Choose Your Mentors Wisely: 3 Traits to Look for in a Great Mentor
As an entrepreneur, you will consistently encounter new obstacles, both large and small. How you deal with them will either derail you from your path or push you forward. Mentors are invaluable assets to help you navigate those trials. They are the ones who have already earned their championship rings and can coach you to achieve your true potential. In fact, 70 percent of small businesses that receive mentoring survive more than five years. That is double the survival rate of non-mentored businesses.
The lessons my own mentors taught me and the wisdom they imparted are large parts of why I have been able to accomplish what I have so far.
Many people ask what makes a good mentor. The answer to that is going to change slightly from person to person and business to business. However, I feel there are three different themes of mentorship that apply universally. I would recommend seeking out at least one of these traits when looking for a good mentor:
A visionary mindset
One of my first mentors was the person who gave me my introduction into the fashion retail industry. He taught me the ins and outs of that world, and being associated with him gave me credibility working in that space.
Beyond that, one significant lesson he taught me was to always look to the future and get ahead of where technology is going. Although he was a fashion executive, he was also a CTO with a keen eye on how the internet was set to disrupt the world. Hard to believe now, but there was a time when many thought the internet was nothing more than a passing fad.
Find a mentor who can help you see past what’s directly in front of you and look to the larger picture of the evolving world -- someone who always seems a few steps ahead of the game.
A distinct management philosophy
Another mentor of mine, a former Harvard business school professor who went on to build a multibillion-dollar publically traded company, showed me the absolute importance of finding the right management strategy for your business. Headquartered in Hong Kong, my mentor developed a breakthrough management system and showed me how a company could be run with a Western management style and an Eastern value system. This “three-year planning” process requires a complete overhaul of the business every three years -- as if you are starting the company from scratch -- along with one massive stretch goal that seems impossible to meet. I incorporate these management techniques along with many others I learned from him in how I run LegalZoom today.
Find a mentor that is a master in management -- someone who can help you develop the management strategies and hone the specific types of management skills that will work for the business you are trying to build.
A perspective to push you
Over the years, one of my mentors has given me life lessons ranging from marriage advice to exit strategies. He was my first VC, and in many ways is like an older brother. Many years ago we had an investment that was doing very well; after three years it was profitable and had considerable revenue. He wanted to move on. He told me that it was a good investment, but it was like hitting a single. I could spend the next three years hitting singles with this, or within that timeframe, I could cut my investment and start a whole new company that would hit one out of the park. I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of exiting a profitable business at first, but he showed me how to reach farther than I thought I could. He taught me that the enemy of incredible is good.
Find a mentor who never lets you settle -- someone who will show you different perspectives that challenge what you think you know and who pushes you past your comfort zone.
The quality of a mentor is important. Research by Endeavor Insight showed that 33 percent of companies where a founder is mentored by a successful entrepreneur went on to become a top-performing company. Having a good mentor can be helpful. Having a great mentor can change your life.