Mentoring is a relationship and partnership between two people (mentor and mentee), who, because of common interests, are normally working in a similar field or sharing similar experiences.
Mentoring is a relationship where someone of lesser knowledge and experience (mentee) identifies someone (a mentor) whom they hold in high regard (because of their knowledge, experience, or success in a particular field), from whom wisdom and guidance is sought.
A mentoring relationship is based on mutual trust and respect. Mentoring is an effective way of helping people progress in their careers and aspirations by having someone ‘hold their hands’.
Any mentoring relationship depends on what the mentee wants to grow in and improve in their life and their career. There is no difference between mentoring and business mentoring, except that business mentoring is explicitly stated as such, and it’s specifically about business.
What can a mentor do for your business?
- Because a mentor is someone who’s walked the path and acquired experience, they can give you the benefit of hindsight. Because mentors have ‘been there’ and ‘done that’, they have learnt hard lessons about running a business. Basing their mentorship on their own growth path, including business success and challenges, they can guide you on what mistakes to avoid in business and how to improve your business performance. A mentor can help you improve your business running skills. They can also caution you against potential pitfalls and build your confidence in your own abilities.
- Business mentors understand how difficult it can be to run a business, and how lonely you can sometimes feel. To this end, they will provide you with the necessary support, and can provide you with tips of what to do when loneliness comes, when you feel overwhelmed, and when you feel down.
- A mentor can help a business owner stand back from their business and look at the ‘big picture’. Most often, entrepreneurs, or business owners, are wrapped up in the minute detail of what is happening in the business – not only because they are the founding member, but because they know everything that has to happen, and because they need to get involved in everything to make sure the company runs smoothly. As a result, they can forget what is most important, which is where the mentor comes in.
- Mentors are also well established in their own business circles, having had the benefit of engaging at various levels with different stakeholders. So they not only help you expand your network of contacts, but also guide you and introduce you to the right networks for your business.
How do your find a mentor?
- Business Chambers: these are organisations that have dedicated mentors that run specific programmes. By enrolling on a programme, you automatically get allocated a mentor.
- Your local business support organisations could have mentors as part of their core offering.
- You can identify a mentor yourself; someone who in your eyes is successful, and someone whom you look up to.
- You can ask people to refer you and introduce you to a mentor they know.
How do you keep a mentoring relationship working?
First things first. YOU are responsible for managing and maintaining the mentoring relationship. Not your mentor. You run the relationship. If you think that your mentor will be calling on you to follow up, forget it. Period.
Set clear objectives for yourself in your business growth
Decide exactly where it is you are going, what you want to achieve, identify where you want to improve; then, and only then, you can start thinking about what your mentor should look like and what they should be. What is important is that your mentor must have the knowledge and experience in your area. As an example, a scientist will probably not be a good mentor for business strategy. Make sure you make your goals clear to your mentor.
Clarify roles, expectations and the relationship from scratch
Be clear about one thing: this is your mentor. A mentor may be older and have wisdom, but the mentor is not your sibling, your parent, your relative or your friend. Do not ever expect to cry on their shoulder about a broken relationship. You will lose your mentor fast!. Their role is to provide you with guidance on business. That is what your relationship should be about.
Solidify the mentoring relationship by signing a contract
Most mentoring relationships fail even before they begin, because the mentees are simply not prepared to take the responsibility that comes with mentoring. By committing yourself to a contract, you are showing that you are serious about your learning. If the mentor does not talk to you about your contract, ask for it. As part of the contract discussions, if possible, schedule calendar meetings ahead of time for the duration of the contract, although this will not always be practically possible for your mentor as they are so busy and may not be able to schedule or commit to upfront time for 12 months.
Complete your assignments on time and as agreed
It is your responsibility to complete your assignments, not your mentor’s. It is also your responsibility to submit your assignment, not for your mentor to remind you. Do not make unnecessary excuses. By the same token, do send feedback, no matter how short, as regularly as possible, within your agreed framework/contract.
Don’t make a nuisance of yourself
Remember, mentors are extremely busy people, and if it’s a business mentor, they are probably still running their own business. Do not expect to have long meetings too often during the month. Best will be to ask for small, focused blocks of time, maybe just ten minutes (I know ten minutes is too little!). The trick is: if you ask for a small amount of time, your mentor will generally give you more. So, don’t make a nuisance of yourself by demanding long hours; rather request a shorter time, and let the mentor offer you more.
Always be prepared for your meetings
When you meet with your mentor, always make sure you are ready and are prepared to take a lead on the discussions. Make sure you have set up the agenda before, and drive the discussion. Your mentor’s role is not to monitor and evaluate your work, but rather, to provide guidance. Make it easy for them to do so.
My challenge to you? Your growth is your responsibility. Need to learn a few ropes and empower yourself? Find yourself a mentor. But be prepared to make the mentoring relationship work, or you will be disappointed.
‘If you cannot see where you are going, ask someone who has been there before. J Loren Norris