Your Best Mentor Isn't Always the Most Successful Guy in the Room
In entrepreneurship, as in life, you have to walk before you can run. The right mentor can help.
I'm in the jogging phase of life. For those who haven't entered this phase yet, I'll explain. It starts with your metabolism slowing down and your weight gain speeding up, and you realize that if you don't want to have to buy new pants and still want to eat dinner, you have to do something about this, so you start jogging. And inevitably, you want to run a 5k to show how awesome it is that you're not sitting on the couch eating Twinkies.
A friend who is also in the jogging phase of life sent me this list from Competitor magazine. It's supposed to be tips for running your first 5k race. Here they go:
1. Warm up. Jog one to two miles about 30 to 45 minutes before toeing the start line.
2. Stay controlled. Run the first mile slightly slower than the goal pace.
3. Settle in. Cruise at your goal pace during the second mile.
4. Push it. Pick up the pace a bit after the two-mile mark. You're almost home.
5. Cool down. After the race, jog another mile or two. Your legs will thank you.
We found this utterly hilarious. So, to run your first 5k, which is 3.1 miles, this "expert" thinks you should warm up and cool down with about an equal amount of running. This is not an entry-level 5k kind of thing to do. This is an expert kind of thing to do. I have no doubt that the person who wrote this is a competitive runner who does precisely this when he (or she) runs. But for your first 5k? Forget it.
Similarly, an expert, or someone potentially out of touch, shouldn't be your first choice for a mentor if you're just starting up. Although a good mentor can help you identify problem areas current or impending, it's vital that this person understand what it's like to be in your brand-new startup entrepreneur shoes. If you don't want to wind up annoying your mentor and causing yourself a needless amount of stress, it will behoove you to be selective.
Naturally, this is tough. After all, you have to wonder: How choosy can you really be when in the end you're the one who needs a mentor's help. Of course, it's opportune to be able to sit down with someone who has achieved what we want to achieve. But, if the person doesn't remember what it's like to be at whatever place you are, it's kind of a waste of time.
The person will be boggled and confused as to why you can't just do what it is he or she is telling you to do, and you'll be stressed out and depressed, wondering why you can't just do it. Because, clearly, this person did it!
This is not to say that your mentors all need to be only one step ahead of you. It just means that you may be able to learn something more helpful from someone other than the superstar. Teaching and mentoring is a skill and a talent. Not everyone has the same talents. Being talented at doing doesn't mean you're talented at teaching others.
So, look for more than a great résumé when you're seeking out a mentor. Look for someone who remembers what it's like to stand at the starting line of her first race--even if she's an expert now.
SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist
Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.