In Praise of Mentors
Owning and operating a small business can be a lonely occupation. There isn’t always a trusted business partner, employee, or colleague to turn to when advice, an opinion or a mind-mapping project are needed. It’s one reason smart business owners are always cultivating and nurturing a network. Networks often include Mentors… or at least they should.
I work in the Domestic Staff (Private Service) Recruiting field. Private Service Professionals who work in homes will often express feelings of loneliness and isolation. They are often confronted with a problem or a perceived dilemma with no person to whom to turn. These individuals need networks. They need trusted and discreet individuals like Mentors (and professional colleagues). They may not be looking for advice — and that is okay — but it helps to have a sounding board. It opens the mind to options, alternatives, and possibilities. A healthy Mentor / Mentee relationship is creative and supportive. Who wouldn’t want that?! [CAVEAT: Always make sure that any Mentor / Mentee relationship within private service is also within the confines of any NDA]
To backtrack, I would argue that within every healthy network should be a Mentor who counsels, acts as a sounding board, makes introductions, and encourages individuals (Mentees) to achieve greater heights in business or careers. I consider myself fortunate to have one such Mentor who has taken the time to understand my business, ascertain my goals and really get to know what makes me tick, which means identifying my strengths, weaknesses, and trigger points. My Mentor is kind, patient, empathetic and super bright. I cannot ask for more.
My Mentor has helped parse seemingly overwhelming “problems” into manageable parts. I have been peeled from the ceiling more times than I can count. My Mentor has taught me so much about business that has proven instrumental in success (I’m no Bill Gates but, heck, I’m proud of my accomplishments). They have been responsive far more times than any Mentor really should… but then again, like I said, I’m fortunate.
So, if you believe in the value of a Mentor, how do you find one and what qualities should you be looking for in one?
How you find a Mentor depends on what you are looking for. For example, you may choose to reach within your existing professional circle. Such a Mentor will already have industry insight with the added benefit of background knowledge and industry contacts. That counts for something.
On the other hand, you may choose to look for a Mentor with whom you simply feel comfortable. That counts for something else. They may not come from your industry, but they might be ideal for the following reasons:
They genuinely believe in Mentor / Mentee relationships
They show a sincere interest in your business and objectives
They seem invested in helping you to become the best you can be
They are not the same as you, but their background and traits complement your own
They may not come from your industry, but they are creative thinkers
They want you to succeed and are not threatened by your potential success
They are not afraid to provide constructive criticism and that is key
The most important reason of all?
You click. You simply like each other. There is mutual respect. The Mentor strikes you as authentic and empathetic. There is that intangible quality that just makes the relationship work. You’ll know it when you feel it. Kismet! Once you identify someone who you think might be suitable, please don’t ask “Will you be my Mentor?” The question is like an adult asking another adult “Will you be my friend?” Awkward! The relationship develops organically. It isn’t a yes or no response to the question “Will you be my Mentor?” Instead, Mentor and Mentee will wake up to the sense that a nurturing relationship has evolved. In some cases, the relationship will be fostered in a formal setting. Both occur. There is no right or wrong. Just don’t force things.
Once the relationship is established, there are guidelines. Not being a formal Mentor, I would like to speak to the Mentee’s responsibilities:
Always remember that your Mentor’s time is not your own. Be respectful. Schedule meetings around your Mentor’s schedule and not your own crises. (Note to self)
Prepare yourself. Be succinct… always. Value their time as you would your own. Get to the point and be quick about it.
A Mentor is not your Psychoanalyst. They exist to guide you in a business capacity. They are not life coaches. They are not marriage counsellors. Understand the scope of the role.
Know your objectives prior to your meeting or call
Remember boundaries. They exist. This is a professional relationship. It is not a friendship. There is always a difference between being friendly and being friends. Keep that in mind.
Be thankful. There are not a lot of people in our busy world willing to take on the significant workload of Mentoring. It takes time. A Mentor sacrifices. It takes sweat. It takes commitment, compassion and loads of empathy. Ask yourself, how many people do you know who have these qualities and the means to take on this kind of responsibility? I’m guessing not many.
Mentors have been around since ancient times (think Socrates). We owe so much to them. They shield us from missteps. They prepare us for change. They expand the field of our vision. They encourage us to see beyond what we think of as possible. Most important of all, they share those life lessons and stories that help us to imagine that our circumscribed worlds needn’t be limited by our own limiting imaginations.
Thank you to my Mentor. Thank you to all the Mentors out there who carve out the time to inspire and guide individuals to be better versions of themselves. I think we call that altruism. They might not feel that way. I do. We need more of that in this world. My hope is that the Mentees of today will become the Mentors of tomorrow. That strikes me as a world in balance. Don’t you think?
© 2023, Portico Inc.