It can be lonely at the top. Many small-business owners have told me the one element that's key to their success is finding and working with the right mentor. Many leaders find it difficult to get the unfiltered advice they need while making critical decisions for their company. A mentor is the person (or group of people) who becomes the trusted outside voice a business owner can rely on through good times and bad.
To find the right mentor, every small-business owner needs to ask the following questions:
1. Admit what you don't know.
This is probably one of the most difficult evaluations for a successful owner to understand. What are your best skills and where do you need help? Many times, it's hard to figure this out from inside a company. Ask past employees and managers for an evaluation (current ones will too afraid to be honest unless it's anonymous). Owners can even take skill evaluation tests like Meyer Briggs to help in this area.
2. How do you best collaborate?
Leaders learn in different ways. Some like to read about how to perform new skills. Others want that skill demonstrated or to visually see a diagram of the process. A business owner needs to find a mentor who can teach the way they most easily learn. This becomes the core of effective collaboration.
3. What qualifications does this person need to have for you to trust him or her?
Gaining and giving trust is an inexact science. You need to understand at what point you freely give your trust. Is it a result of experience or just personal interactions? Is trust given when someone is referred by a person you already trust? If you don't trust the mentor, then any advice he or she gives will be ignored or marginalized.
4. Will an unpaid or paid mentor work best?
Some leaders believe they will get the most unbiased advice if they do not pay their mentors. They think that anyone paid to help them will only give information they want to hear. Others think that paid mentors give the best advice because they're more focused on the issues at hand. There is no one right answer.
5. Can you really listen?
One of the hallmarks of a great small-business leader is the ability to listen to others. This doesn't just mean giving the mentor their “say,” but really discovering how their opinion fits and influences important decisions.
Do you have a mentor? How did you find the best fit?
For more of the best insights from mentors at the Boomtown accelerator program, access our exclusive video series: Mentor Insights – On Your Schedule.