The Main Reason You Need a Mentor

If you have ever felt stuck or unsure about how to move your business career forward, you have probably considered finding a mentor.

Many of the world’s most renowned business leaders, such as Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson and former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, attribute their success to a mentor, and most respected business literature encourages the use of mentors. But many business leaders find that they struggle to find a mentor or even understand what a mentor would do for them.

Until recently, I was certainly one of those.

And then, I realised why a mentor was so important.

Whether we like it or not, many of us can become lazy thinkers at times, seeking out quick solutions to our business and personal issues. As Daniel Kahneman puts it in his book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, we have two modes of thinking:

  • ‘System 1’ is the impulsive, quick, responsive mode of thinking that we are in most of the time.
  • ‘System 2’ is the more considered, effortful, logical mode that we must force ourselves into.

Consider the following questions:

Question Answer
Why can’t I click with my team? I’m just not getting my point across – I need to be more forceful.
Why do I keep getting looked over for promotions and opportunities? My boss hates me. I know it.
What should I plan to do differently next year in my business? We need to make more sales month-on-month.

These are simplistic responses – our System 1 thinking in action. There is not much of a gap between the stimulus (the question) and the response (the answer). We are often jumping to quick conclusions (often emotionally based) that may or may not be correct. These answers are not the best response we can make.

Contrast those responses with these:

Question Answer
Why can’t I click with my team? I need to sit down with my team members and talk to them about what they think.  I also need to open up to them about how I feel about things.
Why do I keep getting looked over for promotions and opportunities? I’m going to book a meeting with some senior decision-makers and ask them where they think my strengths are and where I need to improve.
What should I plan to do differently next year in my business? I’m going to do a SWOT Analysis of where the strengths and weaknesses of the business lie and what I can do about them. I want to understand my two most profitable products and what strategies I can employ to market these products better.

These responses are more considered and strategic, but they take effort and deeper logic to arrive at (System 2). There is a much larger gap between stimulus and response.

What does all this have to do with mentoring?

The simplest way I can explain the benefit of mentoring is that a mentor will force you to invoke your System 2 thinking mechanism. A mentor relationship should be about big picture/higher-order thinking and help you to see things in a more well-rounded manner. A mentor will ask pertinent questions to help you find options for solving problems that you didn’t see yourself. A good mentor will not hand you the answer sheet before an exam, even though sometimes this is what you really want. A mentor will help teach you to widen the gap between stimulus and response.

One of the reasons why I used to wrestle with the notion of mentorship was because I was looking for a single person to fulfil that role. But, in fact, you may have several mentors, all with different fields of experience. Don’t limit yourself to authority figures, or only those older than you either – currently I have a mentor helping me with web-based marketing, who is many years younger than me.

Mentorship is beyond providing advice, but it is not coaching. Coaching will follow an ordered process to help you achieve goals over a period of time. Mentoring can be random and should not follow a particular model or structured process. It should be dynamic and symbiotic. Both parties should benefit, and the exchange can be exceptionally meaningful if you are both open to listening and sharing. A mentor will help you grow into your authentic self.

So, how do you find these elusive mentors?

If you must think too hard, then you are probably not ready for it because it must start with you. Are you prepared to override your System 1 thinking with System 2? Are you really interested in being challenged on the big picture or are you happy just taking one day at a time? What are you really trying to achieve with your business/career? How are you going the extra mile to learn and grow?

There should be people in your network who you trust and will be happy to have a conversation with you. Personally, I joined a networking group full of very experienced consultants from different walks of life. I very quickly found three or four mentors who I could relate to and open up to. It doesn’t have to be someone you know really well or mix with socially.

Having coffee is a great way to start. Get on the front foot and open up yourself and see where the conversation goes. Prepare a couple of topics that you would like to explore during the discussion but don’t treat it like a structured business meeting. Don’t be stressed or have too many expectations.

Demonstrating your commitment to personal development, growth and learning will make a mentor happy to invest their time and energy in you – someone who recognises your potential and is willing to ‘walk the walk’ by your side. The mentor will likely learn as much from you as you from them.

In an accompanying blog, I wrote that one of the secrets to business success is to have a team around you—a coach, a marketer, content creator and so on. The team will help you to avoid trying to do everything yourself and use specialist skills so you can grow and be a continued success in your business.

A mentor is another member of your team who can enlarge your field of vision and get you thinking thoroughly and effectively.