12 Most Important Business Lessons You’ll Only Hear from a Mentor

12 Most Important Business Lessons You’ll Only Hear from a Mentor

The advice you need in business comes from someone who has been there, done that – and gives you the t-shirt. Your mentor is like your alarm clock – you may not like what you’re hearing, but you know it’s always the truth.

Being a mentor means being willing to call balls and strikes in the game of life – while you coach someone on how to win. Here are the 12most important things you’ll only hear from a mentor.

1. Don’t Dictate, Motivate

As a leader, or future leader, it is so easy to fall into the “Dictator” role. You feel in control. It seems like tasks are getting done faster. Long-term, however: bad strategy. Through motivating others toward accomplishment of common goals – rather than dictating – not only will “stuff” get done but those around you will be far more innovative, willing to work nights and weekends on passion projects, and be ready to pivot when times get tough.

2. Negativity Must Have Balance

We all have stress; challenges are imminent. Despite our best intentions, losing our patience or temper will happen. Allow that negative mindset to become a habit, however, and your entire physicality changes. You become closed and withdrawn; few will choose to follow. Instead, balance that with a smile, spontaneous celebrations of wins and milestones, sincere compliments, and a sense of humor – and you’ll foster loyalty.

3. Mentor, as You Are Being Mentored

When you are in the position to teach… you learn, absorb and reinforce. Perhaps most important – by having to articulate what worked best for you, and what didn’t, you have the opportunity to reflect on your own accomplishments and near-misses. Plus – and this can’t be emphasized enough – never underestimate how much giving to others makes us feel better about ourselves.

music picture4. Always Be the Worst Musician in the Band

Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny dispenses this stock piece of advice to all his musical mentees. Put another way… if you have nothing to learn from your immediate partners, team members and network – you stop learning. Always ascend to the next level in your sphere of influence; although it may be a bit unnerving – and will undoubtedly take you outside your comfort zone – this is the only way to ensure you’ll keep growing.

5. Say What You Are Going to Do; Do What You Say

To your customers, vendors, investors and team members: clearly state what you are going to do and when the task will be completed. Then, do what you said you would do in the time frame established. Lastly, communicate that it is done. Every. Time. This, a mentor will tell you, is the definition of integrity.

6. People Like to Do Business with People They Like

You wear all the right clothes. You can sell ice to an Eskimo in December. You have an iron-clad pitch you’ve rehearsed over and over; every inflection is perfectly timed. And yet, no one wants to work with you, renew their orders, or form strategic partnerships to thwart competition. Maybe it is time to stop selling… and start building relationships, online and offline? Likable – social, digital and face-to-face – is the not-so-new black.

7. Failure is Only Good if YOU Learn from the Experience

We keep hearing how failure is good for us. At the time, however, entrepreneurial failure can be incredibly stressful. A good mentor will mitigate that stress by helping you see the bigger picture, learn from the mistakes made and might also throw in: “Sometimes, we get a PhD in what NOT to do.”

8. Waste No Time on Haters, Victims and Drama Queens

One lesson we all learn – some sooner than others (he says sheepishly) – is that there is just not enough time for those that are determined to be “terminally unhappy”. Those who go way past “MBR” (Must Be Right) to deliberately confrontational (Haters); those who blame everyone but themselves for their current situation (Victims); and those loveable timesucks that leave you wondering how they get anything because you can’t (Drama Queens) need to be left behind. After all, being a babysitter does not make you a good friend.

9. Surround Yourself with People Who Give a S _ _ t

Some of us are “lucky” enough to constantly supported and influence by people who care. A mentor will tell you that luck has nothing to do with this critically important aspect of your life. This is not an accident. Or fate. Or circumstance. Be consistently passionate and vocal about what you care about – and you will attract others who care!

10. To Change a Bad Habit, You Have to Own It

We all have bad habits – human habits. As a leader, some of your bad habits (i.e., procrastination; failure to prioritize, delegate or motivate; losing your cool in a tough spot) will have a negative impact on your ability to execute. Own the problem, resolve to work on changing – and do it (see No. 5 above).

11. At Every Opportunity, Upgrade Your Team

Anyone who has been around me long enough has heard this analogy: A baseball coach is responsible for putting the best team on the field. Period. If the third baseman isn’t pulling his weight and is taking the team down with him… you go find a new third baseman. No exceptions.

12. Put Your Big Girl Panties On

If this stuff was easy, everyone would do it. You are going to have bad days. You are going to get a bunch of negative comments. You are going to run into people that are deliberately confrontational. Get mad for a minute or two, put your big girl panties on, and get over it. You have work to do!
What would you add to this list of 12 Most list? What advice do you often dispense as a mentor? As a mentee, what would you want to hear from a mentor not on this list?

And, 12Most importantly… do you have a mentor?

Photo courtesy of Wayne Silver and Petr Urbancik. Used under creative commons license, some rights reserved.

Mark Babbitt


A passionate supporter of Gen Y talent, YouTern CEO Mark Babbitt is a serial entrepreneur and mentor. Mark has been quoted in Forbes, Fortune, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, and Under30CEO.com regarding internships, emerging talent and the current job market – and was recently honored to be named to GenJuice’s “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors” list.

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@tbump trying to reply twitter says I've written to many DM's?


Cool way to say all the right stuff!

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I'd somewhat rephrase/reframe #4 (be the worst musician in the band). Much of what this 12most column is about is effectiveness in management/leadership. A manager/leader will be more effective when he or she is perceived as the "best musician in the band" with respect to a specific set of key or core tasks. With respect to other tasks, the effective manager/leader DOES seek to learn/develop, and lets the band's other "musicians" teach him or her. The model I am thinking of is the military, specifically the United States Marine Corps, which I am most familiar with. Marine officers (at least in the combat arms communities) traditionally are exemplars of excellent performance in such things as marksmanship, physical endurance and other key skills. Yet the best Marine officers--military officers in general, I would add--know how to learn what they need to learn from the platoon sergeant, "Top," the gunny, or even the lance corporal who is a slug in garrison, but outstanding downrange. In short: be the best musician in the band, except when you can afford to be the worst; and you can afford to be the worst more often than you realize.


If you can believe it, I say #12 quite often... It's not what happens to you so much as how you choose to respond to something. Having a mentor has helped me in numerous ways and I see so much clearly for it. And, thanks to him, I've been able to help others!


Mark, this was a very awesome blog post that you wrote up and probably one of my favorite ones. You are right about throwing on your big girl panties and just sucking it up. Their are going to be a lot of people that don't like what you do but you just have to get over that hump and keep on moving.


Good post Mark,

We see a lot of business's that wont change, dont want to change and are not ready for being changed. No need to convince them about change until they are willing to do so. A good mentor ups your game as you correctly put it. These days true mentors are hard to find since so much information is online these days and everyone has access to it. Everyone says I know it or know what I am doing. If they cant see what they are doing wrong, then no mentor can help. A guy I talked to today had 2 previous mentors and still had many problems (lets not forget how much money he has spent on these 2 consultants). I could tell what the problem was after he spoke for 5 minutes. He does not see it yet. He is NOT ready to be mentored. He failed on #9 and #11.

His biggest issue was #8, which has never happened and he is stuck on #7.

What made him think was my comment, why are you searching for a 3rd consultant if you have already gone through 2? "problem" has not been addressed he says. I asked what do your staff think of you? He was surprised as other consultants had not asked this question (suggesting staff need further training and motivation classes) which by the way is what they teach. There is nothing wrong with the current staff, but business owner needed a real mentor to start making some tough changes in the company. What a wake up call. I sent him this post :)

Great job.


To change a habit, you have to own it - the best mentors are able to point out the challenges, and ownership is so important if you want to create change. And #3 is really a strong point - if we choose, we can be mentored, and be a mentor, depending on the subject at hand. This post encouraged me to be open to guidance, and to make sure that my advice is as straightforward and honest as yours. Thanks Mark.


I really like this one...great article!


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