The last post was the first of what I described as a series on the human element. I realised I did not fully elaborate what I meant by this and if truth be told it’s a bit misleading and not entirely what I wanted to discuss. Human element does not necessarily mean only the right people around you and can include a vast array of other topics.
I guess a more succinct way of looking at the subject matter I wanted to deal with, is the support structure and people around you that enables success. A co-founder is only one piece of the puzzle and a more exhaustive list can include investors, friends and family, social networks and mentors. Today we’ll look at mentors and Friday I’ll discuss friends, family and networks. I could probably theorise what you could expect from an investor, but given my lack of dealing with many individuals from the area I’ll refrain from doing so and add it to the bucket list for another time.
What does a mentor do?
During my time at Shell we were encouraged to get a mentor. A mentor was described as a person who you could bounce ideas off, give you career advice and maybe some networking opportunities too. Some 3 years in my Shell career I did find a mentor – a senior individual, who I got along with and could talk things over with. Unfortunately after 18 months or so we decided to formally end the arrangement due to both of us not getting anything useful out of it. The reality was we were both ill equipped/trained for it to be something worth doing.
I think a big issue is the mentor also has to have motivation in having a mentee. Don’t get me wrong, the mentee is going to get more out of the arrangement. But instead of trying to figure out what a mentor does, we’re better off trying to understand the relationship between a mentor and mentee.
I gave the vague Shell definition above, but more critically a mentor is there to guide, support and advise. They do this by listening to the mentee and then giving their assessment based on the conversation had. That advice has a wealth of experience. In turn the mentee should listen to what is being said and in most cases should really action the suggestions. Of course you should challenge anything you don’t feel makes sense, but if you’re not taking any advice onboard what’s the point?
When taking on a mentor I would be clear to set out expectations with them – set out how often to meet, why you think this person can help you and also make sure it is someone you can be honest with and get to know on a personal level too. The mentor will get more satisfaction out of the relationship if they know you as a person.
Benefits for an entrepreneur/founder
We can now tie this together with the support structure an entrepreneur needs to be successful. But we hit a difficulty. Whereas within a big company we can find a mentor through the corporate system, out in the real world requires a bit more effort. Before going out searching, we need to establish what sort of mentor is required for a newbie. First up, one may not be enough, but I think two is the limit. Too much advice can also be a bad thing if everyone start contradicting each other!
I’d see if you can find someone who has some entrepreneurial experience – you can probably learn from their mistakes without needing to make the mistakes yourself. If they’ve had some success even better. I’d also look for a second one – someone who knows you a bit from your former life. They are likely to understand how you operate and think and can maybe talk in a ‘language’ you can understand – in my world I’d call that ‘Shell speak’.
I’ve obviously written this article after some thought and seeking mentors myself. I’ve gone for someone who has worked in my former employer for that reason. On top of that I have someone who runs their own company who can look from an external perspective. If truth be told the latter is not quite an entrepreneur as much as a businessman, but they’re someone I can build a relationship with. Maybe I’d be better off with someone who has more entrepreneurial experience but for now I think that’s covered via different means (that’s discussed on Friday!).
If thought out properly there are quite a considerable number of advantages to having a mentor. Have you got one? How do you manage your relationship with them?