The word mentor originates from Greek, actually more interestingly from Greek Mythology. The word literally means “wise advisor” and it was the name of the advisor of Telemachus, son of Odysseus. Odysseus placed Mentor in charge of his son when he left for the Trojan War. Mentor guided Telemachus through his adversities, showing him the ways to rule and defend a besieged Kingdom while Odysseus was fighting a ruthless war and later when he was wandering around the seas setting about his many adventures.
When Athena called on Telemachus she assumed the identity of Mentor to hide herself from the suitors of Telemachus’s mother Penelope. As Mentor, the goddess inspired Telemachus to meet the suitors fairly and fully. She also encouraged him to embark on a voyage and go abroad to find out what happened to his father.
So if I am an entrepreneur or a business owner and need help from somebody like Mentor, what quality or attributes should I look for in that person ? Wisdom and commitment are the two words that flash through my brain immediately. But wisdom is hard to define and even harder to find, commitment will only be gaged at a later stage of the relationship.
I have an alternative approach. I will open a dialogue with the potential mentor, rather than interviewing the person. That’s a great way to assess the communication skill of the person, another essential quality of a mentor. I will start an engaging but discreet discussion about leadership qualities. Two types of leadership qualities are essential for a good mentor, thought leadership and change leadership.
Thought leadership is about ideas. Not just any ideas but more of informed opinions about innovative concepts in a particular area of expertise that can be replicated in to bricks and mortar projects. It takes years to form this kind of qualities. The thought leaders are capable of turning ideas into realities and inspire the followers to work towards their dreams. The thought leaders usually have a wide network that they can tap for specialized solutions or expert advice ( nobody has the answers to all the questions you may have and a Thought Leader will always admit what he or she does not know or have an answer for), a large following and connections they can use to resolve a specific issue. All these are opportunities for the mentee.
Just recently, Daniel Rasmus provided this definition of Thought Leadership as:
“Thought leadership should be an entry point to a relationship. Thought leadership should intrigue, challenge, and inspire even people already familiar with a company. It should help start a relationship where none exists, and it should enhance existing relationships.”
Daniel Rasmus spent years in the corporate world and was involved in the development process of Thought Leaders for large corporations. He developed 10 golden rules ‘that can elevate thought leadership”. The readers are encouraged to find him on the web.
Thought Leaders as your mentor will seldom come up with ground breaking ideas, but the ideas you should expect from your Leader should be unique, useful and almost always reflective of the past experience of the leader. The Thought Leader should be able to extrapolate from his or her own experience to shape a unique solution for the follower.
When goddess Athena visited Telemachus in the disguise of the mentor, she gave him two advices, to stand up against the suitors of his mother and then to go abroad to find his father. None of these ideas seems to be brilliant or dazzling. Rather they are down to earth, pragmatic and probably the only solutions to end his woes. At the same time both the solutions required a great deal of courage and resolve on the part of Telemachus. In the same way your mentor should be able to encourage and support you to make difficult decisions and guide you through the path to reach a solution.
Now a little bit about Change Leadership. As humans most of us consciously resist change. It’s true for individuals and groups of individuals in an organizational set up. We like the status quo for the reason that we are familiar with the situations and circumstances in a status quo. Any kind of change takes us in to unchartered territory. Unless you have an explorer in you, it is painful. We try to forget that the world around us is changing continuously. In the last 20 years the developments in technology have made the rate of change in our environment exponential. It is a tricky situation for most of the people, there is no way out for a person particularly a business owner or entrepreneur to embrace the change. On the other hand the process may either be a disaster or a reward. The change leaders guide people through the process so that the process is as painless as possible and at the same time the follower is rewarded through the process rather than suffering a disastrous loss.
It is always advantageous for a business to be proactive rather than reactive to changes. The ideal situation for a business owners when he or she becomes the driver of the change model.
There are three types of changes businesses usually go through:
1. Developmental Change
2. Transitional Change
3. Transformational Change
The developmental change is the simplest and desirable, where the transformational change is the most complex and difficult to handle. The Transformational Change can be compared to the legend of Phoenix rising from the ashes. If a business integrate Developmental Change as a part of it’s business processes, probably it will never have to go through the painful process of Transformational Change where a possible scenario is the demise of the business. The mentor should be able to work with the business owners to determine when and what changes are necessary at the current stage of business, whether it is the people, processes, new products and services or finding a new ways to do business.
Change Management is always a stressful process and the business owners need a lot of hand holding during the process. The business owner will expect compassion, advice and guidance from the mentor during these stages. There are technical aspects of the change the mentor may not be competent to help with, but in a specialized niche the mentor will have contacts to deal with the change requirements.
Finally a mentor is always a good situational leader. The mentor will know the readiness of the mentee to complete a specific task and assume the most appropriate leadership style whether it is directive, participative or delegating. It is important that the mentor’s behavior and leadership style must change with the given situation. The leadership of the mentor will finally determine the success or failure of the business and the success in different situations will build up the overall success of the business. Nothing builds success like success and that is the ultimate measure of good mentoring.