What is a Mentor?

I get asked this question a lot. The answer has not changed since the dawn of time. The basic answer to this question is one of the following:

1. Someone with more experience than you have in a particular field of subject.

2. Someone who teaches or trains you.

3. Someone who is a source of wisdom and support.

Normally a mentor is not someone in your immediate family as family ties have a way of coloring your perception of what is being discussed. You see this all the time with the parents of the family telling their child to not be late for school. The child will still take their time and not worry about the consequences of their actions. This changes as soon as they are actually late to school and now they have to explain to the assistant principal why they were late.

Let’s look at this in the context of owning a business. When I encounter a prospective business owner I always ask them why they believe operating a business is the right thing to do. I will usually get some type of passionate answer about this being their dream or their mission in life. While that is important I immediately ask how they intend to make the business profitable, and here the vision starts to break down. The reason people talk to me about their business is exactly because of my experience not only with business but with the variations that need to be addressed when looking at a startup or a rebranding of any business. There is plenty of uncertainty with business and anything you can do to walk through that minefield is helpful. The mentor relationship for the business owner is crucial for the day to day decisions that need to be made for the management of your operation.

The training or teaching a mentor will do for you is different from seminar or classroom instruction. Formal instruction is not tailored to your particular set of circumstances nor to any particular business. Your mentor can listen to your situation and recommend several appropriate actions. A really good mentor will lead you through a thought process by which you can deduce your own answers and conclusions. This is always more helpful that just giving you the answer as it sets up your ability to figure out other situations that will arise in your business. Many of the business owners I have worked with understand why I always kept bringing our discussions back to the foundation of their business. If you find yourself constantly having to go back to the beginning to solve business problems you probably did not start off with a solid business foundation.

Lastly, your mentor needs to be a reliable source for the wisdom you will need as a business owner. And they need to be in your corner and support you. This does not mean they give you an easy answer to your questions or difficulties. They will also hold you to a very high standard of accountability for your actions and ideas. While it may be enticing to cut corners to meet a tight deadline the fact that you will have to confess this to your mentor will help you stay the course, work late into the night, and produce your best product so that you can hear a “well done” from your mentor.

I wish everyone could have a mentor who will always be there for them and act only in their best interest. Try and strive to find one for you. Or even better try and strive to be a mentor to someone who is struggling to make it in this world. What a better use of your time than a legacy of being helpful and empowering to those you meet.

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