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A study done in the UK has shown that 70% of small business owners that receive mentoring survive for five years or more. This is double the rate compared with non-mentored startups, yet less than a quarter of small business owners are using a mentor! This is a fact that boggles my mind every time I think about it.
Unfortunately, the idea of mentorship is not looked at the same way as it was back in the day; and I mean way back in the day.
In ancient Greece, mentors used to impart personal and social values to young men. The word mentor itself is derived from Mentōr, a Greek character in Homer’s Odyssey who acted as an advisor to Odysseus’ son as he left for Troy.
Modern mentorship is loosely modelled around those same craftsman-apprentice relationships where young persons learned the art of the craft from a master craftsman. In fact, there are many examples of famous people who have attributed their success to a mentor.
Billionaire Sir Richard Branson for instance mentioned Sir Freddie Laker as his mentor who had provided valuable advice and guidance that helped in the success of Virgin Atlantic Airlines.
Most of us, at one point or another in our lives, have experienced a successful mentoring relationship. It may have come in the form of an older sibling that took you under their wing, or a teacher in school that helped guide your career, or even an experienced colleague at work showing you the ropes.
Now, I know the purpose of mentorship may seem common sense and logical to most, but you might be surprised at just how beneficial mentoring relationships can be, especially in the workplace.
When done right, mentoring programs can positively impact the mentee, mentors, and ultimately your organization or company as a whole.
So, what exactly is a mentor?
By definition, a mentor is a more experienced and knowledgeable person who teaches and nurtures the development of a less experienced and knowledgeable person. In an organizational setting, a mentor influences the personal and professional growth of a mentee. Most traditional mentorships involve having senior employees mentor more junior employees, but mentors don’t necessarily have to be more senior than the people they mentor. What matters is that mentors have experience that others can learn from. For example, did you know some companies have “reverse mentoring” programs? This is where younger employees share their experience using social technology with senior colleagues who may not have used these tools before.
Workplace mentors might be a supervisor, colleague, someone within the organization but outside of the mentee’s chain of command, or even an individual in another organization.
Now, what does a mentor really do?
A mentor’s duties include developing and managing the mentoring relationship, sponsoring the mentee’s developmental activities, modeling effective leadership behavior, guiding and counseling, teaching, motivating, and inspiring the mentee.
Having said that, here some of the main points highlighting the importance of mentorship.
#1 MENTORS HELP AND ENCOURAGE PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT
Generally speaking, a mentor will help you with reinforcing the processes of personal development: planning, learning, learning transfer, and application in the workplace.
They’ll help you identify your personal development priorities and align them with your professional goals. Mentors focus on making sure you put into practice what you’ve been learning from them, and that your newly learned skills and behaviors are not only understood, but undertaken. The areas a mentor can help you improve and develop personally and professionally, or improve your business include, but aren’t limited to:
Managing performance: motivating teams; giving effective feedback; applying coaching skills; effective delegation; improving development opportunities for junior staff.
Constructive influencing: stakeholder management; managing upwards; communicating for greater influence; more effective peer networking.
Leadership: demonstrating situational leadership; holding courageous conversations; understanding impact on others and developing empathetic approaches.
Responding to change: developing personal resilience; dealing with ambiguity: building confidence in new areas.
Self-development: using self-knowledge to improve self-management; workload management and work-life balance; goal attainment and planning; self-reflection and review; mindfulness in the workplace.
#2 MENTORS CAN PULL FROM THEIR EXPERIENCE AND GUIDE YOU
This one is pretty straightforward. Mentors have the experiences you can learn from to prevent making the same mistakes beginners make. Starting a business is challenging enough, so if you can skip doing things the hard way, why wouldn’t you? A mentor has been there, right where you are, and has made numerous mistakes that they can now use as a basis for helping others to skip the devastating effects of not knowing. In short, they’ll save you a lot of time and money you would otherwise have wasted on needless mistakes had they been there to guide you from the start.
Even if you aren’t running your own business, and work for an organization, the knowledge a mentor can give you from their experience is invaluable. They can help you understand how things are done, how they aren’t done, how to deal with the unwritten rules in the workplace, and how to avoid being stressed over the little things.
#3 THEY HELP IDENTIFY AREAS THAT NEED IMPROVEMENT
Mentors understand how challenging running a business can be. As a business owner, a mentor can help you focus by identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your market. Together you can come up with the answers to create a solid plan of action to reach your objectives. Your mentor can also hold you accountable for your steps forward, provide you with an objective viewpoint if you need a second opinion and lend support in the face of any challenges on your road ahead.
On top of all of this, a mentor will help you identify areas of improvement that can have a serious impact on your business’s bottom-line. They can see faults and develop a program to help you improve them.
If you aren’t a business owner and are working for a company, there are many areas a mentor can really help you as well. Instead of sugar-coating your weaknesses, they’ll be totally honest in telling you exactly what you lack. They’ll help you to continually improve your game and maximize your career opportunities within the company.
This constructive criticism will help you realize areas of improvement, and in turn help you improve your skillset and increase productivity. Perhaps the most important advantage is a mentor will help keep you motivated to take part in your own self-development and improve your job-related skills.
Now that you know and understand the importance and advantages of having a mentor to help you personally, with your business, or both, I’ll leave you with this one last thought.
Mentors are free, which makes them priceless in more ways than one. Typically, a mentoring relationship will grow organically through connections within your industry and network. Keep in mind, a mentor doesn’t do it for the money. Instead, they’re driven by the satisfaction of helping another entrepreneur. The thought of paying it forward from a similar experience they had when starting their own business is what drives them to help others. Always remember, having a mentor is not a sign of weakness; it shows you are smart enough and are driven enough to succeed.
Another perspective many people overlook is the fact that a successful mentorship is one where both the mentor and mentee have benefited. A mentor will feel satisfaction and gain new perspectives by providing guidance and insight to the person seeking it. Being a mentor makes you a more understanding human being. It keeps your mind young and your skills fresh. Successful people who don’t start to mentor others will eventually over time lose touch with their own excellence. Mentoring someone will actually connect you back to the original you who became so great!