Strategy & personal development

Empathy, support and guidance – why so many businesspeople have a mentor

No matter how successful they are, no matter where they are in our business journey, one thing most successful business owners agree on is the importance of a mentor in their past and continuing development. So why do so many people see having a mentor as a critical factor in their success?

A mentor or a coach?

There is often some confusion about the way your coach will interact with you and the purpose of a mentor. It’s completely understandable that this happens because initially they both seem to be taking an advisory role. The role played by your mentor is very different than the one played by your coach though and it is not uncommon for a business to utilise both.

A coach is there to offer support with developing specific skills, usually through a proven methodology. So, they will usually work with you for a defined period during which focus on very specific business goals to produce a measurable outcome.

A mentor on the other hand is far more developmental and focused on creating opportunities. They are also therefore often experienced in your industry or something relevant to your business. The relationship is usually ongoing, and their role will be to develop you personally and professionally through empathy, experience, a good understanding of business and often their own network of contacts. They are there not only to help you develop an effective business but also to support your own growth as a businessperson and individual.

It’s the difference between having someone show you how to create an effective business plan and someone who will help you develop the ideas, concepts and values that will underpin that plan.

Why is a mentor important?

For all its advantages and pleasures, being in business can be difficult. You are mostly alone in the decision-making process and there is usually nobody to bounce ideas and strategy decisions off. The danger of being the sole decision maker is that you can create a sort of hall of mirrors for your ideas where everything you are thinking becomes a reflection of itself. You can soon find yourself taking the wrong road and making unjustified decisions. Your mentor will be there to offer ideas and challenge your approach to make sure that you are seeing things the right way. Having someone to support you (and occasionally play devil’s advocate) who knows your industry and you as a person cannot be underestimated when it comes to clarity in your decision making. Business owners will often talk about how their mentor helped them become a better decision maker by honing their ability to see problems clearly and develop solutions.

The mentor is more than a sounding board though. They are part of your ongoing development and growth. With their help you should be able to look at how your business is performing and the role you play in improving it. This is sometimes as much about your personal growth as it is about the strategy and direction your business is taking. They are there to look at what you do and how you do it with an experienced eye. They will also hold you accountable for your actions and ensure you are meeting your obligations as a leader and businessperson.

Probably one of the most underestimated effects of having a mentor though is that they will understand. Systems, processes, and theories for business development all have their place but frankly, being in charge can be lonely at times. Your mentor will be there on a regular basis and have the empathy to offer support (or perhaps even a stern word or two if needed) when you really feel the pressure.

Who should you choose as a mentor?

This is a very difficult question because there are so many different considerations and unfortunately no hard and fast rules to apply. As with many problems though the best thing to do is probably break it down into smaller questions. Before you choose your mentor ask yourself:

  • Would you trust their advice?
  • Do they know enough about your business area to be able to offer that advice?
  • Do they share your values and standards?
  • Can they challenge you?
  • Will you accept being challenged by them?
  • Is there mutual respect?
  • Do they have specific expertise that is relevant to you.

There is a mutual benefit to mentoring.

Finally, remember, mentoring is a two-way process. At its core, mentoring is about an ongoing commitment to an overall cause, and usually that cause is you and your business world. This is a key area and again where a mentor differs from a coach. A good mentor will be invested in you as a person and not just offer business theory solutions. In fact, most mentors will happily tell you about how they find mentoring an opportunity to grown themselves because you are learning as you go. The process of mentoring is a partnership not a teacher/student relationship and, once you find the right mentor, that relationship will provide the support and accountability you need to succeed on your business journey.

Paul Green
The Business Bulletin

Don't miss out...

Enter your email address to ensure you receive the next edition of The Business Bulletin as it is published.

Empathy, support and guidance – why so many businesspeople have a mentor

by Paul Green Time to read: 3 min