The editor at Country Guide asked, “After meeting someone who could be a potential mentor, what makes a farmer pursue a full mentorship? When do they make the decision, and why? What is the impact of the relationship for themselves and their business? How do we relate this to leadership?”
I didn’t have the answers so I went to 25 individuals who have experienced mentorship through their industry, business or education.
The questions I asked were:
- How and why did you choose to contact a mentor?
- What made you consider going from your original questions to being part of a mentorship?
- What was the mentorship experience like for you?
- Were there benefits that you could not experience through research, observation or other forms of information? Please describe them.
- How has being part of a mentorship changed the way you look at your business and your future?
There was very little differentiation among the responses in terms of gender, age, industry or geographical location. The answers from men and women and from beginning versus established business were very similar.
Generally, people contact a potential mentor after they have seen or talked to them in person. Perhaps they met at a function, or the prospective mentor was speaking, teaching or visiting the farm, business or classroom.
There were a few “cold calls” where the mentor was contacted based on what the prospective mentee had heard from friends. One participant had read about mentoring and specific mentors, which spurred a contact.
Initially, the contact was always some sort of appeal or business question that the mentee wanted to ask of someone outside of the family. This approach was made because the participants saw the mentor as honest, open and knowledgeable, and they felt secure in approaching them.
Everyone I interviewed talked about an immediate feeling of comfort, safety and trust. The prospective mentor’s knowledge or reputation was always the impetus behind the first question, but it was HOW the mentor responded to the formative question that created the next step in the relationship.
The absolute honesty of the mentor was important, as was the direct eye contact and general body language.
In this participant group, it was obvious that their mentors were engaged and showed signs of “caring from the very beginning.” Even more striking was the mentor’s ability to “see right through” the question from the start. In other words, a good mentor was able to read more into the question and into the person’s needs right from the first moment of contact.
The transition from wanting to talk to the person to desiring a mentorship with them was ignited by how the mentor replied and in what manner they were able to shift the conversation from the problem to the person. Mentees saw this as a validation of their importance.
On the business side, mentees talked about the doors that were opened to them personally and professionally. This happened through exposure to events and information, and also via good advice.
The mentorship experience was also described as “dipping into practical experiences that you could not get in a book or through a webinar” and was supported by a constant feeling of “having someone in your corner.”
Being able to communicate with someone who knows your business and the businesses you are in but is at arm’s-length from the emotion was especially appreciated by the mentees. This calculated support allowed for independent thinking.
This meant that when the mentees wanted to make decisions, they felt they had clarity as to the issue, the solution and the potential outcomes. “A reasonable step for the right reasons” was a common theme raised by mentees, reflecting a nurtured discipline.
‘Made me money’
Did this help business? Participants shouted a resounding “yes” and said their mentors not only opened doors but “made them money.”
The experience taught mentees to “trust themselves,” “build skills” and “fully appreciate that they had many choices.” They were not only better equipped for business but found they were making better decisions.
The bottom line, however, was in personal growth as was summed up by this comment: “There are lots of ways to measure success but getting validation from someone in your industry that you respect was invaluable.”
What transformational changes did the mentees experience?
All participants indicated that being in a relationship of faith and trust was a huge confidence builder. More than just a professional sounding board, a great mentor was seen as one who invested in the mentee’s personal growth and gave “feedback that you just don’t get when you go it alone.”
Mentees themselves said they started to “see myself with respect” and they were also now aware of attitudes that may have held them back in the past such as “the unrealistic expectations we had put on ourselves.”
The transitional experience of moving from the fear of asking the initial question to a full understanding and appreciation of themselves and their business was described repeatedly as “profound.”
What does this have to do with leadership? The participants all expressed that they saw the mentor first and foremost as one “working in a leading role” who was deeply connected in the business or area that they were working or interested in. They found the vibe of the mentor to be warm and supportive and described them as someone who exercised strong interpersonal skills.
Those skills created an atmosphere that the participants described as “a space where I could be myself.”
Both great mentorship and effective leadership are empowering. They nurture people towards transformational choices and change without offering solutions, while preserving their dignity and respect.
Several of the participants are now industry leaders and mentors themselves — a result that they claim stemmed from the experience of when mentorship changed their business and their life.