Many successful business owners can attest to the power of a great mentor. Obtaining mentoring from someone who has already traveled the road you're embarking on can be enlightening and even career-changing.
According to a June 2018 study conducted by Olivet Nazarene University, 56 percent have respondents had a professional mentor. (The study's respondents were composed of 3,000 Americans who were currently employed full-time.) Eight-one percent of these mentor-mentee relationships are in the same industry.
Julia Kelly has experienced the career-transforming effects of having a mentor. The co-founder of Rigits Bookkeeping & Accounting grew two businesses with mentoring advice.
"I have benefited from a seven-year relationship with my mentor, who has helped me grow two businesses concurrently from zero to multiple six figures and more than 10 employees," says Kelly.
"I sought out a mentor when I was just starting out, because I knew I was over-focused on the small things," she continues. "I needed advice from someone who could help me refocus my limited time on the highest-impact actions that would lead to the fastest growth."
Now that's she's grown her business, Kelly still relies on her mentor's advice.
"I went to my mentor recently with what I thought was a systems problem that had been causing a bottleneck and putting everyone behind schedule," says Kelly. "My mentor helped me realize it was actually a personnel problem. One of my employees was mismatched for the role. Once that was fixed, the bottleneck cleared up."
Importance of Mentoring
Ngan Nguyen feels that mentors have been instrumental to her business success. The founder and CEO of Cintamani Group, an executive coaching and consulting firm, says that some of her mentoring relationships have lasted from a few months to several years, and some remain ongoing.
"I wouldn't have reached the level I'm at today without mentors, and I would have likely hit more pitfalls," says Nguyen. "While my journey has had all the highs and lows of entrepreneurship, it would have been much less pleasant without the support, insight, encouragement and guidance of the people who have generously shared their wisdom."
Nguyen originally sought mentors to move forward faster.
"I was learning a lot from books and on the internet, but the secret is not in finding out how to do something—it's determining what you need to know and when to do it," Nguyen says. "Someone who has gone before can share wisdom and knowledge that saves precious time and mental energy."
Mentors can see things you can't because they aren't inside the bottle trying to read the label. They also have their own years of experience and can predict the path you're heading on.
—Joanna Ziemlewski, owner, SoulScaping Group
Juli Lassow agrees.
"Having a mentor is a crucial part of professional development—especially for business owners," says the founder and principal of JHL Solutions, a retail business consultancy.
"There is simply not enough time to learn everything there is to learn about building and growing a business by researching or using your own experience," says Lassow. "You need to get feedback, insights and guidance from a trusted adviser. Having a mentor has helped me build a strong foundation and maintain perspective on the work I'm doing to grow my business."
Benefits of Being Mentored as a Business Owner
Working with a mentor offers business owners a wide variety of positives, some of them tangible and others intangible.
"By working with a mentor, you can shorten years' worth of growth and painful lessons into only a few months, and hopefully without the pain," says Joanna Ziemlewski, owner of SoulScaping Group, which offers business coaching and mentoring.
"Mentors can see things you can't because they aren't inside the bottle trying to read the label. They also have their own years of experience and can predict the path you're heading on," says Ziemleweski.
"Mentors can impart institutional knowledge, as well as industry knowledge, but it's the people aspect that makes mentoring so satisfying," says Rusty Wiley, CEO of Merrill Corporation, a provider of technology for global mergers and acquisitions professionals.
"It's highly rewarding when I can share the ups and downs of my career and help someone with that experience," says Wiley.
"Mentors can also offer business owners perspective on unique challenges," says Shawn Burcham, author of Keeping Score with GRITT. "You'll likely face situations that can't be addressed with employees. Having a mentor is helpful during such times."
When Mentees Become Mentors
After benefiting from mentor relationships, many business owners decide to pay it forward and become mentors themselves. Such is the case with Nguyen.
"My work as a coach is centered on mentorship. I find it rewarding to empower others to effectively create the results they desire," she says. "The happiness, fulfillment and joy people express when this occurs energizes me. It's satisfying to know that those I mentor are going out and making a positive impact in the world."
Most people want to make a difference, believes Dan Lauer, founding executive director of UMSL Accelerate, an initiative that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship.
"As a mentor, you can make an impact and leave a mark," says Lauer. "A strong motivator for being a mentor is to pass experience and knowledge to another in order to help the person avoid mistakes and move farther, faster."
Creating a Strong Mentor/Mentee Relationship
Whether you're a mentor or mentee, it helps to keep the following mentoring success guidelines in mind.
1. Understand the relationship.
Mentoring is focused on support, believes Kim Lawton, founder and CEO of Enthuse Marketing Group and the Enthuse Foundation. (The latter organization is a nonprofit focused on mentoring women entrepreneurs.)
"Don't expect mentors to solve your problems as a mentee," says Lawton. "They should offer their own perspectives that can help lead you to your own conclusions."
Conversely, as a mentor, offer your advice and then step back. Your job is to guide, not take action.
2. Be open and willing to learn.
"The most important thing is not about getting it right and not failing, but in implementing what a mentor is teaching you and applying the lessons to the next actions you take to grow your business," says Ziemlewski. "If you're struggling, be honest about it."
"Surrender to the coaching," agrees Buck Blodgett, founder of The Chiropractic & Wellness Group. "Detach from your present self to transform into something new."
For the mentor, know that there are times when you will also learn from your mentee. Be grateful when that happens.
3. Focus on trust.
The cornerstone of any successful mentoring relationship is trust, believes Steven Mintz, author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning.
"Find someone who will keep all information shared between the two of you confidential," says Mintz. "This person should be someone you can even consult about ethical dilemmas in the workplace."
4. Offer feedback.
"Tell your mentor how his or her advice worked for you," says Kelly. "This step often gets overlooked, but it's important to thank and update your mentor, so he or she knows how you benefited from the advice."
It's a good idea for mentors to offer constructive feedback to mentees, adds Wiley.
"Constructive feedback is always more difficult than providing positive feedback, but ultimately it will better help the mentee develop and grow," he says.
5. Look for chemistry.
"An essential element in a good mentorship is chemistry between you both," says Nguyen. "As a mentee, you want a mentor who resonates with you, because it'll make it easier to accept the information that the person shares. It should be someone who empowers you, so you gain confidence."
6. Ensure the relationship is good for both parties.
"A mentor/mentee relationship should be a win/win scenario," says Burcham. "Routinely plan time together and be diligent about attending the meetings. This is critical to ensuring that both parties get something from the relationship."
7. Think outside the box in terms of mentorships.
"When people think of mentoring, they often consider traditional mentor relationship, which involve long-term commitments," says Lawton. "The relationship doesn't have to be formal or long lasting. You don't even need to meet in person."
Your mentors could be a full board of directors, adds Lassow.
"Your board can be a formal group that you convene for the sake of supporting your business," she says. "Alternatively, you can be part of a peer board group or circle where you support each other's growth."
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