In popular culture, successful entrepreneurs are typically portrayed as brilliant mavericks, forging their own paths. But even the world’s most high profile entrepreneurs didn’t get where they are today on their own. Of course, entrepreneurs work hard but they also lean on support wherever necessary. And for many entrepreneurs, the most valuable form of support available is working with a mentor.
One need only look at the value some of the world’s leading entrepreneurs got from their mentors to see how important mentors can be. Mark Zuckerberg leant on Steve Jobs for advice during Facebook’s early growth stages, Warren Buffett helped Bill Gates deal with tough times at Microsoft, and Sir Richard Branson asked British airline entrepreneur, Sir Freddie Laker, for guidance when he was trying to get Virgin Atlantic off the ground. There’s a chance their companies would still have been successful without that guidance, but the path to success would’ve been a lot rockier.
That makes sense: people in a position to provide mentorship have seen it all before and know how to get businesses out of a rut. They also know what it takes to overcome an entrepreneurial challenge and what connections can help an entrepreneur take their business to the next level.
I’ve also experienced that value personally. I’ve been blessed to have multiple mentors over the past 15 years. Each of them has contributed to an “aha” moment when I’ve hit the ceiling in business. It’s that feeling of frustration when you’ve tried lots of things and nothing has worked. I experienced this in my previous business where, by asking me a series of questions, my mentor helped me think of a unique value proposition in our business – which was right in front of our eyes, but we had taken it for granted.
A critical, objective overview
Perhaps most critically, however, a mentor isn’t directly involved in the day-to-day running of the business. There are, of course, instances where investors have acted as mentors but much of their effectiveness comes from not being involved at an operational level.
From a mentee’s perspective, it is sometimes difficult to see their business from the outside. This is where an experienced mentor gives you the 30 000-foot view a mentee may be missing. As a mentee, one can take control of their growth in business and beyond by working with a mentor to achieve goals and gain fresh perspectives.
Having someone who can give you that overview can be crucial for entrepreneurs who can get so sucked into the minutiae of keeping a business going that they forget what the big vision is. A mentor can help remind them of what the wider picture is and that their business decisions should always serve it rather than short-term survival.
Many mentors get involved in mentorship because they wish they’d had someone giving them that kind of overview when they were starting out on their own entrepreneurial journeys. Alternatively, they got a lot of value out of their own mentors and want to pass it on to the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Making the most of mentorship
But in order for entrepreneurs to get the most out of their mentor, they need to come in with the right attitude and approach. More specifically, mentorship requires a mentee to be open, honest, and vulnerable with their mentors. Remember, a mentor can’t help you through a problem if you’re not entirely open about what the problem is.
Here, having a structured framework – in which the mentee details their goals and plans – in place can be useful. This framework helps the mentor understand where they can make an impact. From there, a mentor can help the mentee navigate the waters, guide them through tactical and strategic challenges, and potentially open up their network to allow the mentee to make meaningful connections.
For their part, mentors also need to come into the relationship with an open mindset. In my own experiences as a mentor, I’ve also learned that I’m there to help and facilitate and not to judge and that I need to be able to look beyond what the entrepreneur is sharing with me. Additionally, I’ve come to realise how important it is for me to shed my ego. It’s about the mentee, not me. Occasionally, that means admitting I don’t have the answer and putting the mentee in touch with someone who does.
A mutually rewarding relationship
There is no doubt that a good mentor can have a profound impact on an entrepreneur and their business’ success. This is especially true if the entrepreneur comes into the relationship with the right attitude and approach. But it’s also true that the relationship can be rich and rewarding for mentor and mentee alike. From a business perspective, the best such relationships are irreplaceable.
By Sid Jashnani, Mentorship Chair of Entrepreneurs Organisation London