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Do you have a mentor … Are you a mentor … Can you be both?

Posted by on Jan 18, 2017

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We entrepreneurs hear a lot about a mentor being a key relationship that can catapult our business to new heights. Study after study shows that the most sterling success stories have a mentor to guide them.

And it makes sense – who doesn’t need support? And why reinvent the wheel?

The question is … what exactly is a mentor? And how do you find one?


Mentorship myths

Here are three to start with:

Myth 1 A mentor is someone who takes you under their wing, protects you and feeds you. Out of the goodness of their heart.

Reality: The mentor/mentee relationship works both ways. Good mentors invest their time in someone they believe in. Someone who listens, and takes actions. The key word here is invest – they are looking for a payoff, although not in the monetary sense. You’ll need to deliver to earn this trust.

Myth 2 Call up a successful CEO or business leader to start your relationship – head straight for the finish line.

Reality: You need to put in the the time to build a network of leaders (see our post from November 23) who know and believe in you. People who could potentially be a fit for you as a mentor. Think about it: would you ask a stranger to stand up for you at your wedding?

Myth 3 Successful people have one mentor, one Grand Poobah who guides them in every part of their career, life-long.

Reality: Personally, I think this is the biggest myth… You will have many mentors in your life, including peer mentors. The key is to make the best use of their support. Check out Sheryl Sandberg’s mentoring video for more on this.


Role of a mentor – not all may apply

It’s not easy being a mentor!

You might think that it involves only the passing on of acquired wisdom.

A la Yoda (“Do. Or do not. There is no try”) or Master Po (“Patience, young grasshopper”).

But while that is a critical requirement, mentoring is more than that. Great mentors make introductions and referrals that broaden their mentee’s world and offer new opportunities. They provide a sounding board for new ideas, helping mentees better learn from their own words and the mentor’s reactions (or silence!). And they care.

Plus! A great mentor provides direction.


How to build a good mentor/mentee relationship

  • Be open: Listen and be open to new ideas and suggestions to enhance your business and your network. This is key to evolving your business, gaining new insight and leveraging new areas of expertise.
  • Be reliable: As a mentee, one of your key offerings to the relationships is reliability, accountability, and … can I say it? Gratitude. Take your role seriously. You need to contribute.
  • And remember! Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People enjoy helping others. They appreciate the respect that comes from being asked for advice.

Plus, it takes time to build a relationship with a mentor. You don’t necessarily know ahead of time who your mentor will be, or who you will be mentoring … be open to possibility … it’s a New Year!


Thoughts on being a mentor or mentee

I’m not convinced that it’s so clearly defined, this mentor/mentee role. We can be mentors and mentees throughout our lives (again, you’ll see this discussed in Sandberg’s video). I’ve certainly been in relationships where each of us mentored the other.

So yes, I believe in the power of a strong mentor – who could not? – but keep your options open. Don’t pre-judge!

If you’ve grown up with at least one, or even two strong parents … you may believe, strongly, that taking it all on yourself is the way to go. You may not even think that – you may feel it to the core … to the point you don’t question it.


Take action!

As an entrepreneur who’s learned over time, reinventing the wheel is a waste of energy and resources.

Go. Develop your network. Find mentors. Be a mentor. Build a great support network.

And the next time you achieve a tough milestone you’ve set for yourself, reach out and share it with your network. Add some icing to the cake by celebrating your achievement with the mentors who have guided you.