Shopping for a Mentor
Mentorship is a favorite subject of mine: I am a strong advocate that, with proper mentorship, even the most meager of talents can take root and flourish. I am also just as convinced that, without any mentorship, even the most gifted people in the world are slated for an on-going cycle of ill-informed decisions.
Will Herman‘s recent article on VentureBeat highlights an interesting phenomenon when it comes to mentorship among entrepreneurs, though, and it’s one that I think is a bit different from what the rest of the world goes through when seeking a mentor. Will posits the question, Why do Enterpreneurs Flock to Loudmouths as Mentors?
In his article, Will focuses on what to do to make sure that you don’t fall into this trap. It’s worthwhile advice, and certainly worth remembering, but I personally prefer his original question: “What makes entrepreneurs flock to mentors who just happen to be the loudest guy in the room?”
When I look at the entrepreneurs I work and socialize with, I see four distinct trends that drive entrepreneurs — especially new ones — to gravitate towards what Will refers to as ‘loudmouths.’
Cult of the Personality
Call it charisma. Call it charm. Call it whatever you like, but some people simply instill confidence… whether or not there is really a justification for it. Whatever the root cause of it, these are people who find themselves being a magnet for people who want mentorship (either formally or informally), whether or not they are qualified.
The Cure: Don’t rush it. If you meet someone who sounds really good, take a dating-with-the-hopes-of-getting-married approach, not a weekend fling approach. If you ease into the relationship, it’ll sometimes be easier to tell if they are a mentor or just a great new drinking buddy.
Looking for a Life Raft
Making the switch from employee to entrpreneur is difficult. It’s an exhilerating rollercoaster that thrills you to the point of giddiness one second, and then terrifies you until you want to scream the next — all the while, tossing you around enough to make you queasy. More often than not, novice entrepreneurs want to find someone who can make them feel better. Whether they are looking for encouragement, advice or just someone who can understand their fears, sometimes the choice of mentor is driven largely by the desire for a bit of a security blanket.
The Cure: A mentor will tell you what you need to hear, instead of what you want to hear. Build our your support network to help you get the encouragement you need from multiple sources, so that you can find a mentor who can focus on being a mentor instead of having to pull double-duty as a cheerleader.
Lacking the Confidence to be Discriminating
Once you have a few years of experience in any given area, it gets easier and easier to recognize when someone is blowing smoke vs. when they are really worth listening to. One of the struggles that new entrepreneurs face is that they are often not yet confident enough in their own abilities to file the b.s. advice in the circular file. So they will take advice that they shouldn’t, simply because they are clinging to the belief that someone who has been doing this longer should know better.
The Cure: Even the world’s greatest advice from the perfect mentor is not always going to apply. You have to learn to pick and choose. One way to start is to make a pair of lists: “Conditions that must exist for this advice to apply.” and “Conditions that must exist for this advice NOT to apply.” And then compare each of those lists to YOUR reality and see which is closer.
Trying to Find a One-Size-Fits-All Mentor
I am not sure where this particular habit comes from, but I see this in people all the time: the assumption that they need one mentor who can mentor them in everything, and that they can only have one mentor at a time. No, no, no! You should always have multiple mentors, of all ages, from all types of backgrounds, covering all different aspects of your life (both professional and personal). Some of them will be more formal relationships, and some of them will be more informal. But by believing in a one-to-one relationship, you are not only limiting your growth potential, but you are eliminating potential mentors whose expertise may only be applicable for you in certain circumstances.
The Cure: Consider everyone in your life as a potential mentor in something. Everyone is good at something. And often times, that ‘something’ is not the same thing that I am good at. Whether it’s shopping on a budget, never raising their voice, staying positive in the face of adversity, or quickly assessing talent, there are endless opportunities for me to take lots of little lessons from a lot of different people. If I sit around and wait for the one right person to show up to teach me all of the big lessons, I could be waiting — and not making any progress — for a very, very long time.
Mentorship is how we grow, both as people and as entrepreneurs. But, just like any other influential relationship, it requires exercising some judgement and not letting your fear or expectations run away with you.
Alora Chistiakoff is an entrepreneur, blogger, content strategist and project manager who has been developing online business and technology for startups for more than a decade. She co-owns The Indigo Heron Group, Inc., a content strategy firm in Austin, Texas.