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Seeking Mentorship in a Small Business Environment: The Value of Mentorship and The Value of Coaching

ALLISON, tax accountant in a small family firm

"I am a tax accountant working for my father, a CPA. It’s a sole proprietorship with me being the only employee. Because I don not interact with management or other coworkers, it is challenging to gather experience to successfully navigate “office politics” and career advancement by means of seeking promotions.


I have joined professional associations, but I am always much younger than the members and find it hard to relate. I would love to find a mentor to discuss issues I have as a young woman in an industry of typically older men.


Do you have any advice to seeking a mentor?"

Dear Allison,


You raise a very important question! Every business publication you read stresses the importance of mentorship as one of the top critical components of career success. It is well known that mentorship is essential for career advancement for young professionals who have high aspirations. But how can you go about finding a mentor when working for a small or family owned business?


How Mentorship Works


Traditionally, willing mentors tend to be talented executives that wish to share their hard won expertise with a promising young professional eager to learn and motivated to succeed. There is usually mutual benefit to the relationship, as the senior executive is looking ahead to their next career move or possibly cutting back as they ease into retirement and wish to leave a solid legacy behind. Others simply find gratification in seeing young talent reach their full potential!  The bottom line is that mentors typically choose who they feel is worthy of their mentorship.


The Benefits of Mentorship


What we found in our research on up and coming millennial leaders who show Catalyst potential is that they demonstrate an openness, curiosity and deep desire to learn without resting on the laurels of their tendency toward rapid advancement. These qualities of humility, talent, a hunger to learn more and do their best, along with a strong work ethic attracted senior mentorship. Additionally, they look to those they most admire within their company or industry and seek them out for advice and guidance, thus increasing the likelihood of being taken under a mentor’s wing.


Limitations of Mentorship


While mentorship provides a wonderful opportunity, unfortunately it is not necessarily easy to obtain, especially for someone who works for a small family firm. We do have some resources for you to use to seek outside mentorship if you choose. However, it is also important to understand limits to the mentorship relationship, so you can make the best choice for yourself. In today’s rapidly changing business environment, a mentor may not necessarily be with the same organization for very long. Additionally, mentorships generally have a component of mutual benefit; the relationship may not survive after either party has met their specific goals. Another problem, as you have already discovered - older professionals in your field may not be completely aware of newer challenges faced by millennials. A great deal has changed through the rapid advance of technology, increased demands on worker accessibility, expectation of instant communication and on-demand services. The pace is faster, business interactions are more complex and the workforce is much more diverse. As a young woman working in a field dominated by older male professionals, there are unique challenges you face that may not be easily understood by those who have never experienced them.


There are many factors at work here that are well beyond the scope of a mentoring relationship (which is more specific to career growth in a given field).

Professional Coaching as another Option


In subsequent communication with you, you indicated you possess degrees in both public relations and accounting, but have no desire to pursue your CPA. It also sounds like you may be torn between the obligation you feel about taking over your father’s business and honoring your own family obligations, while trying to figure out what satisfies you professionally. It is clear that you have little interest in taking over the tax portion of the practice and that you prefer accounting. You also seem willing to take on the management portion of your father’s business, but you still have little sense of what the larger picture looks like for your future.


There are many factors at work here that are well beyond the scope of a mentoring relationship (which is more specific to career growth in a given field). A leadership coach can help you work through the complex choices that you have in front of you; assisting you in teasing apart your own personal career desires, your sense of responsibility to your father and your larger sense of purpose regarding the family legacy you will inherit. The good news is that you do have the freedom to chose from a significant array of opportunities that can result in the satisfaction and reconciliation of your most heartfelt career passions with the fabulous opportunities presented by your wise, generous and hard working father. A coach would allow you to explore all your choices and options, allowing for the possibility that you may wish to focus on a different aspect of the business, or begin a new type of business using the foundation your father established.


At Genesa Leadership Institute, we offer coaching services for clients who are looking to “take the lead in their own lives.” Our philosophy is simple, based on mountains of research coalesced into an integrated model: Leadership begins with knowing your own mind, learning how to manage conversations and knowing how to manage your relationships. Ultimately, leadership is everything you have ever been and everything you have ever done, projected outward into the world. Stepping into the self-confidence of knowing who you are and what you want to achieve, you and your coach can design a well-defined plan for the next steps in your career. Once those goals have been set into motion, you can then seek out a mentor who will help guide you on industry specific questions as you bring your plan into fruition.


How to Search for Outside Mentorship:


1. Before embarking on your search, it is a good idea to know what your goals are. What do you hope to learn? What would you like to accomplish? What personal capacities would you like to work on? What skills do you hope to develop? Who do you most admire in your field? What qualities inspire you?


2. Create a profile of what type of person you are looking for and then try to match that profile to the names of people you know that might be a fit. Don’t be afraid to approach professionals in your field for an informational interview. If you feel you really connect, you may want to ask if this person is willing to mentor you or they may offer to refer you to someone else.


3. Contact your college or university’s career center. Some of them have alumni mentoring programs.


4. Ask professional contacts if they know of someone who fits your profile. Don’t be afraid to get the word out that you are looking for a mentor.


5. You may want to contact your professional association. Ask them if they have any webinars, programs or articles on industry mentorship.


6. If you belonged to a fraternity or sorority in college, you may want to contact the national chapter on-line and locate a local chapter.


7. There are numerous opportunities to tap into local professional businesswomen’s organizations. Many provide mentorship programs for young professionals.

Genesa Leadership offers leadership coaching in all facets of taking the lead in your own life. 

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