In Ready, Fire, Aim, an excellent book for entrepreneurs, Michael Masterson sets out a compelling reason why nearly everyone in the workplace needs a mentor (and why everyone should also be a mentor). Masterson explains, “The big problem everyone has when beginning a new business is ignorance. New entrepreneurs don’t know how the business should work – where to go for customers, how much to charge for the product, how many customers are needed for the business to become profitable, and so on.” The solution, Masterson explains, is learning. This can be done through two ways: (1) attending seminars, taking programs, and reading books, and (2) by speaking with people who have dealt with the issues and getting firsthand advice from them.
Masterson’s book is written for entrepreneurs and business owners, but the advice easily carries over to employees and supervisors. Here are five tips Masterson provides for how to effectively be mentored and the benefits for companies in establishing a mentoring system:
1. Do no be afraid to ask questions, even obvious questions.
People need to overcome the fear that asking questions shows weakness. As Masterson explains, even bosses have a vested interest in (or should have) sharing knowledge and answering questions for those working for them. Now, I would add that those seeking advice need to do their work and think through problems first, and then approach a mentor for the advice. Do not use the mentor as a crutch for avoiding doing the hard work and learning through dealing with difficult problems.
2. Have multiple mentors and maintain the relationship by being appreciative.
It is critical to have advice from people who have different experiences and different perspectives. The more diverse your input from mentors, the more data points you have to rely upon for a well educated decision. Don’t forget to show appreciation to your mentors as well – send a bottle of wine or a gift card for a nice dinner with a personal note.
3. Ask people of all ages and skill levels.
Masterson describes this as asking “up, down, and sideways.” For business owners, great advice and input should be sought from employees and anyone else who might have something to add. Generally, it is most helpful to have advice from people who have been through the experience already, but keep the inputs open and seek advice from multiple people.
4. Make your own decisions and take responsibility for them.
If the decision works, give your mentors credit for the well-founded advice they provided to you to help make it successful. If the decision does not work, accept the loss as yours.
5. Everyone should be a mentor (and organizations need to encourage mentoring).
There are multiple positive benefits for mentoring others as well, such as: helping others less fortunate, helping the next generation, developing meaningful relationships with others beyond a superficial transactional basis. Masterson cites a study by psychology professor Lillian Eby which found that 74 percent of mentors believed that mentoring others had a positive impact on their jobs. The study also found that the organization that implemented the mentor program reported increased productivity, lowered stress levels, and increased job performance.