Part One: Establish the Goals of Your Mentor Relationship
One of the greatest strengths of successful entrepreneurs is that they are ‘can-do’ type of people and their ability to embrace the unknown is a key strength. However, these traits are also a source of weakness. “We don’t know what we don’t know.” And this is where one of the most important members of your team comes in and that is your mentor(s).
First, it is important to separate what a mentor is verse advisors. These terms and roles are often interchangeable, but I like to keep the division simple. A mentor is someone who is going to make you a better leader, while advisors helps make your business better. At Venture Mentoring Services Alberta (VMSA) we have a great racing team metaphor: “As mentors we work on the driver, not the car”.
Prior to even looking for a mentor it is critical to have your goal(s) in mind. This can be a bit challenge for first time or younger entrepreneurs as it falls under the heading ‘don’t know what you don’t know’. However, there is a simple way, look for a mentor who has been where you want to be. I didn’t get this advice from a mentor, but rather a book I read as a teenager about being a successful entrepreneur and the author suggested ‘if you want to be an entrepreneur, hang out with successful entrepreneurs.’ I’ve since modified this to look for mentors who have ‘been-there-done-that’ with what you want to achieve. Look for a mentor who has done what you want to do.
You want to find a mentor that has the same values as you. You are going to be talking to your mentor about important issues that can be looked at in lots of different ways. For example, you can take two very successful entrepreneurs Kevin O’Leary and Arlene Dickinson, they both have grown very successful businesses, but with very different values and approaches. O’Leary and Dickinson approach business issue from very different perspectives. If you are focused on numbers and the bottom line then O’Leary will be a better match, but if you are interested in team building and leadership then Arlene might be a better fit. Look for a mentor who you admire and acts in a way that you respect.
Another important characteristic of a mentor is that they should not be just telling you what to do. You can not abdicate decisions to your mentor, rather you want them to be helping you make the decisions. A good mentor wants to make you a more successful business person and leader (this goes back to the driver and car metaphor—a good mentor helps you become a better driver). One of the best ways I can tell if my mentor relationship is going in the right direction is to ask yourself am I making better and more timely decisions. Look for a mentor that makes you a better person.
David Cooper, CFCWest Board Chair and Director of Business Architecture, Evolution