Business Mentorship

One of the most familiar themes in all of storytelling and literature involves a hero transforming from novice to expert through a journey. Within that narrative, a wise sage or master usually emerges to guide and mentor the hero to their ultimate destination. Countless stories throughout history describe the relationship between master and apprentice — for good reason. These wiser, more experienced figures have real knowledge and expertise to share. Specifically, their knowledge and information comes from experience and time vs. just training and manuals.

What’s a Business Mentor?

A mentor often has a way of tailoring the information they share with their mentee in a form more palpable and prescient to that person’s path. A mentor often sees what’s coming because they’ve been down the roads their mentee will travel. They already made the mistakes, saw the successes, and understand the work it will take. So how do you find such a mentor and how do you make the most of such a valuable resource? I’m glad you asked.

Why You Need a Business Mentor

A mentor can serve many purposes in helping you to realize your potential. They also can have a wide variety of background knowledge instead of knowledge that strictly pertains to your particular industry. They act as a guide or trusted confidant to whom you may ask specific — and sometimes personal — questions, test ideas, and seek advice no matter how broad in scope.

Ultimately, a great mentor should understand you as well as your overarching goals for your career and your personal life. They should provide direction about your next steps, but can’t walk the path for you. Nor should they. Remember, their role is to help you navigate your journey, not do the work for you. The work is the education and a mentor directs your attention to the critical parts of these life lessons. They’re available to explain what choices they made and how that affected their career path with the understanding that one person’s decisions are specific to their situation and — no matter how similar the situations — your choices must be your own.

Imagine this scenario: You’re up for a promotion, which involves you moving to a larger city. You have a four-person family with two kids in middle school and high school, respectively. Your mentor advises you to consider your family’s needs as well as your career goals before you make a decision. Your mentor also explains that they moved often for career advancement, but just had a spouse and no kids during those years. Additionally, you both discuss the changes to business and industry in the 20 or so years since your mentor actively climbed the career ladder. The advice is not direct and explicit, but rather part of an entire decision-making process. That process can be infinitely more insightful because of the addition of a mentor in your life.

The role of the mentor seems even more vital to current entrepreneurs and business associates as the business world now moves faster than ever before. With a business landscape supercharged by technology, emerging industry leaders need the support and guidance of an established voice now more than ever. Specifically, you need someone who can cut to the heart of your motivations and goals. Mentors are at their best when they can objectively identify what you need without being too bogged down in your overall processes. Let them remain in a position of insight and use their wisdom to help you craft your next move.

What Kind of Business Mentor Should You Choose?

When considering who you should ask to be your mentor, remember that it can be virtually anyone whose decision-making process you admire or hold in high regard. You also don’t have to limit yourself to just one mentor. Sometimes, a group of three or more mentors can prove even more beneficial because it enables you to derive a composite decision from the advice of multiple people. These individuals should be relatively easy to talk to, and you should develop and maintain regular communication with them — even when you’re not asking for advice. The familiarity of your situation can often spark a mentor to proactively offer advice and guidance.

Make sure you have an idea about the kind of mentor(s) you want before you start looking. Some may be experts in their field and will have extremely specific and technical knowledge to pass on. Alternatively, they might be an expert on policy and how to approach a multitude of business paperwork, filings, and announcements or will become a valuable guide for systems and processes. Experts in a specific field usually have more knowledge than they even realize because so much of what they know has become solidified routine and procedure in their heads. These resources — often tapped for their specific knowledge — will best serve the accomplished and established pupil.

Other mentors may be more generally knowledgeable and can serve as a support system or a type of manager of your talents. They recognize who you are along with your strengths and weaknesses. This may be a person you work with who has become more familiar with your working style and personality. These types of mentors can assess your needs and make suggestions based on your combined understanding of the career or work position you currently occupy. This kind of mentor may even be at a similar level, and you may find you develop more of a co-mentoring process in which advice and knowledge regularly flow both ways.

More variations of the mentor role can manifest with parts of these previously mentioned attributes plus additional specialties or traits thrown in for good measure. A mentor who advises on business procedures, for example, also may have ties to your social circle or your extracurricular activities. These insights may be slight but may be important specific considerations for you as you move forward. Alternatively, your mentor may be someone whose knowledge and position you respect despite not sharing any similarities with them. This type of mentor may offer a fresh point of view to help you see things from a different angle.

Business mentors come in many forms so it’s important to understand what they have to teach you so you can choose the right mentor(s) for you. Sometimes, that requires removing the blinders of preconceived notions about others.

Tips for Working With a Business Mentor

Ultimately, a good mentor should provide you with a mix of knowledge and direction. As much as you lean on your mentor, they often need you to ask good questions and share your concerns to help them provide the insights and guidance you seek. Here are a few tips to follow as both you and your mentor(s) navigate this vital learning process:

  • Be open and honest about your intentions and goals. Your mentor must first understand what you ultimately want in order to guide you effectively.

  • Become a student and acknowledge you don’t know everything. Opening yourself up to direction and constructive criticism is critical for personal growth.

  • Regularly consult with your mentor(s). Keep them abreast of what’s driving your decisions and ask questions. When you communicate more, you strengthen your mentoring relationship.

  • Find confidence in your decisions. This will enable you to grow from the experience of both your successes and failures. Falling short doesn’t always mean you’ve come up empty. Your mentor should encourage you to learn at all times.

  • Turn your own mentoring experience into a positive for someone else. One interesting thing that often happens as you grow and develop is that your ability to mentor others also blossoms. Yet, your valuable knowledge may go untapped until you find your own outlet for sharing what you’ve learned. Even if it’s back to your mentor, you’ll gain greater insight by explaining the motivation and mechanics of your decision-making process. This teaching process is sometimes the biggest step in truly understanding what you know. Showing others the how and why of something can provide an enormous benefit to your own development. In addition, it often will crystalize your own understanding in a unique and quite introspective way.

How to Find a Business Mentor

Great mentors are out there and, more than likely, just waiting for someone to ask them a question. Don’t be afraid to take that first step and delve into the unknown or unfamiliar. Establishing a mentor/mentee relationship can take some time so don’t expect it to become fully formed overnight. It starts with you and your desire to embrace the talents and strengths you possess as well as build on areas in need of improvement. Much like the relationship between you and your mentor, the knowledge and support go hand in hand and will grow stronger in time.

Finding a business mentor may seem challenging so we compiled a list of local meetups and resources to help you get started.

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