We all hear that as successful business people we need to give back and we should be mentors. Cheryl Sandberg has made an industry of women mentoring up and coming women in all sorts of organizations. The value proposition to the mentor though has been presented as a duty by virtue of our experience and expertise, and that is doing the role a disservice. The truth of the matter is being a mentor is a tremendous learning experience as much for the mentor as the “mentee”.
When I started my business, I was in the Young Entrepreneurs Organization or YEO (now just EO, since they lost the young part…). Through an affiliation with WPO, the World Presidents, of which I am now a member, I was matched with two great mentors. One was my go-to-guy on financial management issues, and the other was a great marketeer who was invaluable to me years later when I sold my business. He was the one who at a wonderful dinner of YEOers and their mentors, toasted our relationship saying that being a mentor was in ways more rewarding than being a father, because unlike his children, I actually listened to everything he said.
Now fast forward some 20 years and in the spirit of turn about is fair play, through WPO, I have a few mentor relationships of my own. They are with entrepreneurs who have very successful professional services businesses, different from M Squared but still in the human capital space. At times we may talk about difficult or unforeseen issues, but typically we focus on moving the business forward. It is wonderful to make a suggestion or an introduction that could strengthen a new direction. Similarly, sharing tough moments can often resonate for my younger colleague as he/she faces a difficult decision. In those conversations you learn about yourself for in the telling is the lesson.
Yesterday I learned even more, for yesterday I discussed my new business idea with one of these exceptional leaders. Her perspective was very valuable, and fresh, since she is in an adjacent business constantly. She let me know about quasi-competitors or substitute services of which I had been unaware. She questioned certain premises and raised new issues. I learned not only more about the business segment I am exploring, but I learned more about her critical thinking processes, the questions she would ask and the approaches she might take. It was enlightening, refreshing and energizing.
They say mentoring is a way to give back But, with an homage to the holiday season, it is in the giving that you receive.