Small business expert and author Barry Moltz shares what you should consider when choosing a business mentor.
Behind every successful business owner is a mentor, right or wrong?
Everyone needs a mentor to talk to in some shape or form. Particularly when you are trying to grow a business. A mentor can give an additional perspective and feedback on decisions that need to be made.
In order to find the right mentor, you have to ask yourself five questions, starting with “what don’t I know?”
This is very hard to admit since every small business owner is expected to be able to do it all. Evaluate what your best skills are and where you need help. It’s nearly impossible to figure this out from inside a company. Ask past employees and managers for an anonymous evaluation.
The second question you need to ask yourself is “how do I best learn?”
People learn in different ways: reading, listening, and watching. Some like to read a book about how to gain new skills. Others like to be taught one-on-one by a teacher. And some want that skill demonstrated in an old-fashioned classroom setting.
A business owner needs to find a mentor who can teach the way they most easily learn. This becomes the basis of an effective collaboration. Taking a personality evaluation test like Meyers Briggs may be a good place to start.
The third question is “how do I trust?”
Most small business owners don’t give their trust freely. It takes time. How does someone typically gain your trust? Is it a result of experience, a referral or personal interactions? If you don’t trust the mentor, then any advice they give will be ignored or marginalized.
The fourth question is about payment: “Will I pay my mentor?”
Some small business owners believe they will only get the most unbiased advice if they do not pay their mentors. They think that anyone paid to help them will only give them the information they want to hear. The key factor is to create an environment where the mentor can be focused on the issues and are not afraid to get ‘fired’.
Finally, the ability to listen, “Can I really listen?”
One of the hallmarks of a great small business leader is their ability to listen to others. This doesn’t just mean giving the mentor their ‘say,’ but really discovering how their opinion fits and influences important decisions. You don’t have to act on all the advice, but you need to listen to it! People don’t want to mentor those who are sensitive to criticism and stuck in their ways. Arguing when feedback is given is a major red flag to any mentor that they will not be able to make a difference.
Learn from the master. I have had two mentors over the last 15 years. First, Rick Mazursky who was a very successful consumer products CEO. He would always give me the perspective I was missing. My current one is Rieva Lesonsky who I just wrote a book with called “Small Business Hacks”. She always helps me determine the “right” thing to do.