I didn’t get to where I am now by myself, and neither did you most likely. You had help along the way building your brand, starting up a company, sustaining a business, and/or honing an expertise. Mentors pass along experiences and knowledge that help build the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Perhaps you’re thinking that it would be great to pass along the lessons you’ve learned to a protégé. You may feel a responsibility to bring entrepreneurship to the younger generation. Or perhaps you have someone who looks up to you at work and you’re not quite sure how to handle it.
Regardless, becoming a mentor isn’t something that happens overnight, and it isn’t something that happens easily. However, the rewards of mentorship are indescribable – it’s simply fulfilling.
Here are a few thoughts on how to be an effective entrepreneurial mentor:
Just build relationships, don’t force it: You can’t make someone think of you as a mentor, even if you’re their boss. Focus on building relationships with those who work under you and the people around you. Tell stories, talk about what you’ve accomplished and learned, especially to those who seem receptive.
Offer your services to those you connect with: Sometimes a mentorship begins simply by saying “I’m here to help you.” Offer to help with his or her ideas, teaching the ropes, or whatever else seems appropriate.
It’s a professional relationship: You can be fun and funny, but if you don’t have that air of authority and accomplishment, mentorship simply won’t work.
Students can be the best students: I met one of my two entrepreneurial mentors during my time at Northwestern. He was my professor and taught me nearly everything I know. The other great place where mentor and mentee connect is in the workplace.
Just be open to answering questions: Being approachable turns you into a great mentor. Protégés have lots of questions. Be open with your time to give answers and create a discussion around those answers.
Be honest: As a mentor, you have a unique role that makes you different than a friend. If you think someone you’re mentoring is going down the wrong path or has the wrong idea, you need to explain to them up front why you feel that way and provide solid reasoning.
Mentorship never ends: Even if your protégé exceeds all that you’ve ever accomplished, you’re still going to be his or her mentor. You’re there to consult, provide advice, and be a friend. That doesn’t have to change, whether he or she moves, achieves wild success, or is down on his or her luck.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, philsajonesen