Grow yourself, grow your business
There are clear benefits for business owners and senior advisers in being a mentor and a mentee, says consultant Brett Davidson
A while back I had breakfast with the chief executive of successful financial planning firm Paradigm Norton, Barry Horner. I asked him for his best tip for any aspiring business owner. His response? The fastest way to accelerate your own learning and growth was to be both a mentor and mentee.
It’s a given in business that it makes sense to find someone with more experience than you and learn from their successes and failures. However, Barry’s suggestion that one should also be mentoring someone else, passing on your experience to an up-and-comer within your own organisation or someone outside of your business, took me by surprise. But I love this idea!
When I was working in Sydney more than a decade ago, I met a retired and very successful accountant named John Lee. When we got to talking about his business career, he mentioned he’d taught accounting at University while he was in the process of building his business. I asked him what that was like and I’ve never forgotten what he told me. He said:
“Who do you think learned more? The students or me? It was me. When I had to understand topics well enough to teach them to others, it was me that got the most out of it.”
Sound advice indeed.
The benefits of mentoring others
1. Tacit knowledge. As you teach others, it’s amazing what you sometimes hear yourself saying; things you didn’t even know you’d forgotten. This is called ‘tacit knowledge’ (the knowledge you don’t even know you’ve got). A great way to tap into this knowledge is by mentoring someone less experienced than you.
2. Taking your own medicine. Telling others how to approach an issue often reminds you that perhaps you could be applying that same knowledge to one of your own problems.
If you’re worried that admitting this makes you some sort of fraud, it doesn’t. Everyone has some sort of ‘reality gap’ between what they say and what they do. Great individuals and business leaders are just aware of it and try constantly to minimise that gap. It’s never closed completely, because one doesn’t need to be perfect (thank goodness) to be hugely successful. The frauds are those people that aren’t self aware enough to recognise there’s a gap in the first place.
Being able to admit your foibles and past mistakes in the right context makes you hugely valuable as a mentor.
3. Personal accountability. Let’s take the previous idea one step further. Sharing your ideas and experience with a mentee keeps you more accountable to yourself. You feel obligated to try and be a good example. In the same way most parents are trying their best to be a good example to their kids, playing the formal mentor role encourages you to do it too. This can help you be better in your own business.
4. It goes both ways. Just as your mentees learn from you, you learn from your mentees. Sometimes they come up with an idea that helps you see a situation or problem differently. Learning is a two-way street, even when you are the most experienced in the relationship. It might never be 50/50 in terms of knowledge share but that doesn’t mean it’s completely one-sided.
The benefits of being mentored yourself
1. Experience. Learning from another’s experience might provide another point of view you may never have come up with yourself.
2. Contacts. An experienced mentor will not only know plenty about the challenges you are facing, but they will also have a bunch of great contacts to help you resolve those issues. In any industry, finding out who the good eggs are can take years and cost you thousands. A good mentor can help you avoid the impostors.
3. Less isolation. As the top person in your own organisation, you can find yourself without anyone to really talk to. A mentor can be that sounding board that lets you express your frustrations and challenges, without de-motivating anyone on your team.
How do you share concerns about cash flow with the people that depend on you for a regular wage? You don’t. However, this is precisely the type of issue a mentor can listen to and provide sensible council on.
4. Honest feedback. Getting people around you who will be frank and honest with you is essential for growth and development. However, it’s rare that even your most honest staff members can perform this role because of the power dynamics in your relationship; they depend on you and the employment you offer. A good external mentor is not dependent on you for their income and can give it to you straight.
Mentor and mentee
By being both the mentor and mentee, you can accelerate your own business learning and personal growth.
Growing can be hard work. However it can also be hugely rewarding when you come out the other side. If you’re serious about your development, then get yourself a mentor and start mentoring someone else as fast as you can.
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