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Should you work with a mentor?
by Peter Searle

Do you have experience of the school of hard knocks? Does it seem a waste of your energy if you do not share that experience with others? If so, you might make a good mentor, writes Business Doctor Peter Searle on behalf of FSB.

Do you believe that there is some knowledge you can only gain from experience and it is a waste of time reinventing the wheel when somebody else has already been there? If so then you will probably recognise the benefits of having a mentor.

So, what is mentoring? Mentoring is a long-standing form of transferring knowledge and experience between two people. It is very different to training or dedicated coaching. It is founded upon a relationship where one party willingly gives their time to offer help, and support, to another person.

When is mentoring appropriate?

It can be used in several different situations:

  • Supporting a start-up business owner
  • Supporting a business owner through a scale up, acquisition or sale
  • Inducting new employees
  • Developing middle managers to more senior roles
  • Gaining professional qualifications
  • Supporting organisational change.

The mentoring relationship.

The mentor assumes the responsibility for guiding, advising and helping to facilitate the development of the mentee. The relationship should be non-threatening and such that the mentee is willing to fully express their feelings in a safe environment. For this to occur, confidentiality is paramount, and the mentor respected by the mentee. In an organisation, the discussions are not disclosed to other parties, e.g. line manager or HR by the mentor. However, if the mentoring is thorough, then the mentee should feel confident enough to approach their line manager after a session, which will allow situations to move on.

The different roles of a mentor

A mentor can expect to take on different roles in different situations:

  • Sounding board, e.g. for a start-up this is likely to be provided by an industry expert
  • Introducer
  • Counsellor
  • Advisor
  • Some coaching
  • Expert
  • Source of organisational knowledge
  • Role model
  • Source of feedback
  • Confidant
  • Motivator

Business owners find that it can be a lonely place running a business, so having the ear of an industry expert, who has been there and experienced the emotions of several economic cycles can be a great source of support to them. Equally, someone new to a business will find having someone who knows the business inside out – someone to refer to and who is not going to laugh at every question – will help them to start performing quickly and make them feel they are part of the team.

Benefits of mentoring for the learner

Mentoring gives a practical insight into a role by someone who has had time to reflect on situations and consider different outcomes. The mentee gains first-hand experience of a situation without having to experience it themselves, so they can start going forward from an advanced position.

Benefits of mentoring for the mentor

While the primary beneficiary is the mentee, the mentor can gain an insight into the thoughts of people at a different level of an organisation, or from a more recent educational background. There is also the satisfaction of helping someone. The mentor will need to formulate and carefully articulate their reflections on activities. Mentoring can provide an opportunity to practice skills, such as listening and counselling.

Benefits of mentoring for the business

The accelerated learning process is the primary benefit, but the networking and reinforcement of a culture will also surface.

Frequency of contact

The frequency should be enough for the relationship to flourish. It should be spaced, so a dependency is not created. Overall it should last until an objective has been achieved, e.g. a promotion, a sales target or a professional qualification.

Meeting format

Each meeting should have an agenda for discussion which includes the topics the mentee has concerns about. The mentee should be asked to explain their concerns and be challenged on their assumptions so that reality can be ascertained. The range of scenarios can be considered using questions posed by the mentor from their experience. As a result of the discussion, the mentee should be invited to draw up an action plan, ideally with measurable steps.

Things to watch out for

A trusting relationship between a mentor and mentee is critical. Therefore, any breach of confidentiality or a lack of respect for each other is likely to lead to a breakdown of the relationship. There must be a commitment from both parties, one is giving up their time, and the other expects to gain from the relationship. If the commitment is not there or a benefit is not realised, then the process will fail. A suitable matching of mentor and mentee is fundamental to a successful outcome. In an organisation, this can be part of the review process, but where two individuals agree to form a relationship, then they will have to discuss between themselves how the relationship is working.

A couple of quotes sum up the benefits of mentoring; the first is what the mentee gains and the second why the mentor gains so much satisfaction from the process.

“One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination.” — John C. Maxwell

“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” — Winston Churchill

Credits – Article written for Kent Business Vision Live 2019

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