Last year, I found myself in a difficult situation with a consultant that we assigned to a client. Initially, he seemed professional and respectful of the relationship our company had established. However, as time went by, it became clear to us that his agenda was purely self-serving, with the intentions of taking financial advantage of our client and of taking over the relationship.
I'm ordinarily a very good judge of character, and this consultant was recommended by someone who historically has connected me with exceptional people. I falsely assumed this consultant would measure up to others in my friend's network.
When my initial attempts to extricate the consultant failed, I called 3 of my long-time mentors and asked for help. I laid out the situation, and took responsibility for abdicating control to someone I did not know well.
All 3 mentors (all men) were aggressive in their advice to me. They also re-confirmed for me that this likely would have not happened to me if I wasn't a woman, that my consultant was counting on me to be weak, and that I needed to get aggressive to reclaim my client and get the consultant out.
None of the conversations were easy, but I needed to have them to do what had to be done.
Their brutal honesty and their clear plan of action helped me to create the courage I needed to be forceful. Knowing that they were fully behind me for additional advice gave me the confidence I needed to fire this consultant.
Great mentors are the backbone of strong leadership. We can't know how to handle everything, and the speed of business today compels us to move fast. The ability to call a mentor at a moment's notice to say, "Hey I need help; what would you recommend?" enables us to push through challenges with minimal disruption.
In addition to digging us out of trouble, here are 4 other reasons why mentors are so valuable:
They Tell Us the Truth
Great mentors challenge our ideas. They're invested in our success, so they don't want to see us going down a dead end. Often we become enamored with our own brilliance, and it takes a true advocate to readjust our perspective.
They Reaffirm Our Progress
Conversely, great mentors remind us of all that we have accomplished when we seem to forget that. It's easy to be so focused on our goals that we forget how far we've come. Our mentors have been with us through the good and the bad, so they sometimes remember our achievements more vividly than we do.
They Expand Our Thinking
My partner and I met with one of my long-time mentors this summer to discuss how to structure our new partnership. My mentor has built and sold many businesses, and is an investor in many businesses as well.
Prior to meeting with him, we had met with quite a few attorneys about our partnership agreement. All of them suggested the same advice: to get a business valuation to determine the percentage split of our company.
As someone who has personally had many business partnerships, my mentor had an entirely different perspective. My partner and I bring the same level of expertise to our business. We've worked with each other for 15 years. Our revenues prior to merging our firms were about equal. We have a deep mutual trust.
My mentor led our strategy session and encouraged us to go 50-50, to stand "shoulder-to-shoulder" because the feeling of equality will go much farther in building the business than a situation which sets up one person to be superior over the other.
That felt right to us, given our history. Without my mentor's guidance, we would have gone a different route.
They Expand Our Networks/Reach
The best mentors think of your success even when you aren't together. They bring you into their networks, and frequently make strategic introductions.
When you need to meet someone from a company or industry, or require someone with specific expertise, your mentors are one of your first resources for meeting the right people.
The Support We All Need to Excel
Honesty, experience-based advice, support, perspective, connections. Mentors are a linchpin of success for any leader or business owner that is ready to move forward.