Making The Most Of Mentorship

The mentor/mentee relationship is one of the most important foundations of business success. Here's how to get it right.

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Oresti Patricios
  • Company: Ornico Group
  • What they do: Ornico Group is a leading media information provider that collects, distills, measures and analyses data in order to inform clients of trends, competitor information, gap analysis and reputational risk. Ornico Group works with 85 of the top 100 advertisers in South Africa.
  • Visit: www.ornico.co.za

When it comes to start-ups, Oresti Patricios, founder of the Ornico Group, says he has no core advice for entrepreneurs to follow. In his experience, each entrepreneur — and their business — is different. 

Mike Turner Photography

This isn’t to say that start-ups don’t face similar challenges — they do, but how they deal with them, and what works and doesn’t work, is influenced by personality, experience and world outlook — amongst other things.

It’s one of the reasons he finds mentoring so rewarding and fulfilling, and why he believes every entrepreneur should either have a mentor, or be a mentor. 

“Over the years I’ve discovered that I learn from entrepreneurs whom I mentor as much as they learn from me,” he says.

“A successful mentor/mentee relationship must be reciprocal. Whichever side you’re approaching this from, consider what both parties will get from the relationship. Unless you both benefit in some way, it won’t be a success — it will just be a waste of time for both of you, and time is a finite, infinitely valuable resource.”

 

1. Finding a good fit

Oresti knows from personal experience that not every mentoring relationship works. “At one point I was mentoring six start-ups, all one and two-man businesses. Three were going very well, and three weren’t. I wasn’t sure if I was wasting everybody’s time, or if perhaps I wasn’t explaining things properly, so I invited all six to a group session. 

“It became very clear that in three cases we had a good fit, and in the others we didn’t. I learnt how important that relationship is. Your values, personalities and goals must align. Two of the three that weren’t working left entrepreneurship and have pursued very successful corporate careers, and we still keep in touch, but the mentoring relationship didn’t work.

“That’s okay. If that happens, don’t give up. Leave on amiable terms and find a better fit. This is such an important relationship, make sure it’s the right one, and that it works for both of you. The best relationships are reciprocal, and they are so rewarding when they do work out.”

 

2. Be willing to learn

But you need to be open to being mentored, and not all start-up entrepreneurs are ready for the rigours of a mentor/mentee relationship — or mentors for that matter.

“I also went to university and thought I knew everything,” says Oresti. “It takes time and maturity to realise you don’t have all the answers, but it’s still a two way street.

“There’s so much to address and understand in South Africa. I have a business relationship with my mentees, but our discussions cover everything, from ‘fees must fall’ to the rise of black consciousness. They open my mind, which is incredibly beneficial to me, as a South African, a business owner and for the advice I offer my clients. 

“The best mentor/mentee relationships cross boundaries — cultural, age, backgrounds and experiences. That’s how you can share ideas and perspectives, and hopefully both grow.”

 

3. Creating safe spaces

For a relationship like this to work though, honest and open discussions in a safe space are essential. 

“You need to consciously create a safe space where politics, culture and business can be discussed in tandem. You can’t do this properly without evaluating all factors affecting society, markets, businesses and even politics. The goal is to learn, share and grow — together. 

“I often discuss topics around the perspectives and perceptions of blackness for example. I come from a very western perspective, and have a lot to learn in this regard; similarly, I have a lot to offer when it comes to three decades of business experience with big local and international brands.

“Consider this, if I say a red car what immediately comes to mind? It might be a red Ferrari. It might be a Beetle or Porsche. The point is that we could be picturing completely different cars, and yet assume we are on exactly the same page, without digging deeper.

“These discussions can often feel uncomfortable — and they should — but they also need to happen. That’s how we grow, together. If we don’t start understanding things from the various cultural, gender, race and age perspectives in South Africa, we will never fully thrive as a society — and business has a very important role to play in this regard, not least of all as the bedrock of economic growth.”

 

Next steps

As a start-up, one of the best things you can do for personal and business growth is find a mentor. Don’t look for someone who is exactly like you. Look within your industry, because industry experience can add enormous value to your business acumen, but more important is someone who can offer a different perspective to your own.

You also need to ensure that your goals and values align. This is a very personal relationship, and you will have difficult conversations, about your business and society in general. If you don’t respect each other, the relationship won’t work.

Don’t be shy to approach a potential mentor. The worst thing that could happen is that they say no. That’s okay, just keep looking. Many, many established business owners want to be mentors — you just have to find the right fit. Join associations and attend networking events. You can’t find your mentor if you aren’t out there meeting people. 

 

Nadine von Moltke-Todd

Written By

Entrepreneur Staff

Nadine von Moltke-Todd is the Editor-in-Chief of Entrepreneur Media South Africa. She has interviewed over 400 entrepreneurs, senior executives, investors and subject matter experts over the course of a decade. She was the managing editor of the award-winning Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa from June 2010 until January 2019, its final print issue. Nadine’s expertise lies in curating insightful and unique business content and distilling it into actionable insights that business readers can implement in their own organisations.