Mentoring, while widely recognised by large organisations as a fantastic way to help employees to develop and grow, is often overlooked by small business owners and leaders.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand exactly what mentoring is. Simply put, mentoring is defined as the act of one individual sharing their knowledge, skills and experience to help another individual to progress.
Typically, a mentoring relationship is led by the mentee and will go on for several months or even years, but it does not have to. Furthermore, while most mentors are more senior, they do not have to be. The rise of ‘reverse mentoring’ has led to organisations looking at more junior staff (and yet sometimes more experienced in certain elements of workplace tools – such as technology and diversity) to mentor senior managers and directors.
Most notably though, a mentor is offering help and support from their own personal experience. And it is here, in this experience, that business owners can benefit so greatly. The following steps will outline how you can also take advantage:
It’s all very well having a mentor, but we’re often told we need one and seek one out, without really sitting down and reflecting on why we would like or feel in need of a mentor.
Set aside 15 minutes in your day to write down a list of the significant challenges you’ve faced over the last year and where you are struggling to progress and develop in yourself and in your business. The chances are that it will highlight 2-3 key areas in which you are consistently coming up against barriers and problems
If you can’t think of any, consider areas in which you are looking at expanding more quickly, looking to save money or seeking better results. These may not seem like obvious challenges, but they are all things that can be helped with the right mentor.
This part is not easy, by any stretch of the imagination, but if you know why you would like a mentor then it does get slightly easier. Look at those who are in a similar role to you with more experience.
They may be older but don’t always have to be. Age is no guarantee of experience and with the rise of ‘reverse mentoring’ you may well find that a younger mentor can help you to navigate through challenges more effectively. So, using tools like LinkedIn and mentoring networks like PushFar, have a look at those who are in (or have been in) similar roles.
It’s worth mentioning here too that the industry doesn’t necessarily have to align, and in some instances having a mentor from an outside industry can offer additional insight of extreme value.
So, you’ve found a mentor, asked them to be your mentor and you are now in an active mentoring relationship. It’s now really important to set the expectations. This may involve discussing how often you meet; in what medium you meet (eg, over a coffee or on a Skype call) and what objectives you have during the mentoring relationship.
A good rule of thumb is to meet once a month for six months, initially. Try and work out how long the relationship should last for at the start – again, six months is a great starting point. It doesn’t have to end here but it’s better to start with a six-month window upfront.
It’s all very well having a mentor but if you’re going to hold back on the things you discuss, it’s probably not worth your time or theirs. This is why it is really important to find a mentor who you connect with but once you’ve found them to build a rapport so you can be honest and open about the challenges you face, revealing your potential weaknesses and therefore allowing your mentor to help you to improve on them and work through the challenges effectively.
A mentor is only as good as the knowledge they have and if they don’t know you’re struggling, they cannot offer effective advice. So, be honest and upfront with your mentor as much as you can.
This final tip to mentoring might seem like a bit of a curve ball but it really is valuable. As well as being mentored, consider mentoring someone else. You will be amazed at how you can benefit from guiding someone else who is at the start of their business journey.
Mentoring will teach you to think about things in a different way and often the advice you will provide your mentee with is advice that you used to begin with but haven’t implemented or actioned recently. As your business expands, being reminded (by providing advice) of what you should be doing, may well surprise you. What would you advise yourself to do that you aren’t currently doing?