Business mentoring: How to get it right
7 MINUTE READ
Successful business mentoring hinges on creating the right kind of mentor-mentee relationship. Done correctly, both parties should get value out of the arrangement. Get it wrong and it’s likely to lead to annoyance and frustration. So what does the “right” kind of relationship look like?
Well, before diving into the nuances, let’s take a step back and examine what a business mentor actually is and how they can help individuals achieve their goals.
What is a business mentor?
A business mentor is someone with considerable entrepreneurial experience, who serves as a trusted confidante over an extended period of time, usually free of charge. At first glance this might sound too good to be true. What does a mentor gain from helping someone for free in this way? Are they just really generous individuals?
Not quite. While they may in fact be very generous, most mentors have additional motives for taking an up-and-coming entrepreneur under their wing. They get something out of the relationship too.
For some, business mentoring offers a great way to hone their skills as a teacher, strategist, or consultant. However all mentors benefit from being exposed to fresh ideas, tactics, and strategies from their mentee. Becoming a mentor is a great way to stay up-to-date with the latest business trends and prevent yourself from “falling behind the curve”.
How can business mentors help?
Much of the value in business mentoring comes from gaining perspective. Running a business without objective, independent outside input is a recipe for disaster. It may feel like you’re doing all the right things and that the business is humming along quite nicely. But to an outsider looking in, there may be some glaring issues that need addressing. Mentors can help spot problems early so they can be nipped in the bud.
Furthermore the relationship provides mentees with a much needed opportunity to be completely open and transparent. As a founder, there is often immense cultural pressure to present yourself as someone who can handle any situation perfectly, regardless of how difficult or unexpected it is.
But we all know that kind of perfection simply isn’t possible. In the real world, there is a fine line between success and failure. And walking the tightrope is nerve-racking. Almost all successful entrepreneurs experienced some remarkable moments of luck along their journey.
Mentors have first-hand experience of what that’s like. They can share their own highs and lows with the mentee in confidence- encouraging them to open up about the issues they are facing and ask for help when needed.
The most common problem in business mentoring
There is one particular problem that plagues more business mentoring relationships than any other – when the mentee views a mentor as an infallible guru who knows exactly the right thing to do in any situation. While comforting to believe, this kind of thinking is delusional.
The temptation is always there to assume that whatever worked for the mentor in the past will surely work again in the present. So many mentees ask questions like “How did you achieve X?” or “What did you do when (Y) happened?”, in hopes of getting prescriptive advice on how to handle a situation. But this approach doesn’t work.
There are countless instances of clever people taking advice from successful entrepreneurs which ends up hurting rather than helping them. Why? Because the environment the mentor was operating in is inevitably different to the one the mentee is currently in. It’s unwise to assume that copying exactly what they did will produce the same results again.
Speaking on Venturi’s Voice podcast, Jamie Bolding (Founder & CEO of Jungle Creations), summed up this point perfectly:
“Business advice can be really dangerous. If people are taking advice as gospel it’s dangerous because you can receive advice from a mentor that applied to them 20 or 30 years ago. Their business problems are different to yours and the pressures they were facing can be miles away from the ones you face today.
What advice is, most of the time, is what’s worked for someone else. So with advice, take it in but don’t take it as prescriptive. It’s just knowledge and experience. Soak up as much experience as you can from others and apply it to your own problems in a unique way.”
Asking better questions
In a sense, a great business mentoring relationship is built by asking the right questions. For example, rather than asking a mentor how they overcame a problem, it would be more beneficial to ask them how they would do it today if they were starting over. It’s a subtle difference, but it changes everything. Asking better questions yields more valuable and practical advice.
The same goes for mentors themselves. The mentee has a deep commitment to their business, but is faced with challenges on their route to success. To help, the mentor needs to properly understand the business, so they must ask questions that create understanding and perspective.
Ideally, mentoring should look like a private and unbiased conversation between people with a passion for business who want to jointly solve some problems. The discussion process itself gives clarity on issues and often presents new actions and direction. More complex problems may need drilling down and pros and cons evaluating, and what you don’t know at the time becomes a question of research. Mentors will never have all the solutions, but they can go a long way in helping others work out their own.