Ben Bierman
JOHANNESBURG - A survey conducted by Harvard Business Review revealed that 84 percent of chief executives credited their mentors with helping them to avoid costly mistakes and to become more proficient in their roles. Mentorship, however, is a two-way street, and experienced entrepreneurs stand to gain a great deal from becoming mentors themselves.

It should also be understood that the role of a mentor is not strictly earmarked for business owners nearing retirement. In fact, there is a strong case to be made for entrepreneurs in any phase of their careers to take on this responsibility. In addition to giving back to a new generation of business owners, mentors can draw a number of practical advantages from being a mentor that can enrich their own careers. 

This may be because what up-and-coming entrepreneurs lack in experience, they often make up for in enthusiasm and optimism. As such, a mentor may find fresh perspectives or new solutions to their own business problems mentoring an energetic idealist. 

In the same way that most organisations see the best results when they upskill their employees, being a mentor to a new entrepreneur not only empowers the mentee but also affords the mentor an opportunity to collaborate with promising businesses from the ground up, which can also be the foundation of a lucrative business relationship in the years to come. 

With that said, being a mentor relies not only on practical experience, but also on some acquired skills. Good mentors therefore start by cultivating the right characteristics in themselves. 

What makes a good business mentor?

While any mentor will understandably need to possess certain skills and expertise that will be of value to others; at their core, mentors should have a passion for helping others and seeing them grow. Having strong interpersonal and communication skills go hand-in-hand with this characteristic. 
Similarly, while mentors need to be confident and possess a good knowledge of the industry, they also need to be patient and willing to support and guide the broad direction in which the mentee wants to go. 

What is expected of a business mentor? 

Sharing knowledge that empowers the mentee is the first responsibility of a mentor, but to do this effectively, the two parties should set clear targets, deliverables and deadlines for their relationship. 
One of the crucial skills that new entrepreneurs need to cultivate is perseverance and the ability to confront negative behaviours and attitudes. As such, it is vital for the mentor to assist their mentee to continuously cultivate professional behaviour. Lastly, they should offer encouragement and create a positive outlook.

What to be aware of?

A lack of commitment from the mentee, an expectation that the mentor will do all the work or a mismatch of the mentor’s skills and what the mentee actually needs, are all serious warning signs. 
While there is the possibility that issues like these can be remedied, there is no shame in admitting when a mentorship arrangement cannot be salvaged. If this is the case, it is important to try to end the relationship as amicably as possible. 
Mentorship can be tricky from both sides of the relationship. For the mentor, especially, it requires one to be a counsellor, coach, advisor, master, teacher, therapist, and preceptor, combined into one. However, if managed correctly, it can also be the most rewarding role ever taken on within the span of one’s career.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Ben Bierman is the Managing Director of Business Partners Limited.