Mentoring: Ascending by Alliance

If necessity is the mother of invention, collaboration has made the world’s biggest corporations. Throw a bunch of smart folks in a room and watch the magic happen.One-man shows don’t have that luxury. Theirs is a slow and solitary climb through an onslaught of challenges, from serving customers to buying cash power. While small-business owners value their independence, they also forgo the benefits of teamwork and camaraderie enjoyed by larger business concerns.

However, you don’t have to go it alone. There are plenty of friendly experts to lend a helping hand. You just need to know where to look.

There are three main types of helping hands; mentors, who are seasoned industry veterans with helpful war stories, advisers, with professional expertise in different areas who can brainstorm growth strategies, and coaches who pretty much act as cheerleaders to help ignite the spark in your spirit when it is flickering. Each relationship brings its own set of opportunities and challenges.

Mentoring is a process, not a flurry of calls when times get tough. While these relationships can evolve informally between friends or like-minded peers, mentoring is fast becoming a formal business arrangement–with regular meetings, goals and expectations spelled out at the onset. However, if you don’t truly connect with your mentor, no matter how smart or informed he or she seems, forget it. A good relationship with a mentor is essential.

When searching for an advisory board, be sure to enlist the help of as many influential industry experts and service providers as you can find. Although many may decline, you will still be shocked by the high caliber of professionals who will agree to help your business, especially if you offer a small equity in the firm.

Advisers can have big egos, so beware of the Peacock Syndrome. You will probably spend the first few meetings feeling each other out and listening to them touting their own accomplishments, but when they roll up their sleeves and get to work, you will be surprised by how much gets done is a very short time

Sometimes it’s the soft skills that matter most. So if your firm is having some internal communication problems, for example, senior management may be frustrated that targets are not being met and the employees may feel that they are not sufficiently informed of what is expected of them. In situations like this, a coach may be helpful. Just a few days of coaching can make a measurable difference. The new skills should be carried over outside the company and can improve the way people communicate with their customers as well. There can be tremendous benefits.

One critical aspect about coaching, or enlisting any outside help for that matter, is if leadership doesn’t show that they buy in, you are wasting time and money. Employees may feel threatened that the process will put the spotlight on a personal weakness. If the senior leaders are willing to take the same risk, employees are more likely to buy in, and the process will be far more effective.

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