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8 Secrets Your Business Mentor Won’t Tell You

As business greats like Bill Gates and Colleen Johnston can attest, there are certain things a true mentor can and cannot do for you.

Aaron Agius

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business-man-thinking

They say no man is an island. A helping hand from an experienced mentor can be valuable for anyone. Still, as someone who’s been on both sides of the mentoring relationship, it’s clear that too many people read more into these arrangements than is actually realistic.

A mentor isn’t a fix-all for the challenges you’re experiencing in your business. Mentors won’t tell you what to do, when to do it or how to move forward. They can, however, can help you reach the same end result on your own. You just have to be willing to commit.

Truly, there are many common misconceptions out there about the mentor-protégé relationship and what you can expect out to get of it. Here are eight secrets your business mentor won’t tell you.

Related: Find a Business Mentor

1. I can’t mentor you because I’m mentoring someone else

Mentoring is supposed to be an intensive, individualised and private experience. If you aren’t getting one-on-one attention, you’ve got a teacher – not a mentor.

Unfortunately, this presents a challenge for both parties. For mentors, it means turning down capable protégés if you’ve already committed to another. And for students, it could mean going to the trouble of identifying the perfect mentor only to be turned down for scheduling reasons – which may or may not be explained to you.

Don’t push it. The goal of a mentoring relationship is progress, and that’s only possible if the guidance is individualised.

There is a mentor or protégé out there for you, but you’ve got to wait for the timing to be right.

2. I’m not your coach

winning-whistle

A business coach works with someone who has the necessary skills and ability to succeed but needs help discovering it themselves. A mentor goes beyond that role by helping you develop the skills and knowledge you need to succeed.

Chief financial officer of TD Bank Group Colleen Johnston explains how her mentor, Ed Clark, filled this role:

“He understands the complexity of finance-related issues and provides excellent coaching in communicating that message to stakeholders,” she says. “He’s always been very helpful [in assisting me] to think through some of those types of conversations with key business partners.”

3. I can be your friend

More often than not, good mentor-protégé relationships begin as friendships.

A mentor doesn’t have to come from a formal program or from the upper ranks of the company. Really, anyone who has wisdom and guidance they’re willing to impart on you, including an experienced coworker, can be a valuable mentor.

Related: Can you help me find a business mentor?

4. I’m not your consultant

A consultant is someone who has specific knowledge, expertise and tools they will use to help improve your business – but this kind of relationship doesn’t actually involve any learning or improving on your part. Mentors should not be fixing your problems for you – they should be teaching you how to fix them yourself.

Bill Gates once spoke about mentor Warren Buffett, admiring his “desire to teach things that are complex and put them in a simple form, so that people can understand and get the benefit of all his experience.”

5. I don’t have time for you

time-management

Unfortunately, it is possible to find yourself in a mentoring relationship that isn’t beneficial.

Remember, most successful businesspeople are very busy, so if they don’t have time to really guide you, the relationship won’t be worth your time either.

If your mentor has some sort of ulterior motive for mentoring, such as a company mandate, then they might not genuinely believe in your ability to succeed. And if that’s true? They aren’t equipped to help guide you to the success you’re looking for.

6. I don’t have to be your only mentor

It’s a common misconception that a protégé can only focus on absorbing the wisdom of one mentor at a time. In reality, different mentors have different skills and strengths that can help you succeed in both business and life.

Take Michael Lee-Chin, a successful philanthropist and businessman, who names Warren Buffet as his business mentor and his mother Hyacinth Gloria Chen as his life mentor.

Related: 5 Business Lessons From Billionaire Mentors

7. I’m not going to lead you…

A leader tells you which direction to go without necessarily telling you why. A good mentor is more like a guide – someone who teaches you the path while helping you along it.

A mentor is supposed to help you grow and learn from your business experience and theirs. If they just gave you all the answers, what would you learn from the experience?

8. …But I will advocate for you

Good mentors go on to become advocates or champions for your success. They truly believe in your potential, and may go to extraordinary efforts to promote your skills and value to the others who will help you succeed.

A good mentor encourages a protégé to “have the courage to stick with a tough job,” which is exactly the advice AG Lafley, chairman and CEO of Procter and Gamble, received from his mentor.

Mentor-protégé relationships are far from limitless, but if both parties are in it for the right reasons, then they can accomplish a lot together. I’m a big fan of inspirational business quotes, and one of my very favourites comes from Tom Kelly of Ideo: “Fail often so you can succeed sooner.”

Related: How To Find A Strong Mentor To Guide You To Business Success

A good mentor may be able to help you avoid some failures altogether. But more often than not, they’ll be there to encourage and help you through your mistakes – taking you and your business to new heights you’ve never before dreamed of.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Aaron Agius is an experienced search, content and social marketer. He has worked with IBM, Ford, LG, Unilever and many more of the world's largest and most recognized brands, to grow their revenue. See more from Agius at Louder Online.

Strategy

You Are Your Own Client

Before you can build a start-up that takes over your industry, you need to treat yourself as your own best client.

Allon Raiz

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In business, when you have a client, the relationship is formalised into a structured one where there are defined expectations and regular meetings. For example, if you are a consultancy and have a one-year contract to deliver services to a client, the relationship will be formalised, structured and possibly include monthly status meetings. Some may be report-back meetings while others may be briefing meetings.

Your client will receive a monthly invoice and there may be quarterly reviews of the work you have done. Your general mindset is one of service to the client because they are important and worthy of the effort. Crudely speaking, most service-provider arrangements work in a similar way because the structured model works.

In contrast, as entrepreneurs, our relationship with our own business is often far more chaotic or ‘organic’ than formal. My contention is that it is also much less effective. When I work with SMEs, one of the first things I do is encourage the entrepreneur to treat his or her own business as a client by formalising meetings, ensuring that there is a feedback loop and having a service-provider mindset. By making these philosophical and structural changes, you will create a far more efficient and well-run business.

There are four aspects to any business which, in my view, should be formalised.

1. Partners

It still astounds me how informal the meetings are between partners in SMEs, especially when they operate from the same office. There are no set times, no agendas and no outputs required. The fact that you might sit in the same office or chat regularly is the problem because it’s interpreted as proper communication while it’s actually a very undisciplined and unstructured process. Casual chats do not ensure that all the requisite items or issues are being properly discussed and dealt with.

Related: How Investors Choose Who To Invest In

2. Staff

The often-given excuse for not holding weekly, biweekly or monthly meetings with team members at the same date and time is that the business is fluid and the entrepreneur needs to be responsive to their clients’ urgent needs whenever these might occur. And so non-rhythmic meetings are occasionally inserted into the gaps in between the chaos.

The discipline that I try to imbed in the SMEs I work with is to hold rhythmic meetings at a certain time and day every week, month or quarter. Should there be a need to cancel this meeting for whatever reason, it should be rescheduled. The simple discipline of rescheduling and not cancelling allows for a compromise between the practical reality of an entrepreneur’s life and the discipline required to build a sustainable business.

3. Agendas

Agendas are often seen by entrepreneurs as an icon of the structure of the corporate world. They smack of rigidity, stuffiness and boredom so they are often discarded and replaced with warm and fuzzy chats. In reality, in order for it to be an effective use of time, every meeting requires a structure, outline or agenda.

This can be a comprehensive agenda similar to that used by corporates or as simple as each person in the meeting talking about their three top-of-mind issues. What is important is that there is structure and outputs, otherwise the meeting’s output is merely that it’s nice to know. The output from a meeting with a formalised agenda is that it’s nice to do.

Related: Why Reading Is The Most Important Tool In Your Arsenal

4. Product review

When last did you, as an entrepreneur, formally ask yourself if your products are still relevant and effective in the market? One of the greatest oversights made by SMEs is not regularly reviewing the appropriateness of their existing products or services. In a high-growth, chaotic environment that is attuned to constantly producing new products, existing products soon become the ugly stepchild, only getting attention when the client cancels the contract because your competitor has a faster, shinier and cheaper iteration of your product. An incredibly important discipline in any business is the regular and formalised review of products and services.

We resist structure as entrepreneurs and the price of that resistance is ineffective and inefficient businesses. By simply treating ourselves as we would our clients, we are able to imbed a level of structure to our businesses that will create a far more effective and enduring business.

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Strategy

What’s The Worst That Can Happen With A Disgruntled Silent Shareholder?

Whether a shareholder brings capital to the business, experience or connections, you need to ensure everyone has the same vision and values.

Kyle Torrington

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shareholders

While we often hear that it can be bad to have a silent shareholder that does not want to play ball, it is not often that we make enquiries about how the governance of a company can be hindered by a disgruntled shareholder.

Most of us assume that as long as they own more than 50% of their own company, they are entirely in control of all aspects of the company and how it is governed. This is not true: Even if you are a majority shareholder, holding less than 75% of all the shares in your company can still result in headaches if a minority shareholder, holding at least 25% of the company, becomes disgruntled and neither participates in the decisions of the company, nor consents to the decisions being made.

What is set out below highlights, among others, why it is so important to give shares in a company to prospective shareholders over a period of time, rather than from the outset. This allows for shareholders to prove their worth without you potentially placing your company in a position where it could be held at ransom for many years.

Related: 7 Factors To Determine Who Are Your Employees (And Who Aren’t)

The illusion of holding more than 50% of the shareholding in a company

  • Many people assume that by holding more than 50% of the shares in a company they are free to do with the business as they please. This generally only holds true for basic decisions of the shareholders, such as the removal and appointment of directors. The most important decisions of a company are based on special resolutions. A special resolution requires that shareholders, either individually or collectively, holding at least 75% of all the shares in a company, vote in favour of a specific decision.
  • Examples of decisions that require a special resolution include:
    • Amending a company’s Memorandum of Incorporation
    • Approving the issuing of shares or granting of other similar rights
    • Authorising the basis for determining directors’ salaries
    • Disposing of company assets
    • Mergers and acquisitions.

So, what does this mean for you and your company?

  • If you are a start-up looking to raise funds, apart from some exceptions, you will not be able to issue further shares to new shareholders or anyone other than existing shareholders if there is a shareholder that is effectively dead weight.
  • Should you manage to vote a new director to the board, you will not be able to determine the basis on which they are compensated (their salary) without a special resolution.
  • If you intend to merge with another company, you will not be able to pursue this without a special resolution.
  • If you plan to raise money by disposing of or selling most of the assets of your company you will, once again, be prevented from doing so.

Related: Reality Check: You Probably Don’t Own That Work You Outsourced

Accordingly, it is always best when starting a venture to vest your shares over a period of time. This means that, for example, shareholders are only entitled to have their shares allocated to them after a certain period of time to avoid a situation where you have a dead-weight equity shareholder hindering the governing of your company, and requiring possible litigation to remove them.

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Strategy

There’s More To Team Management Than Leadership

When you’re running a business you need to ensure that your employees are on your side, helping you to make profits. Giving them job security, taking them seriously and treating them with respect, will go a long way in enhancing loyalty and productivity.

Henry Sebata

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team-management

The staff that work for you determine:

  1. How happy your customers are with your business
  2. The quality of the things that you sell
  3. The costs that you incur to sell your products and services
  4. Your risks – the things that can go wrong and how much it costs you

All of these things determine your profitability and how competitive your business becomes. How do you ensure that everyone is on the same side and helping you to make profits?

At work everyone believes that they are getting something (such as money) and are giving something in return (such as time and effort). They are weighing up in their mind “how much am I giving, how much am I getting in return and is this fair?” If they believe that they are:

  • Giving too much or
  • Getting too little
  • Then this is unfair, and they won’t work well (poor productivity – how much they produce).

Related: Why Innovative Employee Benefits Are Your Competitive Advantage

The manager needs to:

  • Know what people are thinking about what they are giving and getting and
  • Manage the giving or getting side
  • So that people become more productive

In a smaller business you sometimes cannot afford to pay more or provide the sort of benefits (pensions, medical aid, bursaries etc.) that larger firms can and so the staff may be unhappy, not be productive and be on the look-out for something better.

How do you increase happiness without money?

Everyone wants:

  1. Job security – knowing that you will still have a job next year – and that you will get paid on time.
  2. Contributing to the success of the business. If you train staff to have the knowledge and skills to do a better job and you then encourage and support them to do this then they are happier, and you increase profits. If you then share some of these profits with the staff that helped you to make them then everyone wins!
  3. To be taken seriously and treated with respect. If you do this then staff are happier, and they will also treat your customers with respect.
  4. To be part of the team. You can often do this by having a regular briefing on what your plans are and discussing ideas. Because staff are doing the actual work they will often have good ideas and then will be motivated to implement them – it was their idea after all!

Staff leaving you all the time is a can destroy significant value. If you implement the strategy above, you will have happier staff that are more productive and a more profitable business.

Read next: Understanding Your Responsibility As An Employer

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