Mentorship: The (not so) Magic Bullet To Make 2021 Your Year

Compound Maven
| April 10, 2021
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Every now and then not-so-novel entrepreneur “life hacks” circle around, falling back into style. I would include A-lister’s morning routines, cold shower therapy, extreme diets, founder’s circles and ideas around mentorship to fall within this category.

The underlying issue with these kinds of trends and their inability to transform a business owner’s life in a meaningful way isn’t because the concepts are invalid or wouldn’t offer some improvement if followed consistently, but rather too much emphasis is placed on a singular technique and perfection gets weighed over progress (see The Power Of Tiny Gains Or Losses).

These techniques in of themselves aren’t inherently flawed, but as is the case with just about any lifestyle modification, how one goes about its implementation can be just as important as the validity of the concept itself.

To help illustrate this, let’s review themes around mentorship as they have been getting resurfaced in 2021 thus far, just with more pay-to-play founder’s circles and “invite-only” mentorship programs.

Merriam Webster defines “mentor” as: a trusted counselor or guide, with “mentorship” being: the influence, guidance or direction given by a mentor. This formal definition is useful for grounding, but we like Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s take as the emphasis shifts to a less hierarchical structure:

“Mentorship is a protected relationship in which a more knowledgeable or experienced person guides and nurtures the professional development or growth of another, outside the normal manager/subordinate line management. Its focus goes beyond learning specific competencies or tasks and builds a climate of trust so the mentee can feel secure to seek advice on issues impacting their professional success.”

If hungry, motivated individuals can learn from those outside of the rigid manager/employee structure, their learning curve might get elevated beyond the confines (and limitations) of the organization’s stratifications.

This becomes less clear in the world of entrepreneurship, where a dizzying number of other factors comprise a different form of company structure, or sometimes structure lack thereof. This doesn’t make the potential value of mentorship in the life of an entrepreneur less valuable, but I do believe it means finding an ideal, “all in one” mentor can be more difficult. I have found there are lessons to be learned from many different walks of life, and sometimes in growing a business it’s more efficient (and realistic) to learn from a number of individuals – including customers and suppliers – rather than trying to find a singular person to match all of your expectations.

This approach might not be for everyone, but I would caution to not confuse dedicated, hard work with a perceived “magic bullet” mentor who will change your business world overnight. If you do prefer to identify one person to meet your hopes and goals, consider Sheryl Sandberg’s advice:

“It’s not find a mentor, and you will do well; it’s do well, and a mentor will find you.”

This is in part because successful business owners are very busy and tend to run tight schedules. They, not unlike you, are inherently biased toward finding solutions to address their own roadblocks, unanswered questions or challenges of the day. Identifying talented individuals to mentor can actually be mutually beneficial, in addition to fulfilling a need people have to give back and lend a helping hand.

Ryan Holiday, author and career coach states “Powerful people are constantly on the lookout for talented young people; they cannot find enough of them…To develop a reputation as someone who is teachable, curious, motivated, talented, and above all, well-balanced and reliable, is the single best way to attract a mentor.”

Whether or not you opt-in for the singular mentor or more diversified approach, consider the #1 trap I see business owners fall into:

Too often entrepreneurs trap themselves in the pursuit of finding the “perfect stretch mentor” – i.e., I want to become a billionaire like Mark Cuban or Richard Branson, – so the goal is to find a billionaire mentor, when they haven’t even figured out how to run a profitable business or generate six figure cash flow. Meanwhile the ideal mentor for them in that point of time might instead be the business owner that’s just one or two levels ahead.

My contention is this can actually lead to more actionable mentorship advice, networking opportunities and ways to find target customers. Then, as you evolve to the next level, finding the next suitable person will be more readily attainable and you will have already had some practice refining the mentor/mentee relationship.

An added benefit is it prevents a secondary distraction that can result with inaction: waiting on the “perfect” match to elevate your progress and help you sort through your impediments.

Have you experimented with these different approaches? How have they worked for you? Feel free to leave a comment and we look forward to learning from you!

Lastly, the purpose of this post is not to provide a detailed breakdown of all things mentorship, but in case you are looking for more tactical techniques, ways to consider the mentor/mentee relationship and more, here’s a guide that might benefit your search (unaffiliated, this is listed purely in case it’s beneficial).

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