Patria-Kaye Aarons | Mentor Mistakes: the dos and don'ts
From as long as I've been in the corporate world, I've heard people talk about their mentors. Everybody tells you to seek out someone you admire and have that person mentor you; and how amazing things will happen to you and your business if you pair yourself with the right mentor.
I'll admit, I drank the mentorship Kool Aid too and believed that all would be roses and sunshine once I had the right persons giving me advice.
Well, I've come to realise that perhaps others haven't been totally honest. There are some conditions to choosing a mentor and managing the mentor relationship that people leave out; and these conditions can mean the success or failure not only of your relationship, but of your business.
Here are my top four:
1. Pick a mentor who has failed.
Recently, at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, one female entrepreneur commented: "I've made every mistake in the business book." I'd take her for my mentor in a heartbeat. In spite of her making grave mistakes along the way, she still managed to build a successful IT business. I'm sure she has learnt from every one of those failures and can guide me down a path towards success, telling me first-hand what pitfalls to avoid.
Be encouraged by the failures of your mentors. Not in the mocking "Yu brute yu. A good!" kind of way. What's inspiring isn't really the failures but the fact that they got back up. The resilience to carry on is a lesson in and of itself and how they got back up can teach you a lot.
The dumber my mentor's mistake, honestly, the better I feel. It makes them more human and more relatable and in some way puts me at ease to make my own mistakes without fear of total ruin.
2. Don't subject yourself to mentor bun.
In the same way a man can't be in a meaningful relationship with 10 women, a mentor can't be in a meaningful relationship with 10 mentees. There are some successful people who have a problem saying no and will readily accept you as a mentee ... and then you find out that they have multiple others. Politely walk away. You're just another notch in that person's belt.
Awesome if you admire Jamaica's most successful business woman, but there's a strong possibility that she wouldn't make the best mentor. You need someone who has time for you. Someone who will answer your calls and is available for regular meet-ups. Super successful people are super busy and sometimes too busy to give the mentorship relationship enough time and effort to make it a success.
The objective of mentorship is to coach you and your business to a better place, and that takes time and dedication. So going for the busy top dog isn't always the best idea. You will always be "The Little People".
3. Be brutally honest.
One thing is true, if your mentorship sessions are going to be effective, you have to be totally honest with your mentor.
Some have made the mistake in the past of glossing problems over with their mentors because they are just too intimidated to level with this person who they hold in such high regard. You want your mentor to feel proud of you, and sometimes it's hard to fess up to your failures and admit that things just aren't going well.
A friend related a story about a time she and her mentor had a session, and during the entire conversation, he kept making reference to A&P. She didn't know what A&P meant, but she didn't ask because she didn't want this person that she looked up to to think she was stupid. So she smiled and nodded the entire time. The session was wasted because all she focused on for the hour was trying to figure out what the acronym stood for. She wasted her time and the mentor's. Had she asked, he would have said 'advertising and promotions" and kept it moving.
Pick someone you're OK asking silly questions.
4. Pick a mentor who listens more than talks.
Beware of the mentor who dominates the conversation. One who wants to show off on you just how bright he is and just how much he knows.
One of my best mentor's, Harry Smith, almost never gives me solutions. The merit in our relationship is that Harry asks the right questions. He looks at my problems with a critical eye and asks questions that force me to consider issues I hadn't before. Harry doesn't solve my problems, but he guides me down a path of discovery. He helped me learn to think, and that's the best lesson a mentor could pass on.