Naples Florida Weekly

Been There DONE THAT


MY FIRST MENTOR WAS A TOUGH OLD GUY. THE COMPANY I TOOK OVER AT that time failed, but my mentor taught me significant lessons that I still use today.

Now I am the one with years of experience that I am eager to share. If I can help a new entrepreneur be more prepared than I was — so that even if they experience failure, it won’t be as catastrophic as mine — I’m happy to do so.

The other reason I am motivated by mentoring is that I believe in the free-market system that is fostered in the United States. America has something good that we need to preserve, and the more people who understand that and are able to take advantage of the opportunity, the stronger the country will be.

It is during your college years that you will have the most opportunities to take advantage of free entrepreneurial resources, such as a mentor. If you happen to be at a small school or one that doesn’t offer a wide range of entrepreneurial resources, don’t despair. Help and guidance are always available online and within your community. Two key organizations that offer assistance are SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) and the SBA (Small Business Administration).

The importance of a mentor cannot be overstated. Kabbage Inc. surveyed more than 200 small businesses throughout the U.S. to understand the importance of mentorship to small business owners. Here’s what the survey showed:

¦ Only 22% of small business owners had mentors when they started their business.

¦ Only 17% indicated they have an advisor, which suggests a paid relationship for consulting and advice.

¦ A whopping 92% agreed that mentors have a direct impact on the growth and survival of their business.

¦ Interestingly, 61% of small business owners mentor others, and 58% specifically mentor younger entrepreneurs.

Kabbage’s report shows the willingness of small business owners to mentor young entrepreneurs; you just need to reach out to them. If there are local business owners whom you admire and/or know, pick up the phone and call them. Even if they are not the right mentor for you, they may direct you to someone who is.

Characteristics of a strong mentor

A mentor has been there and done that, as they say. They’ve walked in your shoes, and their real-world experience is invaluable to a young entrepreneur trying to feel their way.

By definition, a mentor is an experienced individual who teaches or helps a less-experienced individual. For a mentor to be effective, they should possess important characteristics. Key attributes SCORE looks for in their volunteer mentor are the ability to:

¦ Stop and suspend judgment.

¦ Listen and learn.

¦ Assess and analyze.

¦ Test ideas and teach with tools.

¦ Set expectations and encourage the dream.

Whether you find a mentor in a family member, friend, organizations like SCORE or through school, it’s important to vet them to ensure they are the right mentor for you. Think about the list above, and determine if the person you are thinking of asking to mentor you or is already serving as your mentor meets those qualifications.

I also recommend that mentors have experience in your business sector or a related sector. They should also have a clear understanding of ownership structures and financial statements. Finally, do you trust them and feel supported by them? What is your gut telling you? If you don’t feel good about the experience and aren’t learning, it’s OK to end the mentorship and look for a new mentor.

Mentoring’s role in intergenerational leadership

For the first time in history there are five generations in the workforce. From oldest to youngest, they are: traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and Generation Z. What you have with this mix of numerous generations is a great opportunity for traditional mentoring, and reverse mentoring — a younger person mentoring an older employee. Both scenarios are another way to improve a company’s overall performance and the workplace culture.

A young entrepreneur who’s being mentored — and later on becomes a mentor — can see how mentoring at different levels of their company and with different ages can strengthen its intergenerational leadership, which is about meaningful engagement between leaders across generations. That engagement includes recognizing opportunities for partnerships and collaboration.

A mix of age brackets, experience levels and backgrounds does pose new challenges and opportunities for managers and leaders, but the solutions are learning to optimize skills and attributes and manage the inherent differences. Here are some keys to intergenerational leadership and mentoring’s role in it:

¦ Respect each other’s competencies.

¦ Have empathy — walking in a young person’s shoes when you’re older, and vice versa.

¦ Be open, curious and kind.

¦ Collaborate by facilitating an exchange of resources, skills and knowledge.

¦ Identify strengths and learn from each other.

¦ Accept different attitudes, values, priorities and styles.

Having a mentor can certainly increase an entrepreneur’s chances for success, while also helping the new business owner deal with and overcome struggles and failures along the way. As your relationship with your mentor develops over time, you’ll gain trust in them, in addition to insights that might help you avoid certain pitfalls that they encountered. ¦

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