Mentoring: Do You Need It? Can You Provide It?

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

When business magnate Richard Branson entered the airlines industry in the 1980s, he recognized guidance was necessary for such a major undertaking. He sought out Sir Freddie Laker, an innovative entrepreneur in his own right, who’d started Laker Airways in 1966.


Laker would prove to be a valuable mentor. Branson credits him for detailing how the vision of combining excellent service with competitive fares was achievable. “I wouldn’t have got anywhere in the airline industry without the mentorship of Sir Freddie Laker,” says Branson.


What Is the Mentor-Mentee Relationship?

A mentor takes the role of skillful guide to the mentee, the inexperienced traveler. The mentor has already been to the places the mentee would like to reach. I’m using the term mentor broadly here — both as a corporate assignment and in a less official capacity. I’ve found the latter type of pairing to be more effective as it develops organically. A leader may, in fact, offer to mentor someone in whom they see potential. This is honorable, but I think it’s better when an aspiring mentee takes the initiative to request mentoring from someone they admire.


Certain qualities must exist in order for a mentoring relationship to succeed. Each party should respect and value the other. Even as the mentee is almost always in an assistant position, the best mentor sees the connection as a mutually beneficial one. Additionally, trust enables honesty between mentor and mentee — even to express disagreement. The best mentors willingly share their knowledge and experience in an unforced manner. Likewise, mentees should leave their ego at the door and open themselves fully to receive the optimal reward.


How Mentorship Shaped My Career

I’ve had a number of amazing influences during my career. One particular mentor was my manager at Nielsen, Dan Johnson. Over the course of 11 years, he taught me what it means to be a professional, and he showed me the importance of building trust and rewarding employees. Dan knew how to protect his team when the situation warranted it. He regularly poured the best of himself into his employees — especially me. He was a devoted family man who understood the work-life balance. Family came first. To this day, he inspires much of my leadership style.


Richard Branson gained wisdom from Sir Freddie Laker because Laker had completed the journey he would soon begin. And while no one can identically retrace the steps of another, a mentor can offer a valuable framework and perspectives of what it takes to go from one step to the next. Branson adds, “If you ask any successful businessperson, they will always (say they) have had a great mentor at some point along the road.” Take a minute to think about where you are on your career’s road: Do you need a mentor? Can you be a mentor?