After working many years in business, both in large companies as well as startups, I’ve realized that you can learn more from peers and mentors than from any formal education program.
Of course, nothing beats learning from your mistakes, but that’s a painful and very time-consuming journey. Best of all, I find mentoring to be fun and fulfilling for both the giver and the receiver.
In fact, I’m convinced that the establishment of business mentoring relationships is the missing link between our education system and people who want to lead businesses today. Building and running a business is not rocket science, but it does require making practical tradeoffs, building solid relationships, and taking smart risks, all of which a one-on-one mentor can help you with.
Here are seven key lessons I have learned that are based on my own mentoring experience. I offer these to you as a potential source of inspiration and satisfaction, after some success in your business:
1. Relationships are the real key to business success.
We all probably thought that our initial ideas and the right products were the key, but realized later that business is all about win-win relationships with partners, team members, and customers. Mentoring will help you, as well as your mentees, find and build the right relationships for success.
2. Focus on real issues and skip the hypothetical cases.
Keep your discussions centered on actual business and market challenges, in lieu of speculation on possible future problems. These days, the pace of change is so great that trying to predict the future is not likely to be productive, even for the most confident business leaders.
3. We all need help in honing our communication skills.
Effective two-way communication is the key to every successful business transaction, and we all need practice and good feedback from someone we trust and respect on how to improve it. Mentoring gives both parties the opportunity to test their listening skills, as well.
4. Mentoring works best one-on-one and person-to-person.
It pays to take the time to meet personally in a relaxed environment to absorb the body language and the inspiration required to communicate effectively. Mentoring supplements but doesn’t replace the need to continue education through industry conferences and networking.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett both have very busy schedules, and have always been in totally different businesses, but they still find time to meet and talk regularly. Both give much credit to the other for success, and claim to have learned much from each other.
5. Mentoring keeps you in tune with new cultural trends.
Our educational systems today do very little to help you keep up with new generations of customers, employees, and partners. One of the toughest challenges is to adapt to changing global cultures, and how people think differently today. Pick your mentor carefully to meet this need.
In that context, one of the most unusual mentoring relationships I can recall was between Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. Early in the Facebook era, Jobs persuaded Zuckerberg to visit a temple in India for a month to better understand future social and cultural trends.
6. Existing leaders use mentoring to find their replacement.
While I tend to look at mentoring as a source of satisfaction and social responsibility, many more active executives and companies consider it one of the best ways to identify and nurture high-potential people in their organization as the next generation of replacement leaders.
According to Deloitte, high-potential Millennials say that having an experienced mentor assigned is one of their key factors in selecting a place to work and remaining with it. Long-term company success is all about having good leaders today as well as tomorrow.
7. Sharing through mentoring amplifies your satisfaction.
Every business owner and professional I know enjoys paying it forward as much as the learning and success. This can be particularly satisfying as you enter the later stages of your career, where your passion and energy for tackling the daily problems is more limited by health and family.
But don’t be fooled into taking mentoring lightly. It’s not easy to ask for help, and organizing times to meet, understanding the ins-and-outs of effective communication, and establishing goals for your time together are all reasons that mentor relationships don’t always work.
Yet if you commit, and make your best effort, it can be one of the joys of business that you will never forget.