The Benefits of Mentoring

by Alice Gallop


‘Nothing great was ever accomplished alone’ vs. Those that ‘can’ do, those that ‘can’t’ mentor

Richard Branson attributes his ‘flying’ successes down to his mentor Freddie Laker’s ‘down-to-earth wisdom’. But, in case anybody is too young to remember, Laker failed. Laker Airways collapsed into bankruptcy in 1982, with Sir Freddie consigned to the ‘where are they now’ bin of bust entrepreneurs. The notoriously individually-minded, Steve Jobs, praised former Intel manager, Mike Markkula, for his role as ‘adult supervisor’. ‘Mark who?’  A Buzz Aldrin of Apple Electronics?  

The point is that whilst these examples, as shared by just about the finest/well-known entrepreneurs ever seen, were designed to ‘big-up’ the sphere of mentoring, cursory consideration raises as many objections as plaudits. As an entrepreneur, you are trying to do something different. This is new stuff. You don’t need some old baggage weighing you down – right? Well, actually….wrong. Here’s why: 

Mentoring is not about telling you how to run your business, it is about helping you to be an entrepreneur – it takes one to know one. Yes, you might have some family and friends who can actually tell you the truth without a sugar coating. They might even have some business experience. But chances are that they are not entrepreneurs themselves. You are a member of a pretty exclusive group….and possibly (and please don’t take this the wrong way) you’re a little bit weird – in an utterly driven, single minded, kind of way. Entrepreneurs are different to everybody else. It’s a mindset thing. To corrupt Bill Clinton’s well-worn catchphrase… ‘it’s mentality stupid!’. 

So it’s true, you don’t need a mentor who is a ‘been there done that’ merchant.  What you need is somebody who remembers what it is actually like to be like you.  Once you get that in your head, the benefits Branson and Jobs’ derived from Messrs Laker and Markkula snap into sharp focus.  By the way, Markkula made millions at Intel and had retired aged 32 before joining Apple as its second CEO. 

Then there is this thing about mistakes as a method of gaining business wisdom either by, a. making your own or b. learning from the mistakes of others. Mentors help with both.   

a. Making your own mistakes: Sometimes your own mistakes can lead to the end of a chapter.  A pretty big error might just lead to a happy outcome in the long term – maybe your next idea is actually better than your first.  However, sometimes your own smaller mistakes can lead you down a potentially unwelcome path and, in this case, you need a mentor to help you focus on your original goal and help set aside the knock-backs which might otherwise push you on a different course. 

b. Learn from the mistakes of others: Of course, your mentor can (most certainly will) tell you about their own mistakes; and you, the young, thrusting, entrepreneur will almost certainly regard their experience with a degree of ‘this time it’s different’ scepticism.  However, chances are, that hearing their stories will lead to just a few tweaks which didn’t feature in the first draft of your business plan.  

Let’s be straight that overcoming the initial hurdles when starting a business can be a deeply demoralising experience.  But for you, the entrepreneur, this is not simply a matter of choice, it is a human need within you. A mentor can provide the necessary encouragement and wisdom to prevent you becoming mired in self-doubt. Someone’s ‘got your back’ – well headspace, actually. Encouragement carries more weight when it is coming from someone who knows and understands you and your needs. A simple statement that affirms you are on the right track, even when things do not seem to be going well, may be the difference between success and failure. The American author and businessman, Zig Ziglar, couldn’t have said it any better – ‘a lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could’.  

A mentor is the most powerful and underestimated asset that an entrepreneur can have. As business elders, they offer an insight which is only available through experience.  Once the relationship has been established, they are a resource for life. Take note; the rewards are many, and the risk is non-existent.