Business owners sometimes struggle mightily against the economic current only to feel discouraged by a lackluster result and many take the blame for a flat period whether it’s their fault or not. There are plenty of different ways to succeed but the fact is, there are certain frustrating times when the numbers do what the numbers want to do. That doesn’t mean you should get comfortable and wait out the downturn; rather, it could mean that there is an opportunity for concentration on some holistic business issues to be time well-spent. Let’s take a few minutes right now and get beyond today’s mostly discouraging subject of sales, profits and growth. Let’s examine a chosen role you can embrace where your best efforts nearly always pay off in terms that go beyond the dollar and, today, open up to the pursuit and practice of mentoring.
THE HISTORICAL MENTOR
Take a second and dive deeply into the pop culture pool, circa 800 B.C. You may not know it but “mentor” is a word with an ancient pedigree, beginning its life as a name. In the Greek epic poem The Odyssey (written about 3,000 years ago by a man or a myth named Homer), a tale is told of a monumental hero named Odysseus. Over the course of 12,110 poetic lines (epic!), Odysseus struggles to get home to Ithaca and to his wife after 10 exhausting years of battle in Troy (the little squabble that involved a girl with a cute face and a big wooden horse stuffed with sweaty unbathed Greeks). In the poem, “Mentor” was actually a character’s name — the old and trusted friend of Odysseus. When Odysseus first left for battle, he placed Mentor in charge of his son and his palace. Mentor’s name has, over the centuries, become proverbial for a faithful and wise adviser. The first recorded usage of the term can be traced to a French book published in 1699. The source of the modern use of the word defines mentor as a trusted friend, counselor or teacher, usually a more experienced person who shares their expertise with less experienced individuals eager to learn and advance.
WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?
Now that we’ve bumped up our classical literary skills, let’s put the mentoring concept into action. When exploring this topic, there are two sides to discuss: finding a mentor and becoming a mentor. Mentor or Mentee? To be more technically correct (and express ourselves even more sumptuously), the student of a mentor is actually known as a protégé. Let’s begin where there exists a large potential for good within this community — becoming a mentor. Please note that if you desire to be a mentor, it is not a matter of simply flipping a switch. Like most challenging roles in life, there is an evolutionary process in reaching mentor status. And, while it may seem obvious, there is no success possible unless you have someone fitting within your sphere of influence who is seeking someone to anchor this special form of support and guidance.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE?
What do you need in order to be seen as a mentor? The vital ingredients are traits . . . your own personal characteristics are critical to the outcome. Besides being able to make a long-term commitment to anyone you take in, you will need something of distinct value to share with a younger, eager mind. It is not possible to be too patient or too understanding in this role. Neither can you be too open or too honest or display too much personal integrity or ethical conduct.
As a mentor, perfection is not the platform or the message. If you were a medieval archer guiding a younger bowman, the lessons would not be focused only on the soundness of the arrow or the demands of the bull’s-eye. More so, your teaching would stress the life of the archer, the integrity of the quiver, the irrepressible winds and so on. The lessons would be preparation, possibilities and reaction . . . not perfection. If you can satisfy the eager mind by absorbing all the information, synthesizing it and then dispensing just the right amount of wisdom, at just the right time to your protégé, you have the right stuff to make an invaluable mentor.