If you think mentors are for employees on a career track in the workforce, you’re wrong. Entrepreneurs need business mentors to succeed in their startups just alike.
Lots of companies offer mentoring programs, where executive-level professionals support their younger colleagues’. Mentoring programs have been created specifically for women, people of color, the disabled, and other groups for whom having a supportive and knowledgeable advisor might be particularly useful to the corporations that employ them. But, how to do you find a good business mentor when you’re not working at a large company?
Over the years, as I’ve observed mentoring relationships of various sorts, and have been asked by others to mentor them, I’ve noticed some qualities that seem to distinguish genuinely good and helpful mentors from those who are indifferent – or even harmful. Based on that experience, here are the top five qualities of an effective business mentor:
If you want someone to share their wisdom with you, they need to have the wisdom to share. Some people simply don’t spend much time thinking about their experience; a person can be quite knowledgeable and fruitful without having reflected much on how they got where they are today. However, just hearing about what someone has done is much less valuable than hearing about why they did it, and about their understanding of why it worked or didn’t work.
In a good mentor relationship, you need to be able, to be honest about your life and circumstances – and you need to be confident that your revelations won’t go beyond your mentor. If he or she can’t be trusted to keep confidences, your relationship will be superficial at best – damaging at worst.
If you’re brave enough to ask your mentor for advice, he or she needs to be brave enough to give you a straight answer. If you’re contemplating changing your business model, for instance, and you explain the situation and ask for your mentor’s point of view – he or she should give it to you, unvarnished.
This one may seem counter-intuitive – isn’t it the mentee’s responsibility to be curious about the mentor? Yes. And, if the mentor isn’t interested in you: who you are, what’s important to you, what you’ve done so far and how it’s working for you – it’s unlikely his or her advice will be very helpful. It will more likely be general wisdom that won’t be targeted to you at all.
Generosity of Spirit
Kindness is essential. A great mentor wants you to succeed, and he or she will actively support your success with words and action. The great mentor will never be envious or feel threatened by your growth; he or she will congratulate you on your triumphs and help you recover from your setbacks. The generous mentor will make connections or offer resources that could be useful to you whenever he or she can. Most important, a generous mentor believes in your potential and communicates that to you freely and with hope. The generous mentor supports you to become the person you want to become.