Mentorship matters. But perhaps not as much as we think it does. A recent study from BMO showed that 83% of women who were interested in entrepreneurship thought that role models and mentors would be important to their success. Whenever I teach women and leadership or entrepreneurship students emphasize the importance of having a good mentor.
However, a recent study (unpublished) from Etienne St. Jean, of the L’Universite du Quebec a Tros-Rivieres, presented at the Administrative Sciences Association of Canada conference May 9 – 12, 2014, suggests that while mentorship plays a role in entrepreneurship, it has a relatively small effect. St. Jean studied the impact of mentors on university students ability to generate ideas or opportunities for future businesses and the likelihood that they would develop these ideas. He found that having a mentor explained about 7% of the variation in the number of business ideas that the students said that they had identified. He also found a small relationship with the likelihood that the student reported developing that business idea further.
Mentorship within corporations has been shown to give proteges access to hot jobs, to international positions and to visibility with more senior managers, all of which are essential to progression to leadership positions. Catalyst, a women’s leadership think tank, suggests that the leadership development formula should be 10% training, 20% mentorship and 70% developmental assignments. So yes, it helps to have a role model or mentor, but the real learning, whether in entrepreneurial leadership or leadership in some other sector, comes from learning by doing.