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Mentoring 101

Tuesday 25, Aug 2020

Mentoring and You

Business mentoring is something that can have immense benefits to the business operator or owner. The question is, is it right for you? I have had a lot of conversations over the years with mentors that see businesses struggling. A mentor would help but for some reason there is a reluctance to reach out and seek mentoring help.

This may be due to the usual reluctance to reach out for help as it could be admitting failure or weakness. We can get so focused on what we are doing that we cannot see the problems or opportunities. As the old saying goes ‘sometimes you need to work on the business not just in the business’.

A great many successful business leaders talk about the benefits of having a mentor. It is worth noting that mentoring is not new. In Homers, The Odyssey, King Odysseus left his wise friend Mentor in charge, to watch over his son and the affairs of his State. This was a few thousand years ago and is the basis of the word mentor.

So let me provide some thoughts around the benefits of mentoring and why having a business mentor is not an admittance of weakness or failure but rather a recognition of wanting to be more successful and grow – not only the business but as an individual.      

What is a mentor?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a mentor as ‘an experienced and trusted person who gives another person advice and help’. The key is the advice and help – not the answers. A mentor can help be a sounding board, listen to issues or ideas and ask questions but in the end, it is the mentee that needs to make the decision about what action to take.

How to find a mentor?

There are several mentor programs and the Geelong Chamber is back providing this important service. You can learn more about the Business Mentoring Program at the Geelong Chamber here. The key is to find someone that you are comfortable with and that you can build trust with as you take your journey. The Chamber will take requests for mentors and match them with mentees to try to get a good working relationship. It is important that if you find you do not ‘click’ with your mentor that you be honest about this and seek another.  

How do you start with the mentoring process?

You need to be honest and upfront. Make sure you share as much about your business as you can before you meet face to face (in person or on zoom). This might be your business plan or a brief summary of what your business is about, what the key challenges and opportunities are ahead of you. This background information allows the mentor to have an understanding prior to meeting. Any information shared will be kept confidential by the mentor and over the many years I have worked with mentors I have never seen this trust broken.

The first meeting

It is a bit like a blind date. You may know of the mentor (and you should be provided with a brief background on the mentor prior to meeting) but the initial meeting is one where you can quickly see if you will ‘click’. As a mentor myself, I have always liked to call potential mentees prior to the meeting to gain some understanding from them on what they are looking for and what they want to talk about in the mentor session.

It is important that mentoring starts with a position of trust. If there is no openness it can make the whole business mentoring hard work for both the mentor and mentee. I once met with a person seeking mentoring advise but who would not divulge what they were working on, what the business issues were and more importantly how they were coping. We spent several hours going in circles. They also met with several mentors with the same result. Nothing gained. Frustrating for all involved.

At that first meeting the mentor will ask lots of questions and do a lot of listening. This is important as they want you to articulate about your business and then lead to what you want help with. This is where the great aspect of mentoring comes in. They will listen to your issues or opportunities and make suggestions; ask questions to make you think through what you are raising. They cannot give you the ‘answer’ but can help guide you so you can reach a decision. That decision may not be what you started out wanting to hear, but bouncing thoughts and ideas off the mentor can help provide clarity. 

Subsequent meetings

Ideally you want to meet a few times to build the trust and further seek input on aspects of your business that you want help with. The key is not to end up with the mentor as your crutch but as a reliable support when needed. Some mentoring relationships can go on for years with the mentor and mentee meeting as needed. This depends solely on what you need. The benefits of mentoring should become evident as you meet and develop trust with each other.

A few other points

Mentoring can be really rewarding for the mentor as well as the mentee. I have several businesses that I have watched grow after a few mentoring sessions and years later I still enjoy meeting with them to chat and see how they are going. They all agree that mentoring helped them.  

I always sent back a written summary of what we discussed and if there was any follow up needed. I was careful not to recommend specific accountants or lawyers when requested but rather provide contacts at a couple of different places for the mentee to investigate. It is not the role of the mentor to provide the solution but to assist the mentee in reaching a solution. I was also keen to ensure there was no perceived conflict of interest.

Mentoring can be a great tool to help any business from a start-up to a fully fledged company operator. I still have a couple of personal mentors that I occasionally bounce things off and find this is a great help. Take the plunge – I am sure you will enjoy the experience and find mentoring a great assistance to you and your business.   

With thanks to our blog article author:

Mark Edmonds BA FAICD
MRE Consulting Pty Ltd
President Geelong Chamber of Commerce