They say no man is an island. A helping hand from an experienced mentor can be valuable for anyone. Still, as someone who’s been on both sides of the mentoring relationship, it’s clear that too many people read more into these arrangements than is actually realistic.
A mentor isn’t a fix-all for the challenges you’re experiencing in your business. Mentors won’t tell you what to do, when to do it or how to move forward. They can, however, can help you reach the same end result on your own. You just have to be willing to commit.
Truly, there are many common misconceptions out there about the mentor-protégé relationship and what you can expect out to get of it. Here are eight secrets your business mentor won’t tell you.
1. I can’t mentor you because I’m mentoring someone else.
Mentoring is supposed to be an intensive, individualized and private experience. If you aren’t getting one-on-one attention, you’ve got a teacher -- not a mentor.
Unfortunately, this presents a challenge for both parties. For mentors, it means turning down capable protégés if you’ve already committed to another. And for students, it could mean going to the trouble of identifying the perfect mentor only to be turned down for scheduling reasons -- which may or may not be explained to you.
Don’t push it. The goal of a mentoring relationship is progress, and that’s only possible if the guidance is individualized. There is a mentor or protégé out there for you, but you’ve got to wait for the timing to be right.
2. I’m not your coach.
A business coach works with someone who has the necessary skills and ability to succeed but needs help discovering it themselves. A mentor goes beyond that role by helping you develop the skills and knowledge you need to succeed.
Chief financial officer of TD Bank Group Colleen Johnston explains how her mentor, Ed Clark, filled this role:
“He understands the complexity of finance-related issues and provides excellent coaching in communicating that message to stakeholders," she says. "He's always been very helpful [in assisting me] to think through some of those types of conversations with key business partners.”
3. I can be your friend.
More often than not, good mentor-protégé relationships begin as friendships.
A mentor doesn’t have to come from a formal program or from the upper ranks of the company. Really, anyone who has wisdom and guidance they’re willing to impart on you, including an experienced coworker, can be a valuable mentor.
4. I’m not your consultant.
A consultant is someone who has specific knowledge, expertise and tools they will use to help improve your business -- but this kind of relationship doesn’t actually involve any learning or improving on your part. Mentors should not be fixing your problems for you -- they should be teaching you how to fix them yourself.
Bill Gates once spoke about mentor Warren Buffett, admiring his “desire to teach things that are complex and put them in a simple form, so that people can understand and get the benefit of all his experience.”
5. I don’t have time for you.
Unfortunately, it is possible to find yourself in a mentoring relationship that isn’t beneficial. Remember, most successful businesspeople are very busy, so if they don’t have time to really guide you, the relationship won’t be worth your time either.
If your mentor has some sort of ulterior motive for mentoring, such as a company mandate, then they might not genuinely believe in your ability to succeed. And if that’s true? They aren’t equipped to help guide you to the success you’re looking for.
6. I don’t have to be your only mentor.
It’s a common misconception that a protégé can only focus on absorbing the wisdom of one mentor at a time. In reality, different mentors have different skills and strengths that can help you succeed in both business and life. Take Michael Lee-Chin, a successful philanthropist and businessman, who names Warren Buffet as his business mentor and his mother Hyacinth Gloria Chen as his life mentor.
7. I’m not going to lead you...
A leader tells you which direction to go without necessarily telling you why. A good mentor is more like a guide -- someone who teaches you the path while helping you along it.
A mentor is supposed to help you grow and learn from your business experience and theirs. If they just gave you all the answers, what would you learn from the experience?
8. ...But I will advocate for you.
Good mentors go on to become advocates or champions for your success. They truly believe in your potential, and may go to extraordinary efforts to promote your skills and value to the others who will help you succeed. A good mentor encourages a protégé to “have the courage to stick with a tough job,” which is exactly the advice AG Lafley, chairman and CEO of Procter and Gamble, received from his mentor.
Mentor-protégé relationships are far from limitless, but if both parties are in it for the right reasons, then they can accomplish a lot together. I’m a big fan of inspirational business quotes, and one of my very favorites comes from Tom Kelly of Ideo: “Fail often so you can succeed sooner.”
A good mentor may be able to help you avoid some failures altogether. But more often than not, they’ll be there to encourage and help you through your mistakes -- taking you and your business to new heights you’ve never before dreamed of.