Twice a month, Ken Leeson takes a seat at his local coffee shop alongside a young veterinarian who’s trying to start her own business. The two, who first met in February 2012, are working together to develop a business plan. Leeson, a 59-year-old owner of an Edmonton-based business consultancy, peppers her with a few well-chosen questions. “Who do you know who might want to join your business?” he asks her.
Leeson’s helping the young vet, not because she’s a family friend, but rather, he’s her mentor. Last year, the long-time entrepreneur decided to become a mentor because, he says, he came to a point in his career where he wanted to give back. He also understood that the benefits of mentoring flow two ways. “I think a mentor can get as much out of the program as the mentee,” he says. “I learned a bit about myself that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.”
“I think a mentor can get as much out of the program as the mentee. I learned a bit about myself that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.”
A number of business groups around the country encourage executives to help fresh-faced entrepreneurs and future CEOs with their careers. Some companies sponsor mentorship programs too. Josée Bouchard, Equity Advisor at the Law Society of Upper Canada oversees her organization’s mentorship programs, and says that mentoring helps the veteran executive just as much as a newbie employee. “Both mentors and mentees gain networking opportunities and lasting professional relationships,” she says.
Typically, mentors are experienced business people and mentees are bright-eyed 20-somethings, but Bouchard points out that there’s no age requirement. In fact, some successful mentoring programs are of the peer-to-peer variety, she says. In most cases the relationship lasts between six months and two years. During that time the mentor serves as a role model and a sounding board and the two may attend networking events together. While the time commitment varies, Leeson’s committed to four hours per month, meeting at a coffee shop for two hours every two weeks.
While Leeson stopped mentoring the veterinarian in September of last year, the two still talk. She hasn’t yet got her business off the ground, but with his continuing help it should happen soon. “She has progressed faster than I thought was possible,” he says, with a hint of pride in his voice. The experience was so rewarding that he’s now working with someone else. “I’m there to support and share stories and provide resources,” he says. “I’m learning a lot too.”