My recent column in the Financial Times about mentoring generated many responses from people wanting to learn more about how they can pass their knowledge onto the next generation of entrepreneurs. This is very encouraging; the single most important factor in increasing an entrepreneur’s chances of success is regular access to good mentors.
From the mentor’s point of view it is also a very rewarding process, but should only be embarked on for the right reasons. Mentoring should be provided for free; otherwise commercial considerations might intrude on the process.
Providing free mentoring also focuses your mind on whether you can really afford the time to offer this valuable service. You should already be financially secure or your business and customers doing well enough on their own, so you can provide mentoring without detriment to yourself or connections.
Last week I met with a perfect candidate for mentoring, a 60-year-old industry veteran with a successful consultancy. To explain how I run my one-hour mentoring sessions, I asked him to go through the same preparation I require from my mentees, to complete a simple psychometric profile and provide a one-page summary of where they are and where they want to get to.
I have been a keen advocate of psychometric tests ever since I met Sir Philip Trousdell, a former commandant at Sandhurst who has also run the NATO Operation in Bosnia and the British operation in Northern Ireland. He explained that the British Army had been using psychometric since the 1940s, and considered them a vital first step in selecting potential leaders.
After studying a number of different psychometric tests, I concluded that they generally map onto each other, providing similar conclusions about peoples’ aptitudes for certain tasks.
Some are quite deep and intense, measuring how you interact with other people and behave under stress, but for a first meeting with an entrepreneur, my personal preference is for a profiling system called Wealth Dynamics.
I have used this as a mentoring tool for several hundred people in the past five years, and find it highly effective at providing a basic overview of people’s potential strengths and weaknesses.
This test was developed by Roger Hamilton and is available on-line for $100. It explains that there are eight different ways to be a successful entrepreneur and gives examples of highly successful people whose particular path to success you can follow, depending on your own personal profile.
For my aspiring mentor, his profile showed that he was strong in three areas: as a “creator” coming up with new business ideas, a “mechanic” working out exactly how to deliver these new products and services, and as a “star”, using his personal charm to persuade people to ultimately buy them. He would be less motivated to work on the company finances, negotiate complex deals or concentrate on delivering the same thing every day.
This commendable versatility also has its negative side. His creativity might result in overloading the mentee with too many new ideas, his desire to deliver may turn into excessive interference and his natural radiance might incline him to overshadow his protégée.
Understanding the potentially negative side of one’s own character is vital for being an effective mentor. My own “star” profile often tempts me to respond to any perceived slight or poor customer service with the sentence “don’t you know who I am?”
I now realise that deploying this tactic always backfires sooner or later. There are much better ways of reaching a desired outcome, rather than letting one’s ego take over. Once I realised this, my own effectiveness as a mentor was significantly enhanced.
The Wealth Dynamics profile test can be found at www.wdprofiletest.com
Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.