The importance of mentors in starting a business

Thoughts from the team
By    | April 30, 2012 | Strategy,

I was recently asked to give a talk to a group of small business owners and entrepreneurs on the subject of mentoring. As anyone who has been asked to give a talk will know – the preparation is usually started with a quick session on Google. So here were my results….

I found a good definition – “Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be.”. Quite inspiring…

I also found out via Wikipedia that Mentor was a person in Greek mythology – and I found another definition “someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with less experienced colleagues. It also brought back to me the word “protégé” – which seems to have slipped from common use. This is someone who is being mentored (a mentee in common speak these days).

I have been lucky enough to have had some brilliant mentors in my journey as first a photographer and then an entrepreneur. Latterly, I have also taken on this role for other people – including an aristocrat, a professional sportsman and a property developer.

These days, increasingly there is access to professional mentors/psychologists/life coaches – and I think they serve a purpose. However, at its purest the relationship of a mentor/mentee is a partnership. There has to be a chemistry – a meeting of energies that motivate both side to really work. It’s not a pure paternal relationship (although age difference might make it feel that way) – but sides have to gain.

I love the quote (although I cannot find the source) that “people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.” A mentoring relationship can be any of these. Certainly I have experienced all of these.

For example, in the 90s, my business changed when the Getty family and Bill Gates moved in to the “cottage industry” of the photography world. I have two mentors who helped me through. You can read more about that experience here – but in essence I had a mentor, Chad Murrin of 3i, who introduced me to the world of corporate finance and venture capital (he remains a friend today). At the same time, I had a short term mentor in the form of Tom Kirby of Games Workshop – he helped me understand strategy (which drives all my thinking today). Both had an illuminating effect on my life for reasons, seasons and lifetimes.

Since the sale of my business, I have tried to use my experience to help others. I have found the relationships two-way. I believe I have managed to learn more, find different views and hone some of my skills – while sharing my experience. I am very clear on what I can offer to people. It’s a passion to get individuals to lift their heads from their daily grind and consciously decide where they are going. This is coupled with my desire to get people to look around and find solutions away from the narrow path they often tread. “Head up – mind open” is always my mentoring message.

Going back to the original definition I found – we all have a drive to “become the person we want to be.” I believe that you cannot do this by sitting on your own reading self-help books and making plans. John Lennon had it right “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” You need to get out and live life – and that means meeting people. You will know when the chemistry is right and you have met someone that you can be a mentor to – or ask to be mentored by. Avoid the professional life coaches, unless you have a very specific issue to deal with – get out and meet a mentor today! Two final quotes (you can tell that I love them).

“You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things, the books you read and the people you meet.” ~ Charlie “Tremendous” Jones

“…often it is strangers who help us make sense of where we are going and who we will become.” ~ Herminia Ibarra “Working Identity”

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