“And that is how we’re going to get to $25-million in revenue within 18 months!”
I bit my lip and scratched my head. Sitting opposite me was a small business owner with over 10 years experience in his industry. By all outward appearances he seemed to know what he was talking about. However, there was a huge disconnect between the realities of business and his vision for the future. “Have you ever had a mentor?” I asked as politely as I could. When I was in my early 20’s and I set up my first ‘grown up’ business, I had a business partner and mentor who was Yoda to my enthusiastic but naïve Luke. And like Luke’s, my apprenticeship was cut short. Not by exploding death stars, but by imploding dot com bubbles.
Ever since then I have actively sought out mentors to fill the galactic-sized gaps in my knowledge. Some I connect with every week, some I only connect with when I have a specific problem. Some have been dead for centuries. Over the years I have developed a methodology for how to find mentors and how I work with them. In that time I have spoken with hundreds of entrepreneurs, many of whom seemed to struggle with the concept of what a mentor is. Hopefully, this brief guide will help.
When do you need a mentor?
In my opinion, 10 years ago is the right answer, but failing that, today would be a good start. If you are wrestling with any element of your life – and if you have any ambition, you will be – then there is someone out there who can help you with that. Over the years I have refined the list of things that I look for in my mentors. Handily, they form the acronym PANIC, and should I ever find myself starting to panic on any topic, it is a fair bet that it is time to find a mentor who can help in the following ways.
P – Perspective
I typically look for three new types of perspective on any situation. I’m looking for industry perspective from someone who has more experience than me. I’m looking for market perspective from someone who has a healthy distance from my industry. And finally I’m looking for life perspective – someone who can help me put my current challenge in context and remind me that it is just a game we’re playing.
A – Accountability
There are very few of us that have the discipline to always push ourselves as hard as we can. Whether it’s hiring a personal trainer for fitness or a business coach for your company, accountability forces us to up our game. Some of my mentors end up on my board of advisors or even directors. I make quarterly targets, and it is there they hold me accountable to my goals and a higher standard.
N – Network Mentors
Network mentors by their very nature tend to be quite well-connected. Not all of them, but most of my mentors have been exceedingly generous with their networks, allowing me to find more mentors and partnerships. You can spend 30 years building a network, but tapping into someone else’s can get you there in a fraction of the time.
I – Insight
A good mentor will ask questions that you haven’t thought of. They will challenge you to question your assumptions and they will force you to think things through in different ways. This is where you will get your insight from. A side note to this; it is not the mentor’s responsibility to give you insight. It is your responsibility to get insight from your mentor.
C – Credibility
I will be the first to admit that I shamelessly name drop my mentors. If the top companies in the world are not above using celebrity endorsement, then I see no reason why I can’t do something similar in my industry. One of the fastest ways to build trust in the marketplace is to leverage the trust your market has for someone/something else. Having a well known advisor can give you instant credibility.
“Do I really need a mentor” he asked? “Have you ever taken a business to $25-million in 18 months?” I asked. We all like to think of ourselves as being self-sufficient and able to achieve things on our own. Our education system is predicated on the idea. But entrepreneurship is a team sport and some of the most important people on any team are the coaches. No professional athlete will attempt to compete at the highest levels without a bevy of coaches around them to support and guide them. If the game of business is anything more than a hobby to you, then it is time to start building your coaching team. It’s time to find your Yoda.
Image: Angelo via Flickr.