Small Business Mentoring: Why it Doesn’t Work

By Alzay Calhoun

Edited Video Transcript:

Everybody’s heard the advice of you should get a mentor. They don’t tell you how to get one. Along the path, you find some decent mentors and some really bad ones. Let’s have a more practical conversation about mentorship right now in this video.

Hey. It’s Alzay Calhoun with Coveted Consultant. This whole video series is focused on giving leaders better tools so you can build the best in class business that you’ve always thought about. There’s no way you can build a best in class business if you’re chasing tasks everyday. The series is focused on helping you shift from chief firefighter into chief executive.

Today’s video focuses on mentorship. What a buzzword mentorship is. Let’s get started with this important point. Most of us think about mentorship in a way too broad form. We look at the movies and we want a mentor like those. We want Charles Xavier, from the X-Men series. We want to work with Mr. Miyagi, from the Karate Kid. Morpheus, from the Matrix series. Yoda, from Star Wars. There’s nothing wrong with those examples, necessarily. Except, for the fact that they’re all fictional. They’re not real people. Those aren’t real situations. If you’re looking for a mentor that is in that model, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Let’s think about that in a bit more strategic way, shall we?

Are you looking for a small business mentor?

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Here are some breakdowns in the typical mentoring experience.

Breakdown #1: No Formal Mentoring Process

The first, is that the person you reach out to doesn’t have a formal mentoring process. There are paid mentoring relationships and there are free mentoring relationships. Neither one is better than the other. What is important is that you’re clear that this process you’re about to go through, this experience you’re about to have, takes you to a place that’s beneficial for you. You should be able to see that benefit at the end. Both of you are busy. You’re busy as leader of your company. They’re busy as a leader of their company. Just hanging around them isn’t what you want. You want an experience that takes you somewhere. You got to be clear about that.

Breakdown #2: Experience Isn’t the Same as Wisdom

The second thing you got to look out for is experience over wisdom. This is especially true if you are in a relationship that isn’t a formal one. If it’s an informal mentorship relationship, sometimes the person who you’re interacting with is more than happy to tell you their story. More than happy to lay out their experience. That doesn’t mean that their experience is going to port over well for you. You can’t do it exactly like they did it. You have a different business environment, a different set of skills, a different support team. Things aren’t the same. Though they told you their story, and it sounds so inspirational. That doesn’t mean that you can just take it and use it. What you’re after is wisdom. What you’re after is how to apply their experience in your situation. You’re looking for how to use what they’ve established and make it work for your scenario. Their job is to help you with that, in some way in some form, as a mentor. Just getting their story isn’t enough to move you forward.

How do you improve upon that? What can you do to create a better mentor/mentee relationship?

Create a Better Relationship: Offer an Exchange of Value

Here’s a major thing that you probably haven’t been told. Lets say this right now and say it out loud. The quality of your mentor/mentee relationship is directly defined by your outreach. It’s defined by what you ask for. It’s actually your job to set the scope of the mentor/mentee relationship. Here are a couple of idea to help you do that. Help you do it better. The first is about relevance. You’re reaching out to this person because you want some information. You want to do how to do something. You want level up your experience. What do they get in return? Some of the poorer assumptions is that they’ll want to give to you. They’ll want to just give back. That’s an unfair expectation. That’s an unfair assumption. You need to provide some level of exchange. Here’s what I’m asking for from you. Here’s what I’d like to give to you in return, that I think is useful to you. Provide, or offer, some sort of exchange. They may not accept it. It’s the offer that shows that you are a different kind of professional.

Create a Better Relationship: Be Specific With Your Ask

Thing number two is about specificity. If you want to ruin a prospective mentorship relationship, if you want to irritate you`r prospective mentor, ask to pick their brain. Ask their thoughts on this broad reaching topic. Those broad requests are so intimidating. They are so overwhelming. I run a very small company. People reach out to me and ask to pick my brain. They ask for my thoughts on these broad ranging topics. It’s frustrating to me. I can only imagine what it’s frustrating like for those larger companies and those people that we all look up to. Your job is to be specific about what you want. Your job is to be specific about what you respect about them. Something like, “Hey, mentor. I really appreciate how your company responds to X situation. I really appreciate how your company does X thing. I would love for my company to model what you guys do. Can I make visit to your office and learn a bit. Just kind of shadow you so I can watch how you guys do this particular thing.” That request is so much more specific. So much easier to say yes to versus, “Let me pick your brains for forty-five minutes.” The mentors that you’re reaching out to do not want their brain picked. They do not receive that kind of request well. Be specific about you want from them and about what you plan to offer in exchange.

Create a Better Relationship: Be Patient and Respect Timing

Number three is that you got to respect timing. It’s very possible, not even possible it’s exactly true, that you’re prospective mentor is a busy person. They’ve got many things already on their calender. You’re reaching out. You’re jumping into a fray that already exists for them. Be respectful if they don’t respond in twenty-four hours. Be patient if they don’t respond for a week. Be patient as you follow up with them over time. Sometimes, it’s purely a matter of timing. It’s not a matter of what you asked for. It’s not a matter of what you offered in exchange. Sometimes, it’s just purely a matter of it’s just not the right time. It may take six months for the right timing to come around. It may take a year for the right timing to come around. You’re job is to stay relevant and stay specific while you are patient with the timing. As those things come together, then you’ll find yourself with an opportunity to interact with that prospective mentor that you need to move your business forward.

What do you do now? What’s your next step? If you’re brave enough, go ahead and put your prospective mentor in the comments below. Who would you like to reach out to? What would you like to learn form them? If you’re already on the blog, you can scroll down a bit. I’ve already created a resource for you that will give you a couple of templates to help you get your language right when you reach out to a prospective mentor. Let’s do that now. Let’s go ahead and put in your prospective mentor in the comments. Download that resource, if it’s a useful one for you. I will see you in the next video.

Are you looking for a small business mentor?

Download the one-page guide to help you connect and create a high-level mentoring relationship

Download the Guide
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