Archives for posts with tag: Mentor

In my last post my 3 big things with workshops grouped conveniently – if a little artificially – into an ABC aide memoire. No such luck this time?

I’ve mentored staff in my marketing and sales teams, and I’ve also mentored early stage companies, which can often be a one-person company, over the last handful of years in a consulting capacity. Here’s what I’ve found to be best for those being mentored, again helpfully arranged in an A-B-C format.

Ask questions. As a mentor you’re a sounding board for the person being mentored. It’s a chance for them to talk through their rationale and approach with an experienced other party who is detached, impartial and objective. Probing with questions can allow you to drill into the detail and challenge, play devil’s advocate and ultimately help validate what they’re doing.

Build structure and process. The job of a mentor I think is to help the person being mentored see the next few steps towards their desired destination. Structure and process combine to give them some direction long after the mentor session finishes. Structure provides the framework to hang the various elements and process gives them an order for doing things.

Coach. I think our job is to coach, providing suggestions and approaches that we’ve seen work well before, rather than to tell them what to do. That seems to be the best way for them – and their businesses – to improve over time, as they grow in confidence and independence.

I’ve been mentoring for a few years, to a range of SMEs, and I’ve learned a lot. Here are 5 of my distilled thoughts on mentoring. It’s not intended to be a how to, more a set of observations.

  • Listening more than talking. As a sounding board, I think our job is to listen and absorb, then to suggest, rather than to tell
  • Focus on the few. Any business has a thousand things it could do, so I try to focus on a small number of key points. If you end up handing out loads of pointers, then your mentee goes away confused and overwhelmed
  • Process is important. When you’re in the thick of all those entrepreneurial factors, it helps if someone external is helping you with simple approaches to process, structure, and priorities for execution
  • It’s easy to say, hard to do. It’s all very well for consultants, mentors and advisers telling people what they should do. We then get to walk away and leave it to them to do the difficult bit, which is executing. I’m acutely aware of this, which is why my company’s ethos is to focus on using my experience to being responsive and practical in my recommendations
  • Be humble. Generally you’re advising someone who’s getting out there and giving it a go with their own business. They deserve a ton of praise for that alone. They’ve put themselves out there and it can be a nerve-wracking, lonely existence. The last thing they need is arrogance or haughtiness. They need empathy, constructive criticism – which comes from our experience – and encouragement

Mentor can mean teach, but for me it’s better to think in terms of advise and support.

Sometimes you just need a gentle push from people to get you outside of your comfort zone so that you can improve.

I remember when I learned to swim at the grand old age of 11. It was in an old pool in my home town of Stafford, England, in a centre which is long gone, as is the centre that replaced it. That’s how long ago it was, but I remember the lesson.

I was not long out of the Popeye-like arm flotation devices, but still the 15-yard swim was eluding my ‘doggy paddle’ and my red badge – the most preliminary of swim badges – was still not adorning my trunks. I’d gotten close a couple of times that evening, and some of the older lads and the instructors were willing me to make the length. The truth is, I’d bottled it and put my feet down a metre or from the shallow end.

‘Right,’ said the instructor, ‘this time, you’re going to start from the shallow end and finish at the deep end.’ Gulp! I was very anxious indeed, but knew I wouldn’t be left to flounder and that this time I had to make it. I did, to the delight of everyone. A right of passage negotiated, but it wouldn’t have happened without a mentor pushing me .

This for me is a useful┬áreminder that we need the people we trust to push us, to get the most out of us. Conversely, this means that we as mentors and people in whom other people place their┬átrust, need to push them as well – customers, partners and colleagues – if we truly have their interest at heart.