Even teenage elephants need mentors or they’ll join gangs and kill rhinos, as reported by CBS News.1 What makes you think that you as a small-business owner aren’t susceptible to making bad choices if you’re left to your own devices?
You need a mentor. Not only to inspire you, but also to model a practical skill set for success in business. You may think you have all the knowledge you need, but sometimes you don’t know what you need to learn until you’re in the middle of the lesson.
What to Look for
The Human Resources Working Group of the Federal Library and Information Center Committee compiled a list of 27 traits of a good mentor, such as leadership by example, integrity, and good contacts.2 We have some ideas as well:
Do as I Do
A good mentor will model for you methods and behaviors that you perhaps were unaware existed. He could show you ways of handling situations you hadn’t previously considered. A good mentoring relationship helps you escape the “This is what I was taught, so I’ll go with it” excuse. If you’ve only seen examples of bad mentors or if you’ve seen no examples at all, you’re not destined to use those role models or wander aimlessly through business. But you must be aware and open to learning.
A Wise Advisor
Advice is best given when it stems from hard-won experience. Has your prospective mentor taken the steps he’s suggesting, or is he just giving you pie in the sky that he hasn’t tasted for himself?
You’ve probably heard the fable of the man, the boy, and the donkey.3 As they go through town, they encounter a variety of people, each with his own opinion of how the three should carry on. But how many of those people ever walked a donkey? The man and boy try to appease all the advice givers and in the end, the donkey drowns.
Beware, and remember that you alone will live with the consequences of any advice you implement.
Look at your prospective mentor’s life. Would you want to be him? Why or why not?
While your prospective mentor is hashing out advice about how you should do such-and-such, take a look at the “fruit” in his life. Is he well-respected in his field? Is his business success consistent? Or does he have a reputation for making late payments and implementing worst practices?
Nobody is perfect, but if your prospective mentor has rotten “fruit” in his life, you can bet he has some rotten “roots.”
Additionally, figure out how he has handled any failures in his life. Everybody has them. What did he do with his? Did he make lemonade, or does he have moldy lemons all over his house?
Where Do I Find a Mentor?
Life is funny in that your mentors often appear at just the right time.
If you’re still waiting for your mentor to show up and you want to be proactive, begin your search with SCORE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping businesses. SCORE has upwards of 13,000 volunteers, many of whom can serve as business mentors.4
How about you? Have you had a mentor, whether business or personal? What did you learn? Or have you served as a mentor? Reply in the comments below.
For more information, visit:
1. “The Delinquents”
2. FLICC: “Characteristics of a Good Mentor/Coach”
3. “The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey”
5. U.S. Small Business Administration: “Mentor-Protégé Program”