Luke Skywalker had Yoda, Aladdin had the Genie, and Mark Zuckerberg had Steve Jobs. Mentors like these are celebrated in both fact and fiction as wise counsellors who have our best interests at heart.
It’s not just wishful thinking from Disney either; according to research by Sage, 93 percent of small and medium-sized business owners recognise that mentorship can help them succeed. The FSB also reports that 70 percent of entrepreneurs who receive mentoring survive in business for five years or more, which is about twice the rate of their un-mentored counterparts.
So, if your new year’s resolution is to find a business mentor, who should you look for and how will he or she benefit you?
1. Learn from experts
Richard Branson once told The Sun newspaper that he “wouldn’t have got anywhere in the airline industry without the mentorship of Sir Freddie Laker” – the founder of Laker Airways.
Experienced business mentors can offer valuable, unbiased perspectives that help us understand our strengths and weaknesses. They can also offer direction, accountability or admonishment in difficult situations and help us learn from another’s experience, teaching us in ways that books cannot.
Nevertheless, it’s important to take your time and consider your options when looking for a mentor. You need to be especially wary of anyone who stands to lose or gain from your actions, as advice from them could have an ulterior motive. You should also take any advice you receive from well-meaning, but inexperienced people, with a pinch of salt. While their ideas may well be valuable, you should evaluate with caution and trust yourself first.
Search for a mentor with a background in your field or related area. Ask whether they have mentored anyone else, why they enjoy mentoring, what their results were, and what their “mentoring style” is. You’ll get a feel for whether you will like working with them or not.
2. Learn to trust yourself and grow
Even when a mentor is more experienced than you, you still have to follow your own path. Beatriz de Vicente Director of Netmentora Catalunya, a Barcelona-based Mentoring programme, says that entrepreneurs need to evaluate their options and think about long-term strategy. And that doesn’t always mean following your mentor’s advice every time.
“The entrepreneur’s instinct is the essence of the business and should always come first. In Netmentora the mentor-mentee relationship lasts for 3 years because the aim is to help consolidate the new business over time.”
Beatriz says that as entrepreneurs gain more experience they are better able to reason their decisions and the relationship evolves into one of debate and strategy, which brings “great value for the entrepreneur, the company and the mentors themselves, of course!”
3. Be accountable and stay on track
While many startup founders and entrepreneurs already feel accountable for their actions—they already have teams of people to look out for and clients to serve—a good mentor will hold you accountable to yourself.
By outlining professional and personal goals with your mentor and checking in regularly, you will feel more pressure to stay on track. This should also include staying accountable for doing things outside of work – keeping up with hobbies, fitness and getting that valuable personal space and time to think creatively outside of the office.
Along the same lines, mentors can help you push your boundaries and have more ambition for your own career or business. As author Zig Ziglar once said, “A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.”
4. Learn from other people’s mistakes
One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is thinking they have to go it alone. Some cling tirelessly to the old cliché that it’s lonely at the top and reject the idea of having a mentor. Perhaps they think it’s a sign of weakness, perhaps the benefits of mentorship are unclear, or maybe it’s just not occurred to them.
If you’re a founder or CEO, you’re at the top of the pile in your organisation. Although you might still have investors to answer to and team members to challenge you, you don’t have an authority figure to pick you up on your mistakes.
This is both freeing and scary for a lot of first-time founders. From the day we are born, we are used to looking up to our elders – teachers, parents, and bosses. They help us avoid mistakes and walk us through decision-making processes. And if there’s anything better than learning from your own mistakes, it’s learning from the mistakes of others – it’s far less painful.
5. Reduce stress at work
A study by doctoral candidate Lebena Varghese at Northern Illinois University found that mentoring can mitigate stress and reduce burnout in employees.
Though the study does not focus on entrepreneurs, many of the same principles apply; leadership is a high pressure and notoriously lonely position. You shoulder the responsibility, take the blame, and get little credit.
Simply having someone to talk to will help you keep your chin up and persevere through difficult times. The fact that your mentor exists outside your organisation means that you can open up to them without worrying about it affecting your business relationship.
6. Uncover cognitive biases
An outside and unbiased expert perspective can also shine a hard light on your own shortfalls or insecurities.
Mentors tend to tell it like it is – and if you’re failing at something, they’ll let you know. There’s no space for excuses in a relationship like this. For this reason, mentors are often good at uncovering cognitive biases such as the Dunning-Kruger Effect – an unfortunate tendency for the inexperienced to overestimate their abilities and for experts to underestimate their abilities.
They will also help you make better, more rational decisions. Rather than falling for confirmation biases—where you unconsciously select evidence that supports your point, regardless of the truth—they will help you evaluate situations with a cool head.
Here’s to motivation, growth and learning in 2018
A mentor, author and consultant Bob Proctor said, “A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.”
Whether you decide to look for a mentor to help you on your entrepreneurial path, it’s good to recognise that sometimes we all need friendly advice, encouragement and a person to trust. If you are building a company this year, remember to take time to invest in yourself and never feel you have to go it alone.