Entrepreneur: finding the right mentor

OVER the last few months I have become an ardent fan of the National Football League (NFL), better known as American football.

In the sport the quarterback is the equivalent of the playmaker in our brand of football, soccer.

This is the man who pulls the strings together, the leader of the orchestra whose acumen and skill level determines the fate of the franchise more than any other fellow on the field.

Now in this sport there is a player named Peyton Manning.

He is regarded by many as one the greatest to ever do it in his field — an equivalent of Zinedine Zidane perhaps in our brand of footie.

Now, he recently inked a US$100 million (M750 million) contract with a new team that had most of us fans and business people alike salivating.

Now, most of you may know very little about American football but common sense says a player who gets valued at US$100 million is a very distinguished one.

What I can tell you of Peyton Manning is that he is a champion, leader and has skill that is off the charts. And yet he has at least three coaches.

I have always made the argument to friends and colleagues that sport in general is a metaphor for life and business.

It allows us to experience vicariously the virtues of others, and this can in turn help us to cultivate them in ourselves.

Furthermore, for me, sport can be a reassuring symbol that the characteristics of traditional manhood are still alive and well.

The athlete is the way we want to see ourselves: stoic, focused, and devoted.

“So this Peyton Manning deal got me thinking mate. If a guy who just signed a US$100 million contract still needs three coaches, then surely you and I need at least 10,” I told my friend and business partner Teboho as we conversed over cappuccino this past week at one of Maseru’s better known eateries.

Even the greatest entrepreneur of our time, Steve Jobs, had a team of coaches. Sure, he called them “advisers” and “board members”, but fundamentally they equate to the same thing. The purpose is the same; to get counsel and advice.

In one of my favourite business folklore, Bill Gates enlisted Warren Buffet as a mentor when he himself had already amassed a fortune north of a billion dollars.

One of the worst mistakes you can make as an entrepreneur is trying to go at it alone, like a lone wolf out there on your own.

So in this second installment on entrepreneurship for our column I felt it was crucial to touch on the subject of mentorship.

The fact of the matter is that every management or leadership position includes an element of coaching and mentoring and also inversely requires it.

Experienced mentors guide those they mentor and help them to reach their potential.

Mentoring is not the same in every situation and hence requires appropriation to each given case.

Having said that though, I believe there are certain general traits entrepreneurs can look for.

All successful business people do not necessarily make effective mentors; certain individuals are more effective in the role of developing others.

Whether or not an individual is suited to the role of mentor may depend on his or her own stage of development and experience.

For example, a fairly successful individual may have had a specific, or limited, background and may not have enough general experience to offer.

Prior to entering into a mentoring relationship, the protégé (entrepreneur in our case) should assume the responsibility of assessing the mentor’s potential effectiveness.

These are some of the traits I believe are crucial to find in the sight mentor for you as an entrepreneur; for one, mentors should be good listeners, willing to provide honest information and feedback to their mentees.

An effective mentor is encouraging and provides proper guidance for their protégé on the proper way to handle difficult issues or tackle problems.

When a protégé is feeling discouraged or frustrated with a project or the organisation, a good mentor will offer advice on how to solve the problems.

On the flip side, mentors should also take notice of their protégés’ accomplishments and offer praise and encouragement when things go well.

A mentor is also a good role model.

An effective mentor demonstrates the proper way to behave in the business world, in meetings, social situations and in one-on-one interactions. Ideally, a mentor should be someone with excellent social skills and an even temper as well as someone who generally watches their words and solves conflicts in a diplomatic manner.

Mentors can also be a good gauge of the office culture, demonstrating expectations in terms of appearance, punctuality and interactions within the office environment.

Mentors should have excellent time management skills, or at the very least be willing and able to devote the time necessary to an effective mentoring partnership.

Communication is fundamental to mentoring, and the mentor needs to have the time to have regular in-person meetings with the protégé and be available via phone or email to answer questions or provide feedback.

When you are looking for a mentor, ideally you should find someone that shares your interests or has a similar education or experience background.

Another good choice is someone who is working on a project, or group of projects, that interest you.

You can get an insider’s perspective on the project, and may earn opportunities to work on a project that you might not otherwise have.

A superior mentor is also very results oriented. I mean ultimately you are in this for effective outcomes that will transform your entrepreneurial and personal life.

Lastly I believe a great mentor is someone who is a trusted authority and whose legacy, content body of work inspires.

As an example this may be someone who is a leader and maybe written articles, books, or speeches in your line of work.

Do whatever it takes to find yourself the person that fits all the above.

And yes, you could take shortcuts and disregard some of the traits.

But why would you?

We’re talking about your life here.

And although you probably have not have not closed the M750 million Peyton Manning type deal for now, isn’t it time you started preparing for greatness?

Let’s keep reaching for the skies to make ourselves and our continent great.

*Matela Lechesa is a graduate from the University of Pretoria and majored in Economics and Statistics.

He is also an entrepreneur, writer, blogger, and consultant.

His other writings can be found the blog: mailandmoney.wordpress.com

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