Skip to main content

Greenville Business Magazine

Being a Great Mentor: A Worthwhile Experience

By Karie Kaufmann

One of my mentors once told me that you should always have people in your life who are ahead of you, people alongside you and people behind you that you are helping to bring up. In your professional life, you move through many different stages. In the beginning, you are uncertain and seek all the help and advice you can acquire. A few years in, you have confidence and a rhythm that hopefully sustains into the horizon of your career. Reaching this point makes you the ideal candidate to mentor young entrepreneurs trying to navigate the waters you have sailed. At this point in your career, you should consider becoming a mentor.

Finding the right relationship
According to a recent Forbes article, “92% of small business owners agree that mentors have a direct impact on the growth and survival of their business.” Finding the right mentor and, more importantly, being the right mentor to influence a business or career requires some introspection.   

A mentor relationship must be one that quite naturally develops between like-minded individuals with similar business philosophies and goals. Ensuring your expertise aligns with the other person’s career vision will help both of you work together closely and develop an ongoing relationship.

Qualities of a great mentor
You have to keep growing to help them grow.

People like to follow people who are going somewhere. And this is the kind of person you need to be when helping others reach their business dreams.

Think of all you have been through to get where you are. These are the struggles your mentee is experiencing. You have a wealth of knowledge they will be eager to hear. But make sure your focus is not just revisiting the past as you direct your mentee. They need to see that no matter how far you’ve come, you are nowhere near the end. 

Share with them your vision as it pertains to their needs. Letting them know the inspiration doesn’t end when you achieve a few accomplishments is an essential message for budding entrepreneurs. 

Additionally, with so much professional vision, you can also look at your mentee’s company or role and provide insight from a new perspective. For the other person, getting the professional opinion of someone unattached to their business offers a portal to information they cannot see from their position. Helping others develop a vision without boundaries will keep them relevant in the business world. Offering an honest perspective as an outsider can redirect your mentee if necessary.

Be a listener, not a talker 
When you have vast experience and are accustomed to solving problems all day, it’s easy to go into “fix-it mode” with your mentee. So be intentional to ask open-ended questions and truly listen before dispensing advice. A simple opening like, “What’s on your mind?” or “How can I help you?” will help you to guide the conversation. The focus of each conversation should be about their experience, not yours.  

A mentor’s goal should be to support and make time to listen and help. The person you are mentoring should feel like they are your No. 1 priority in the moment. This availability is a sign of genuine caring that the mentee deserves and will appreciate. When a gifted mentor speaks, it will be about the mentee and how the mentor can help by sharing experiences. Even when offering past experiences, your focus should be on how your advice relates to the person you are mentoring. 

Be transparent
Even though most of us would prefer to share our best decisions rather than rehashing our mistakes, a great mentor will check the ego at the door and be transparent about business failures. Do you remember that feeling of imposter syndrome? Or that your peers had their act together more than you did? Well, now you’re experienced enough to know that you weren’t the only one feeling that way. Your mentee needs to see that failure is part of the process and that he or she will likely learn more from failure than success. 

Don’t be too proud to admit there have been mistakes along the way. This disclosure will help your mentee feel better about the process and inspire him or her to push through the rough times. The critical message to impress upon your mentee is not to let failures define them or deter them. A mentor who shares failures, and how to respond appropriately, is a treasured asset.

These are trying times for entrepreneurs and business owners, especially ones who lack significant experience. Making the time to reach out and help others is a valuable gift, and a powerful way to leave a legacy. For this reason, a growing number of people are choosing to enter a mentoring relationship to offer their expertise. No matter how much experience you have, gaining fresh insight, and pondering others’ ideas is inspiring and rejuvenating. And while the focus may be on helping someone else, you just might find this relationship benefits you as well. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

Karie Kaufmann works with growth-minded entrepreneurs who want to scale up their business, without losing their mind or losing control. She does this through one-on-one executive coaching, strategic planning retreats and keynote speaking. Learn more at