Why Give a Damn:
If you’re reading this article it’s likely you’re someone who took the road less traveled. If you’ve pioneered a new idea or product, it’s also likely along the way you were encouraged to keep going despite your unorthodox idea. Perhaps you are someone who was able to do this for him or herself, until now. If you were the sole inspiration behind you—up until now—I’m here to burst your bubble.
The author of this post, Wendy Lea, is CEO of Get Satisfaction, a leading customer engagement platform. Wendy serves as an angel investor, strategic advisor, and board member for a long list of startup companies. Wendy also chairs the board for the women’s entrepreneur group Watermark and serves on the board of the Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund (SV2.org). She has been recognized as a Top 100 Woman of Influence in Silicon Valley.
You need to know that what got you here won’t get you there.
At a certain point you must recognize that you can’t go the entrepreneurial journey alone. In fact in a recent article in the New York Times research showed “The positive effect of one loving relative, mentor or friend can overwhelm the negative effects of the bad things that happen.” No matter how smart you are—you can only benefit from being guided by those who have gone before you.
Let’s talk about relationship building via technology.
Technology is a blessing. Technology makes it easier to find like-minded people or gather around causes we deeply care about. As CEO of Get Satisfaction, a platform that helps companies build authentic relationships with their customers, I’m a fan of tech. At the same time technology can act as a placebo that makes us feel we are getting social interaction. In actuality we are not building meaningful relationships—we’re not satisfying our spirit. The technology needs to supplement other efforts. There is no replacement for in person interaction. That said, I encourage you to find a mentor you can spend time with—in person.
When we talk about mentoring we need to talk about trust and opening oneself up for feedback. The vulnerability factor is a big one when it comes to being willing to ask for help.
Sometimes asking for help is the most important thing a person can do in their career. Asking for help is something we don’t encourage in American culture. The American businessperson is generally encouraged to be like the lone cowgirl (or boy) “going it alone”. According to the author of Daring Greatly, Brene Brown, to succeed in business and in life, one must be willing to open up [and that means embrace vulnerability]. She has spent years studying vulnerability. Brown said, “This is what I’ve learned: Your capacity for innovation and inspired leadership can never be greater than your willingness to be vulnerable.”
Studies show that only one in five women have a mentor. So why is it that we are so afraid to be vulnerable? Entrepreneurs are incredibly creative. They paint gorgeous canvasses in their minds. But what happens when you spend too much time in your head without feedback? A good mentor will help get you out of your head. This mentor will help you see the big picture. They lift you up and empower you to make life and business decisions from a place of strength and clarity.
What is a good mentor?
Ideally the person who is suited to be your mentor is someone who is accomplished. They’re approachable. They have strong values and ethics. This individual will challenge you while encouraging you to move forward. A strong mentor won’t always paint a picture of roses and butterflies, but will give you constructive feedback. It is said that sometimes the best mentor will answer you with rhetorical questions rather than answers. You will be the person responsible for your own success. Rather than choosing a mentor who will hand over connections, materials or other financial resources, a mentor who can alter the way you think is arguably more impactful.
Where do I find this mentor?
Look for someone in your industry or even outside of your industry that you respect and admire. Find people who have a positive track record, who show a consistent commitment to good work. Look for people who have a good reputation. This person doesn’t have to be the same gender as you, but as a woman it is helpful to have another woman who can give you pointers on being a female leader. Since a mentor at times can be like a coach, look for someone who can help lift you up where you’re weak. Ideally this mentor will also help you identify and build on your strengths.
Is this relationship reciprocal?
When you approach someone to be your mentor you want to show you’ve done your homework. Whether it’s a letter, email or phone call, be sure to understand your prospective mentor’s background and what their motivations are. Even though they might be more successful than you, there is likely something you can do to help them no matter how small. When you create an incentive for them to want to work with you, you’re making it more attractive for them too.
As Cheryl Heller wrote in her Unreasonable post on “The Confessions Of A Serial Mentor”, “There is an added and addictive bonus when mentoring social entrepreneurs; in addition to the normal gratification of teaching, it happens to be the best non-chemical antidote to fear and hopelessness around.”
That being said mentoring is incredibly gratifying. Don’t be afraid to ask. Allowing yourself to be mentored gives joy to the mentor too.
How has a mentor relationship allowed you to achieve when you couldn’t have otherwise?
Update: Understanding the difference between empathy and compassion in the mentoring relationship is key. Some mentors are too empathetic, meaning they walk in the shoes of their mentee and lose objectivity. As a mentor, you need to be able to separate yourself from their experience and provide clear perspective and grounded advice. Bring compassion to your mentoring exchange, but don’t get lost in the story.