Entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs because they have a great product or service to market, or because they want to get in on the ground floor of the next big thing or because they want to be their own boss. But independence is a tricky thing. Most business leaders will say they still need guidance.
“I’ve been lucky enough in my career to have women that have allowed me to, not run rogue, but if I felt strongly about something they would let me take that chance and risk falling,” says Teresa Delibert, principle of Delibert Employment Solutions. “I’ve been lucky because I know that’s not the case everywhere, but the women I’ve worked with have lifted me up and not pushed me down.”
Delibert bought the company she worked for, and now runs, in 2008. The former owner remains her mentor, she says. She learned from the owner and a co-worker to be true to herself.
“The two women are complete opposites, but they just allowed me to be who I was,” Delibert recalls. “They let me flourish and they were able to move everything out of the way so I could do what I do.”
What she does is permanent job placement, with a particular focus on insurance and financial services. Her passion, however, is working with small businesses that don’t have internal recruiters. That allows her to swoop in and do what she does best: consultative recruiting.
Delibert throughout her career found that the women she worked with allowed her to do her own thing because it worked, whereas several of the men she worked with dragged her down.
“I took a management position when I was 21, so the men I worked with were mostly trying to make me conform,” she recalls. “And I feel the women I worked with really let me be me, worked with my strengths.”
She says her best mentors were ones who were flexible.
“I think it comes down to respect, giving (mentees) the opportunity, the open-mindedness, to let them fall and let them learn,” Delibert explains.
Tammy Butler-Fluitt’s first mentor was a woman who taught her how to be sensitive to the needs of the criminal justice population. She met the Rev. Pearl Cunningham during her college years.
“It’s not just about the textbooks and what you learn in college, but really to have a passion for doing what you do, and how do you try to make change as you go through your journey in life and in your professional career?” says Butler-Fluitt, founder and executive director of the Samaritan Center of Excellence Inc., a nonprofit organization founded in 2004 to work with women who had criminal justice issues.
The organization has since transitioned to one that not only focuses on women and children affected by the criminal justice system, but also one that, in a partnership with Exercise Express and Me Time Massage, serves families in need.
Along her journey to entrepreneurship, Butler-Fluitt had various jobs and mentors, she says.
“My first job out of college I had one supervisor who I remember the book she gave me after I had an incident, a book called ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,’” she says. “That book was pivotal in how I reacted with who I came in contact with, the individuals I worked with, and really molded me. I still contact and reach out to her to this day.”
Butler-Fluitt says mentorship is critical to entrepreneurial success and learning, but often we do not seek mentors when we should.
“I think we don’t really understand how important it is and we sometimes overlook that piece,” she explains. “So many times we come in contact with people and we miss the value of the connection of mentoring itself.”
For Donna Shultz, founder and CEO of Mirror Show Management, a company that specializes in putting together trade shows, having mentors has been part of her success as a business leader.
“All we are is not only who we were born, but who we’re mentored by,” Shultz says. “Some of us are lucky and we end up kind of being able to hang around the right people throughout life and learn from them.”
Growing up the eighth of 12 children, Shultz says she was taught to believe that there was nothing she could not do.
“A female taking charge is all I ever knew. My mother was the most inspirational woman I have ever met,” she explains. “My mom never had a bad day and always saw the positive in everything and everyone.”
She and her siblings grew up independent, with strong core values, gratitude being one of them, Shultz says.
“My mother was my biggest anchor and gave me all the confidence I needed to overcome any challenge,” she adds.
Shultz also counts her leadership team at Mirror Show among her many mentors.
“They are super smart, creative thinkers that make me look good,” she says. “They are my cheerleaders, always advocating for me, and they will always have my back. This team is why I come to work each day and they can set me straight when I need it.”
Finally, Shultz says, is the younger generation, including her two adult daughters.
“They teach me so much,” she says of her daughters. “But when they say things to me I don’t say hey, I’m the mother, I listen to them and go, you’re right. They constantly are mentoring me.”
In Barb Klein’s role as a life coach, author and retreat facilitator for Inspired Possibility, a business she founded in 2013, she has had a number of mentors and has served as a mentor herself through her work. Renee Peterson Trudeau, an internationally known life balance coach, has inspired and mentored Klein through her retreats.
“I first went to a retreat with her and got a sense of what that is all about and how very few women knew that it was OK for them to take time for themselves,” Klein says. “I also make sure that I get back to retreat with her at least once a year, and whenever I do I have a chance to meet with her and get hands-on tips about better ways to run a retreat and take care of myself.”
Klein also has had mentor coaches in her work who help her in skill development and business development. From them she learned that being an entrepreneur and having a successful business does not happen overnight.
“I think having someone to talk things through with has helped me to believe in myself more in my work. And to see myself in my work through other people’s eyes has given me more clarity as the business has grown and evolved,” Klein said. “Learning from people that have gone before me lets me benefit from their experience and their expertise and maybe avoid making some of the mistakes that they made along the way.”
And having mentors that cheer you on and inspire you is a benefit, she says.
“Just having people believe in me, support me, help me to take baby steps forward has kept me going,” Klein says. “Somebody else has my back and they see something’s possible for me that I may not even see yet.”