Lara Morgan gives us a quick look at the essential attributes of a decent mentor.
Many entrepreneurs launching a new business will look for support from outside, and finding a mentor to guide you through the challenging times and help you avoid potential pitfalls can provide invaluable reassurance and peace of mind. Tapping into the expertise of someone who has already been there and done it could be a useful shortcut to success, but choosing the right mentor is a big decision in itself, so it is important to consider exactly what they have to offer.
Over the 17 year period that I ran my first business I was lucky to be able to call upon a number of mentors. Each of them offered different areas of expertise, and provided advice and support that helped me to navigate the challenges that came along during the different stages of business growth. So what did I look for when selecting a mentor and what should any good mentor have to offer?
A proven track record
The definition of a mentor is 'an experienced and trusted advisor' and having experience really is crucial. You need to be able to call on somebody who has not only been through the challenges you’re facing, but most importantly they also need to have come out the other side successfully having learned from the experience.
A black book of contacts
If a mentor has a proven track record of success they will have inevitably built a network of contacts in the industry. These relationships can be invaluable in business, and by using the established relationships your mentor already has, you can accelerate the progress of your own business.
An open door
A mentor should be available when you need them most. However, it is important to recognise that their time is valuable so always respect the time you take from them and plan around them when you really do need quality support. It is not the mentor’s job to dictate to you exactly what to do – the mentee should always make up their own mind, which in itself is a valuable skill leaders must learn.
A degree of confidence and assertiveness
One of the pieces of advice I often give to entrepreneurs is 'don’t be too British' – not literally, of course, but people are often way too polite. Over and over again, people who are persistent leave more messages, make more calls and ask more often, and having been there and done it the support of a mentor should help you to grow in confidence to be able to assert yourself in key situations.
Experience of your sector
If possible, it can be a huge advantage to have a mentor from either the sector you’re operating in, or from a sector or territory that you are taking the business in the direction of. They will not only already have a good understanding of the products, competitors and consumers that you are working with every day, but also any unusual regulations or market dynamics that you should be aware of. However, again going back to the definition of a mentor, finding someone with the right experience but who you can also really trust is the perfect combination for a mentor.
Lara Morgan is chairman of Company Shortcuts – a consultancy dedicated to excellence in sales and leadership. Lara combines her own fast-growth experience with a passion for unlocking the growth potential of established businesses to help organisations whose ambition has stalled