What do Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg all have in common? Aside from eye-wateringly successful businesses, they also have a great mentor. In their case the esteemed Bill Campbell, who has mentored Silicon Valley’s elite executives for decades.
It’s not just one miracle man however, many of the world’s most successful business leaders have benefitted from ongoing mentoring throughout their careers. It has helped keep them inspired, on track and has guided them through decision making processes. Steve Jobs is rumoured to have been mentor to Mark Zuckerberg, and famously Bill Gates has sought the perennial council of Warren Buffett.
We all need someone to get us out of our own heads, to bounce ideas off, to give us an outside perspective and sometimes to bring knowledge to the table that we simply don’t have. For many, a mentor is someone to work with on an ongoing basis. Bill Gates has known Warren Buffet for more than 27 years, for example. It is a friendship with an almost paternalistic figure (regardless of gender), whose agenda is not one of employee/employer, but one of equals and genuine support.
Here are five of the most valued ways in which we believe a mentor is vital to the success and happiness of business leaders:
A mentor will give you objective advice and an outside opinion
In our experience, the ideal mentor is someone who has reached a point in their career where they are no longer striving principally for personal gain. With a rich CV and knowledge gained through the hard graft of years going through the ranks, they bring integrity, trust and a seasoned outside perspective.
That outside perspective can be invaluable when it comes to decision making in all areas. It provides a checks and balances system, because sometimes you can be too close to a situation to have a true gauge on how it might be received.
Take, for example, Pepsi’s advertising faux pas featuring Kendall Jenner. The ad showed the Keeping Up with the Kardashians star bringing an angry protest to a peaceful resolution by handing a cop a Pepsi. The principle was apparently to show that love and understanding solves all problems. In 2017’s heated political climate however, against the backdrop of some controversial decisions on behalf of the Trump administration, it was seen as a slap in the face to all those marching for highly charged causes.
Once out there, it was obvious, but from the inside, where everyone was on the same wavelength, it wasn’t.
A mentor can help you look at a situation in new ways
“No matter how much money you have, you can’t buy more time. There are only 24 hours in everyone’s day. Warren has a keen sense of this. He doesn’t let his calendar get filled up with useless meetings.” – Bill Gates on Warren Buffet
A fresh perspective is always a good thing. Whether it’s bringing a company through a challenging period, working through a particular growth phase, or reassessing your place in the market. Perhaps it’s turning a problem into an opportunity or helping to find solutions and new approaches to the customer journey, staff training or even the way you think about work, your time and the demands placed on you.
Most of us are guilty of getting stuck in our own worlds every now and again, but a mentor can help us see things differently. Not just because they are different people, but because their thoughts are rooted in experience as well as empathy.
Mentors can inspire and motivate you even when things are difficult
“Early on in our history when things weren’t really going well–we had hit a tough patch and a lot of people wanted to buy Facebook–I went and I met with Steve Jobs, and he said that to reconnect with what I believed was the mission of the company, I should go visit this temple in India that he had gone to early in the evolution of Apple, when he was thinking about what he wanted his vision of the future to be.” – Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on Steve Jobs
As a business leader, you are there to inspire your team to do the best job possible, but who’s there inspiring you? The most enthusiastic of us can suffer from a lack of motivation from time to time, especially when we’re stuck in the nuts and bolts of running a business rather than the more glamorous aspects of leadership.
When HR challenges, logistics and budgets all start mounting up, having someone around to help reinvigorate you, and inject energy and enthusiasm, is priceless. They can remind you what you have achieved and what your goals are, so that you stay on track and in turn inspire the people around you.
A mentor will support you and the unique challenges you face as a leader
“It became very clear that I could have conversations with him that I could not have with anyone else, in particular my own hopes and fears.” – Google CEO Eric Schmidt on Bill Campbell
What’s that saying, ‘it’s lonely at the top’? Being a leader has many wonderful aspects to it, but one of the harder bits is that no one else in your team is in the same boat as you. Having generally been in that position themselves, a mentor will understand the position you’re in and the challenges you face in your professional sphere, as well as the impact it has on your personal life as well.
A positive mentality and resilience are crucial elements of a successful business, and the ideal mentor will be empathetic and understand what it takes to achieve a particular goal. However, at this stage in their careers, they’re not in competition with you to get there. So you benefit from mentoring and the insight and knowledge that they bring as a quietly confident and a discreet confidante.
Mentoring helps you reflect on what you’re good at, how you can develop and where you need help
One of the things that makes a good leader is the ability to empower other people. A key reason for this is that none of us can be good at everything, but we aren’t always aware of where we are lacking. The ability to recognise our own limitations is no weakness, but it takes time. Once we’ve identified that, knowing what to do about it is a whole different ball game entirely.
Surrounding ourselves with the right people, knowing how to empower them, maybe even providing some mentorship ourselves can all be part of it. It all boils down to one thing though – being able to identify the right questions to ask. A mentor is the perfect person to help you figure that out.