Jim Duffy comment: Be prepared if you want to meet your mentor

It is important to work hard to find that one mentor that really works for you, says Duffy. Picture: Ian Howarth.
It is important to work hard to find that one mentor that really works for you, says Duffy. Picture: Ian Howarth.
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Luke Skywalker was a bit moody and impetuous when he was introduced to us in Star Wars.

He was working the land in his uncle’s farm far, far way from where all the action was. He was a little frustrated at not being able to make progress in his pilot career and he had no-one to help guide him.

His uncle was from different stock and was used to farming. It was all he knew, so his input for Luke was of no real value. Luke was floundering. Then he met Old Ben. And the rest is cinematic history. In meeting Obi-wan or Old Ben, Luke Skywalker found a mentor…

Mentors are plentiful in the Scottish ecosystem. But finding the right mentor at the right time for your business or career is not an easy task. Just because someone stands up and calls themselves a mentor does not qualify them to be such. I have found this out at great cost, as have many others. So, it is important to work hard to find that one mentor that really works for you.

Firstly, in trying to find a mentor, you have to be specific in your approach. There is no point in asking a marketing professional to help you understand financial spreadsheets better. A marketeer has a specific skill set. Therefore, if you want help with spreadsheets, you may wish to consider seeking out a mentor who has a financial background like a financial ­analyst or accountant. But beware…

I know of many entrepreneurs who think that an accountant is just that – an accountant. An accountant knows everything about accounts, including spreadsheets. But, oh how wrong they are. Like all professionals, accountants go through various stages of training and development within their chosen career paths. So, if you want help with spreadsheets, the best stage to get is a youngish accountant working in audit for one of the Big Four.

These individuals will be crunching numbers and handling pivot tables and all sorts of fancy formulae. In short, they can help you navigate your spreadsheets. So, doing your homework on what you ­actually need is a must.

Next up is your attitude to seeking out and attracting a mentor. I use the term “attracting” here as a mentor must want to work with you. You have to send out the right signals that say, “Hey, I’m a decent person who has real energy for what I do and I’d love you to help me”. Otherwise, the mentor pool may not feel that you are ­passionate enough about what you are doing. Accordingly, they will not progress a mentor relationship with you. So, putting yourself in the shop window as keen, communicative and professional is a sure way to attract a decent mentor. But, you have to play your part.

A mentor needs to be thanked. They seek neither plaudits nor reward. But, you must show them that you appreciate their time, skills, experience and efforts. A good mentor will prepare for a session with you. They will not simply rock up to a coffee shop and say, “hit me with it”. No, they will be thinking “in your shoes” so they can let you progress and push on. So, not turning up or showing any appreciation will lead to a short relationship. Or some tough words from your mentor.

Finally, and there is no exhaustive list here, a mentor is not there to make you feel better and sort out all your domestic problems. In seeking mentorship, it is imperative that you are up for some tough love. This means you will not always like what you hear. You do not have to agree with it there and then. But, upon reflection, you will have to act on it or talk through with your mentor why you feel it may not work. Remember, you asked to have the mirror put up in front of you, so you have to work through what you see in front of you.

Wise words from a wise owl can make a huge difference to anyone who wants to develop themselves and get better. But, it is a two-way street. Making the journey to find and keep a great mentor takes diligence and effort. But it pays massive dividends in the long run.

May the force be with you…

Jim Duffy MBE, Create Special.