How to make a business mentoring relationship workMarch 21, 2012: 12:07 PM ET
By Marty Zwilling, contributor
I'm a big fan of mentoring in business, and have been on both the contributing and receiving end of the process. These days, I seem to often hear from entrepreneurs who are struggling to find a mentor, or complaining about their lack of effectiveness. Like any other relationship, it takes work on both sides to make mentoring work.
Most entrepreneurs view a mentor as someone older and more experienced who takes the time to personally give guidance, advice and takes an emotional investment in your success. They don't think about this process requiring an investment on their part, both in nurturing the relationship, and really listening, without being defensive, to advice given.
Brian Tracy, in his new book, "Earn What You're Really Worth," solidifies my ideas on how mentoring, as well as other personal development activities, can quickly increase anyone's value and income in business. Here are some key points on how to find and utilize the right mentor, which I have adapted specifically for entrepreneurs:
- Set clear objectives for yourself in your business growth. Decide exactly what it is you need mentoring on before you start thinking of the ideal person to work with. A successful financial executive probably isn't a good mentor for building and executing a great marketing strategy. If you don't have an objective, you won't know when you arrive.
- Work, study, and practice continually to solidify the guidance. The very best mentors are the most interested in helping someone who is willing to learn and grow quickly. That doesn't mean you should accept any guidance blindly, but it does mean no time making excuses, and an honest effort to understand and implement action items.
- Don't ask for too much time or make a nuisance of yourself. Remember, the best mentors are busy people, and they may be opposed to someone trying to take up a lot of their time. The best approach is to ask for small focused blocks of time, maybe just ten minutes, in private, and be prepared with real issues to discuss.
- When you meet with a mentor, you should lead the discussion. Your mentor should not be driving your business, or expected to provide critical feedback on actions taken or missed. It's most effective if the entrepreneur proposes the agenda and drives for specific insights, but never forgets to press the mentor for broader or related implications.
- Remember the difference between a mentor, a friend, and a coach. Expect a mentor to tell you what you need to hear, not like a friend who may tell you what you want to hear. A business coach is focused on helping you with generic skills, whereas a mentor's aim is to teach you based on specific situations. The same person can't be all of these.
- On a regular basis, send a note to communicate progress and current tasks. There is nothing that makes a potential mentor more open to helping you than your making it clear that you are following through, and the help is doing you some good. This is also a good way to hand out and follow up on assignments to your mentor.
- Keep the relationship positive and productive. If a mentor proves to be unresponsive or on a different wavelength, bow out of the relationship immediately. Be aware that mentors are usually in a business position that can hurt you as well as help you, so don't waste their time or antagonize them.
When you consciously and deliberately seek out a mentor, you must look for someone who genuinely cares about you as a person and who really wants you to be successful in your venture or your career. That emotional involvement and genuine concern for you are the keys to real mentor contributions.
Some people will say that they need to make all their own mistakes, in order to learn from them. Yet there is plenty of evidence that the fastest way to business success is by piggy-backing on the counsel of men and women who have already spent years learning how to succeed. If you can't make a mentor relationship work, I worry about the rest of your business as well.
Marty Zwilling is CEO & Founder of Startup Professionals Inc.