Management Development

Your Best Mentor Might Not Be The Obvious Choice

In business, as in life, walking comes before running. We learn how to do better, work faster, and more effectively through learning.

“Mentors, by far, are the most important aspect of business.” - Daymon John

In business, as in life, walking comes before running. We learn how to do better, work faster, and more effectively through learning. But, having a mentor help you along can exponentially shorten the learning curve.

Mentors show you the right doors. They tell you where the landmines are and pitfalls lay. You can avoid the mistakes of your predecessors and also adopt their successful actions. But, sometimes, the most successful guy in the room isn’t the best mentor for you.

Mentors generally have success. No one would choose to be mentored by someone who was unsuccessful, there would be no learning value in that relationship. Sometimes, that success was earned long ago and the hard work and “grind” that it took to arrive is a murky memory. It can be hard for an older mentor to relate to the troubles of a younger worker because he went through them so long ago.

The best mentor is not always the most successful guy in the room.

Let me give you an example. A few years ago, I was thinking about starting up an online, e-commerce business as a side hustle. I knew a guy who had been making a small fortune selling products on Amazon and through his website. I asked him for advice on starting up my own brand and where I should start. He immediately dove into all sorts of fancy tax-related terms having to do with how I should incorporate and structure my business. He also went on to explain to me how I should start investing money in advanced analytics tracking software to help grow and scale my business.

I didn’t even have a website…or a product...or a logo...or a company name yet. I needed advice on where to start, not how to scale an existing business and what software to use to automate certain things.

When you are just starting out, it isn’t always the best option to choose a mentor who is potentially out of touch. A good mentor can help identify problems and point you in the right direction, but I’d argue that it’s almost more vital that a mentor understands what it’s like to be in your shoes.

Simple tasks for a mentor may seem like climbing Mt. Everest to someone just starting out and successful people often forget that. Of course, it’s a great opportunity to be able to sit down with someone how has achieved what we would like to achieve. But, if that mentor doesn’t recall what it was like to be just starting out with holes in the pockets and no confidence they aren’t going to be able to walk with towards greatness.

Successful people are often confused about why other’s can’t do what they can. And it can be frustrating for them when they are trying to teach and a mentee can’t pick it up. This can put undue stress on a relationship.

My point is, the best mentor might not be a superstar. It might be someone who is just one step ahead of you or it may be someone who has gone through incredibly difficult travails and come out the other end in one piece. Being successful doesn’t automatically make one a good teacher. Often times, the best teachers and mentors are superstars, but people who really understand what we are going through and can be a guiding hand during tough times.

So, when seeking a mentor, look beyond the great resume or laundry list of accolades. Find someone who really knows what it’s like to approach the starting line, even if they are an expert now.

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