A good mentor will be available to listen to you when you are faced with a problem, but don't abuse the generosity of their time.

  • Mentors have an uncanny ability to convey knowledge. They blend their academic expertise with an intuitive "street sense" savvy. Their sound judgements are based on not only "how to do things right" but also on the mistakes they have made in the past. Be wary of someone who has never made a mistake!

  • A mentor does not necessarily have to be involved in your type of business. Sometimes a well-experienced outsider can offer more insight and vision than those directly immersed in your industry. Similarly, a mentor doesn't have to be located just around the corner. In these days of instant communication, your mentor can be half a world away.

  • Mentors don't automatically provide answers - they challenge you to think. They point you in the right direction and act as a source of information so you can discover the answers to your own questions.

  • At the outset of a mentoring relationship the flow of information is decidedly one-sided. In truly successful relationships the exchange of ideas will become more balanced over the years.

After teaching that adult education class I couldn't help but think about the people who had taken the time and made the effort to be my first mentors. In those days, mentoring was not some trendy management concept being touted by the business gurus of the day - it just seemed to happen.

Upon more careful reflection, I concluded my mentors were likely fulfilling an unwritten obligation when they assisted me in my formative years. Remember, if you are fortunate enough to develop a relationship with a mentor, you automatically assume a life-long responsibility. That responsibility is to become a "wise and trusted counsellor" for someone who is looking to you as a mentor.

Canadian, Eh!

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