Benefits of Mentoring

According to the dictionary, a mentor is a “wise advisor.” The word mentor originated from Homer’s ancient Greek epic poem, The Odyssey, in which Odysseus puts his friend (Mentor) in charge of his household when he left for Troy. From that beginning, a mentor is now a wise or trusted advisor or guide.

Currently, mentors come in many forms. A mother or father may mentor a son or daughter so that the mentee—the person being mentored—can eventually take over the family business. Experienced entrepreneurs mentor new businesses housed in incubators. Angel investors and Venture Capitalists mentor new businesses to make a profit both for the business and for themselves. Business consultants mentor new and existing businesses usually for an hourly fee. Many businesses, especially large organizations, have in house mentoring programs in which they ask experienced leaders to mentor younger or new employees. SCORE and SBDC (Small Business Development Centers) provide free and confidential mentoring to any person who requests assistance.

Entrepreneurs, especially start-up businesses, benefit from the support and guidance that a mentor often provides. Business owners and managers often simply need to bounce ideas off someone—sometimes simply discussing an idea out loud with an outsider results in an answer or solution. A business owner has multiple duties and demands on his or her time; an experienced mentor can help the owner prioritize. A mentee can learn from the experience of someone who has “been there and done that”—someone who has owned or managed some kind of business; it does not have to be exactly the same type of business because all businesses have similar problems and dilemmas. Mentors provide practical advice, support, and encouragement during all phases of a business. Mentees who have never applied for a business loan or have never before started a business can get assistance in preparing a business plan from a qualified mentor.

Why do mentors agree to mentor another person—what’s in it for the mentor? The universal number one answer—the answer that probably covers ALL mentors—is that the mentor obtains personal satisfaction from making a difference to the career development of another person and/or the mentor wants to “give back” to the community that was supportive of his or her business. In other words, it just feels good.

Mentors derive many other benefits from mentoring. Mentoring helps to develop leadership and management skills of the mentor and results in recognition of the mentor’s skills and experience. These two benefits especially apply to a person who works full time for a company but decides to volunteer through an organization like SCORE; the volunteer’s employer gains public recognition for allowing the employee to volunteer during working hours and realizes that the volunteer will gain skills that will ultimately be helpful to the employer. The volunteer expects that being a mentor will eventually result in promotion to a leadership position within the company that has encouraged volunteerism.

Art Markman, PhD professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas and author of “Smart Change,” insists that “When you teach something to another person, you discover all of the details that you don’t completely understand yourself. That means mentors make themselves smarter in the process of teaching others.”

What makes a good mentor? A good mentor must have good listening skills and a willingness to be a resource with a desire to share information, expertise and experience. The mentor must have the patience to meet numerous times with an inexperienced mentee and have the experience and ability to give honest feedback to ideas and urgent difficulties. Mentoring one specific person, in many cases, is a long term commitment. On the other hand, frequently a mentee needs a second or replacement mentor as his business advances and a mentor with a different skill set is required; often, co-mentors are utilized in order to provide expertise in several areas.

Aihui Ong, Founder and CEO of Love With Food, says that having a mentor was critical because starting a new business is a “very lonely journey, and having someone that fully understands what you are going through is crucial. There is no line between work and personal life when you become an entrepreneur so having a mentor to listen that has been through it before, to tell you stories and give encouragement that what you are doing is right is very comforting. And it makes the journey less lonely.”

Both mentors and mentees increase their professional networks, make friends across year groups, and learn from each other. So mentoring is a win-win for both mentors and mentees.

Jean Kruse, SCORE Iowa District Director

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