Entrepreneurship is learning that never ends. So most entrepreneurs will tell you that at least one great teacher or ‘mentor’ was a key to their success along the way. In fact, even the most accomplished entrepreneurs never stop being on the lookout for new mentors. We should, too.
But what should we be looking for? What you should be expecting when you find one? Here’s what we’ve learned from experience:
• You’re not looking for a tutor. The kind of mentor you want–a successful, busy person–won’t be able to give you that kind of time. In fact, some of the people we’d consider our greatest mentors we might have only talked to once or twice in our careers—but the advice was so right at the right time, it caused a critical inflection point. So it’s quality not quantity. A mentor sees what you don’t see, knows what you don’t know—not because they’re smarter–but because they’ve got thousands more swings at the plate than you have. They’ve simply seen more patterns and connected more dots. But most of all–they see your problem from outside—an awesome perspective that you could never get unless you’re prone to having out of body experiences.
• Mentors need you as much as they need them. Human beings have an instinctive need to pass the knowledge they treasure to the next generation. Mentors are successful people who are grateful for their success and know they owe their own mentors for it. They’re looking for someone to give it back to. They’re looking for you. So take the pressure off yourself–if you keep looking, asking and talking to people, you’ll find each other.
• Mentors don’t work for hire, so you can’t just point and choose any mentor you want. Like any personal relationship, you can’t force it–there needs to be a little chemistry for both of you. It’s one more reason entrepreneurs are always on the lookout because like the loves of your life, the mentors of your life don’t come along every day. But they are there, in places you might never have expected to encounter them. They are always attracted by honest and sincere motives and mission.
• Mentors may have great answers and advice—but ultimately they can only give you one kind: their answers—from their lives, their businesses and their unique circumstances. These may or may not prove to be yours. The ultimate answers for you are the ones you teach yourself by doing, feeling and internalizing on your own personal journey. Olympic Gold Medal winner Michael Phelps can tell you everything there is to know about swimming. But you have to jump in and get wet to understand it. A skydiving champion can teach you all about skydiving—but not what it feels like step through your own fear, step out that door into open space, and fly one time. Mentors can guide you and coach you, even save you years of trial and error with a single big bit of wisdom. But only you can truly teach you. Mentors are marvelous. But only motion is magic.