Finding the Right Mentor
We all have mentors in business, although we’re not always aware of the role they’re playing. My first and best mentor was my late father back in my homeland Lebanon. A man bigger than life in the trading and investment business who taught me all there is to know in the space.
At the time, however, I didn’t appreciate the education I was getting. I was only 12 years old.
It’s ironic, I suppose, that growing up I never wanted to go into business. I had no desire to follow in my father’s footsteps. But life is funny, and I eventually wound up in business anyway. Only then did I begin to realize how much my father had taught me.
He was the one, for example, who first explained to me the importance of maintaining high gross margins. He called them something else — big markups — but the thought process was the same. “Always make a good sale with a big markup,” he’d say. “Make sure your customer is someone you can collect from.” “Don’t take advantage of people.” “Be fair.” Those are fabulous business lessons embedded in my mind, and they came straight from my father.
Then there were his expressions. “Don’t worry twice,” he’d tell me when I’d get anxious about an upcoming event — a final exam, for instance. He’d ask, “Have you done your homework? Are you prepared?” I usually was. “So don’t worry twice.” In other words, don’t waste time and energy on problems that may never arise.
Or when I complained about not knowing what to do with my life, he’d say, “There’s a million dollars under your shoe; you just have to find it.” It wasn’t until I became an entrepreneur financier that I understood what he meant.
Or when I talked about things I’d like to have, he’d say, “You don’t ask, you don’t get,” whereupon I’d request a bigger allowance. He’d smile and say, “Nice try, but just because you ask doesn’t mean you’re going to get it.” Much later I came to understand that he’d been giving me my first lesson in selling.
Lessons like these sunk in when I wasn’t looking. They became habits of mind that led me to do certain things reflexively, without even noticing what I was doing. One of my best habits, for example, grew out of my father’s practice of breaking down problems and challenges into their basic components. He believed that most issues in business — and in life — are fundamentally simple, even though they may appear complicated at first. He taught me that, to deal with them, you have to examine the underlying elements and figure out what’s really going on. Never assume, moreover, that the real issues are those you see on the surface. That way of thinking has been one of my most powerful business tools over the years.
Indeed, I believe it’s such mental habits that allow people to become successful entrepreneurs. I myself have been an entrepreneur for three decades. I’ve built more than fifty companies over my career. Along the way, I’ve had the privilege of meeting many other successful men and women company builders, and I’ve noticed that most of us share these mental habits. They are the secrets of our success.
Now, I realize that not everyone wants to hear this. A lot of people starting out in business would prefer to have a step- by- step formula or a specific set of rules they could use to achieve their goals. The problem is, there aren’t any. Rather, there’s a way of thinking that allows someone to deal with many different situations and take advantage of many different opportunities as they arise. To be sure, having that mentality doesn’t guarantee that you’ll succeed at everything you do, but it does improve your chances significantly. You win more than you lose, and the longer you stay in the game, the more often you come out on top.
I believe most people can develop the habits of mind I’m talking about and use them to acquire the wherewithal to live whatever kind of life they want. Not that every person will be successful to the same degree or in the same way. In business, as elsewhere, some individuals have God-given gifts that allow them to play the game better than others. We can’t all be Tiger Woods, or Picasso, or Shakespeare, but anybody can learn how to play golf, or paint, or write a sonnet, and we can all learn how to be financially self-sufficient as well.
That’s an opinion, I might add, that has been repeatedly tested over the past decade — ever since I began mentoring dozens of entrepreneurs the world over.
Everybody, after all, has a different definition of success. What we have in common is the desire to have happier, richer, fuller lives for ourselves, and create a better world for our children and grandchildren. My goal was to help the entrepreneurs develop the mental habits that would allow them to do that. Judging by what some of them have accomplished, I have to believe that my efforts were not entirely in vain — which is not to take anything away from the people themselves. Building their businesses has been their doing, not mine.
I should note, moreover, that you don’t have to have a mentor like me, or a father like mine, to acquire the mental habits needed to “handle whatever comes up.” Many of my own habits I’ve developed the old- fashioned way — by making mistakes, falling on my face, picking myself up, and figuring out how not to do it again. But you know what they say: A smart person learns from his or her mistakes. A wise person learns from other people’s mistakes. I guess that makes me smart. I hope that, through my experience, I can help you to be wise.
As they say… “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled”. I hope this will kindle your fire to shoot for the stars while finding the right mentor.
Have a great day