Joe Johnson, Ph.D.
Entrepreneur. Investor. Startup Expert.
Oftentimes, entrepreneurs are viewed as lone wolves with big ideas who somehow, through sheer will or genius, bring their ideas to fruition and bestow them upon the marketplace. While it’s a romantic notion, it does a disservice to the important relationships fostered by most entrepreneurs. In order to be a successful entrepreneur, it’s wise to look toward those who have experience in your industry and to cultivate working relationships with those individuals to the extent possible.
Why It’s Good to Have a Mentor
One of the most important relationships that an entrepreneur might have is the one with his mentor. A mentor can offer advice, function as a sounding board, help to connect them with others in the field, and impart knowledge gained over a long career.
A Fresh Pair of Eyes
When you’re confronted with a problem or obstacle, a mentor can serve as a fresh pair of eyes. If your mentor works in your industry, they may be able to offer solutions that hadn’t occurred to you because of your close involvement with the problem.
Knowledge & Experience
Tapping into others’ knowledge and experiences can help you to skip over rookie mistakes while learning from others’ hard-won knowledge. A mentor can offer insight into your industry that might require decades to acquire on your own.
Some informal mentors like parents or friends may tell you what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear. Despite that advice most often being born of a desire to be supportive, it’s most definitely not of positive value to your business psyche. A good mentor understands the value of honesty and is willing to provide useful and necessary feedback without regard to anyone’s delicate feelings.
Personal and professional growth are essential for success. As your company grows, you’ll have to learn how to manage different sorts of people, how work out different types of deals, etc. A mentor can challenge you by highlighting those areas on which you need to work, can recommend books or activities to encourage your personal or professional growth, and can serve as someone with whom to discuss those points and how best to apply them.
Some mentors provide their mentees with an additional push as they strive toward their goals. They may provide indirect support or directly challenge them to keep pushing hard in their quest. Most entrepreneurs have experienced failure at one point or another. A mentor can help one to gain perspective from those incidents, absorb what lesson(s) might be learned, and continue moving toward success. This outside motivation can be especially useful when one is finding it difficult to maintain focus on one’s own.
What Kind of Mentor Should You Seek?
The ability to articulate, even to yourself, just what you need from a mentor can be difficult to acquire, but it’s worth whatever period of introspection might be necessary in order to achieve it. Having an understanding of your goals and some of the steps required to accomplish them can help you to determine the sort of advice you should be seeking. Knowing your own business objectives can help you to locate a mentor with the most appropriate skill set to assist you. It’s also essential in facilitating the process of engaging with potential mentors. If you don’t know what you want, nobody will be able to help you. A mentor’s time is valuable. While they do want to help, if you’re unaware of your own aims, you’ll likely find it difficult to connect with someone willing to help you in the blind, as it were.
“Search for role models you can look up to and people who take an interest in your career. But here’s an important warning: You don’t have to have mentors who look like you. Had I been waiting for a black, female Soviet specialist mentor, I would still be waiting. Most of my mentors have been old white men, because they were the ones who dominated my field.”
Director of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business’ Global Center for Business and the Economy and former U.S. Secretary of State
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor reinforces this advice in her book My Beloved World, noting that for trailblazers like she and Rice, it’s necessary to learn from those who have already achieved your personal goals. You’ll most likely not be striving to precisely emulate your mentor, but seeking help or advice in particular areas. With that thought in mind, it’s clearly not an issue to be a male with a female mentor or vice versa. The goal is not to find someone to copy, but someone from whom to learn. So long as your mentor possesses information or insight that you desire – even if they’re in a different industry or are personally different from you – you’ll be able to learn something of value from them.
How to Find a Mentor
Not all mentor-mentee relationships are formalized. Sometimes, a mentor is simply someone on whom you know that you can rely when you have a question. At other times, it’s someone with whom you check in monthly to share your progress and to seek advice. An entrepreneur may have one mentor or several. What matters most is what the entrepreneur gains from the relationship, not how the relationship is structured.
When seeking a mentor, first consider those with whom you’re already speaking. Do you frequently seek advice from your siblings or a friend? Do you have a former boss on speed dial? There’s a chance that you already have an informal mentor whom you hadn’t realized was functioning in that capacity for you.
If you’d like to find a mentor in your industry, let your network know and ask for introductions. There’s always a chance that an acquaintance could introduce you to someone whom you’d like to meet.
You may also be able to locate a mentor through your local business group. Don’t limit yourself to individuals in your particular industry. Sometimes a mentor outside of your industry can be of even greater assistance. For example, perhaps you could benefit from conversations with a marketing expert or with someone who’s launched a local chain in your area. While the former may be able to teach you how best to showcase your business, the latter will be able to share valuable information on growth and expansion. Both of these individuals might very well have invaluable contributions to provide, so long as you’re receptive to them and they’re open to sharing.
Another valuable resource in your quest to find a mentor is the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). With chapters located across the country, SCORE volunteers provide free mentoring to interested entrepreneurs.
Nurturing the Mentor-Mentee Relationship
As with any ongoing interaction, the effort to sustain a healthy mentor-mentee relationship requires work from both parties involved. In order to ensure that each are benefitting from the relationship, it’s necessary to be clear on expectations and to have regular contact. The mentor should have questions or information prepared for the meetings. From the mentee’s perspective, being able to have conversations about one’s various goals, discuss progress, and seek advice is invaluable for personal and professional growth. Additionally, a mentee should be prepared to listen. One’s mentor can offer more than just professional advice. Understanding one’s mentor as a person can help you to forge a valuable relationship with someone ready to share their expertise.
In order for the relationship to be both healthy and reciprocal, you should clearly understand that your mentor may need some things from you. For example, you may have knowledge in an area about which they’d like to learn or perhaps the act of mentoring you is enabling them to practice a particular skill set. Be clear that you expect to contribute to the relationship.
Be a good mentee by:
- Practicing active listening
- Committing to the relationship
- Dedicating yourself to your personal and professional growth
- Preparing for your meetings
- Asking questions
- Applying advice as you see fit
- Engaging with resources
- Sharing information, both professional and personal
Having a mentor can help you to navigate various business challenges. It’s a useful way to expand both your knowledge and your network. If you think that you’re ready to seek a mentor, make sure that you’re prepared to do the work that such a relationship requires and to commit to your own ongoing growth.
About the Author
Dr. Joe Johnson is an entrepreneur, investor, and startup expert. He is the founder and principal of GoodField Investments and the GoodField Foundation (www.GoodField.com).
Joe has a Ph.D. in Entrepreneurial Leadership and an MBA. He is the author of the upcoming book on The Science of Why Most Entrepreneurs Fail and Some Succeed.
Most importantly, he is the incredibly blessed husband of one amazing wife and father of six wonderful children. He resides in Bradenton, Florida. For more information on Dr. Johnson and his work, go to www.JoeJohnson.com.