Training & Development

Quint column: Why mentorship matters

Quint Studer.

This past week I ran into Mari Josephs, owner of Carmen’s Lunch Bar located in downtown Pensacola.  I shared that through the past several months, other regional communities have been reaching out about entrepreneurship and helping small businesses get started and grow.

One example I share when talking to community leaders is the success of the Pensacola Business Challenge. About six years ago, the Pensacola Business Challenge offered a $50,000 grand prize for the best business plan.

Thirty-three business plans were completed. While Mari’s plan was chosen, she wasn’t the only person to benefit. In the wake of this initiative, 32 people had complete business plans to show potential investors. It gave entrepreneurs a big head start on their dream of opening a business.

What’s the result? Several of the other business challenge applicants went on to open businesses.

Josephs explained that the prize money was needed and nice. However, the guidance and support made such a difference. One aspect of the challenge was to have mentors assigned to her. He comments led me to think more about the value of mentorship.

Mentorship is a partnership between individuals to promote professional and career development. The mentor must be an active participant in the relationship. The ideal mentee is a motivated individual who is open to feedback, coaching and guidance with the ability to learn, patience and comfort with being a team player.

In the book The Coming Jobs War by Gallup Co. Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton describes the need for what he calls “Super Mentors.”

“The heroes America needs for this moment in history will come from those who guide, advise, encourage and mentor small businesses to success,” Clifton writes. “Which is the conception moment that saves a city and a country.”

Super mentors can almost be anyone. They light the fires under the innovators and entrepreneurs. Super mentors are willing to take a risk for an individual and an idea. They are the tipping point of extra energy that causes action to occur.

They encourage small and medium-sized companies to take risks. They give advice, lend a hand – or a shoulder – at a critical moment. That’s an essential aspect of creating jobs.

Bert Thornton, the former President and Chief Operating Officer of Waffle House, Inc., spent more than four decades working his way from a manager trainee to the top of a company that now has 2,100 locations nationwide.

With all of that knowledge and all of those experiences beginning as a Waffle House manager trainee in 1971, what did he decide to share in a book?

He penned Find an Old Gorilla, a book focused around mentorship and its importance in his life. Thornton will share these experiences during this year’s EntreCon Nov. 14-15.

Although next week I will provide tips for mentors, here are tips for being a good mentee.

Be specific on your needs. As you probably know, ambiguity can make a mentor-mentee much less effective. Communicate what your most pressing needs are so your mentor can help. That’s what a mentor is for. Be honest about where you are and where you stand. Offer both short and long-range plans.

Get familiar with your mentor’s background. What are your mentor’s strengths? A mentor can have decades of experience that can be vital to your success, but they may not be able to provide financial backing. Knowing your mentor well will help you maximize the mentor’s guidance.

Take ownership of the relationship. As the mentee, you need to own the communication. Set up meetings and phone calls to keep the relationship alive.

Be prepared. One effective way would be to provide your mentor with a meeting agenda in advance to keep the conversation productive and on task.

Ask for feedback. Don’t wait. “What questions should I be asking I have not asked?” “On a 1-10 with 10 being highest, rate my follow-up actions since we last met.”

Be self-aware. Identify specific areas of improvement and work on them. A mentor is there to develop a mentee, but it can affect the relationship negatively if the mentor finds him or herself working harder at the mentee’s success than the mentee is.

It is very common for highly successful people like Clifton and Thornton who helped them in their pursuits. No matter the name – a coach, a mentor, a guide or a sponsor – these are trusted relationships in which a person can share their fears, questions and reflections.

One of my favorite sayings is “When the student is ready the teacher appears.”

If you are ready, you will find the mentor you are looking for. You may not always hear what you want, however you most likely will hear what you need.