The original Mentor was the name of the wise and trusted counselor that Odysseus, of Ulysses fame, gave the care of his son to when he set out on the "odyssey". Today the term mentor still refers to someone who has accumulated knowledge and wisdom which can be used to help normally younger, but certainly less experienced mentees (those receiving the support).
In England's historical industrial period a wonderful phrase of "learning from Nelly" came about to describe how a new machine operator would be paired up with an experienced worker to act as a type of mentor. In the days that the Navy had sailing ships they had new recruits "learning the ropes" from experienced seamen. So mentoring is not a new fad.
Mentoring has been used for some time in larger businesses and mostly in regard to management, along with formal coaching methodologies. The use of mentoring for Entrepreneurs really took off with the rise of Silicon Valley in the States, where successful Entrepreneurs decided to put back some of the experience that they had gathered to help younger rising stars. Often increasing their own fortunes on the way.
Mentoring can be very satisfying and enjoyable, as you steer a younger, or less experienced, mentee around the pit falls and traps of starting and growing a business. You may also have connections in the business world that the mentee just starting out has not, which can allow an accelerated route to success.
Often mentoring is given freely, but in this commercial world there may also be tangible rewards. In return for your mentoring, you may be given an opportunity to gain equity in the business (sometimes requiring monetary investment, but not always) and as the business grows a NED (Non-Executive Director) position.
On the other hand, should the mentorship reach the end of it's natural life, you will have the satisfaction of having assisted a young business and they may come back to you in future, when successful, with interesting opportunities.
It is useful to agree between the Mentor and Mentee the scope of the activity and the role to be undertake. Often the Mentee will not really know themselves what it is they are looking for, other than help and guidance from someone who has done it all before.
They may however also be looking for introductions to people that can assist their growth, or to potential investors in the business. If you are happy to generally guide them but do not necessarily have the specific contacts, or access to investment they may be looking for, it is best to make that clear at the beginning, to avoid misunderstanding.
- You are providing guidance based on your experience, rather than telling the Mentee what he MUST do. It is ultimately their decision.
- Make sure your guidance is clear and based on what the Mentee has indicated they need, rather than long tales of your wonderful life.
- Being a Mentor requires a very open and trusting relationship. The Mentee is potentially in a vulnerable position of opening up about areas they do not understand, or worries that they have. Sensitivity and understanding is required, not making them feel belittled by just how great you are, so that they are reluctant to admit concerns. You can even share some of your own early worries in business showing empathy for their situation.
- Try to avoid being patronising, the Mentee may be inexperienced in some areas, but will also have strengths and abilities. Look for the strengths and encourage them. Take a genuine interest in the Mentee and their business.
- Having said all the above, it is important that the Mentee has confidence in you, so backing up your guidance with examples of how it worked for you is useful and can build confidence that you know what you are talking about, without it becoming a boasting session.
- You may suggest areas that they want to look up, or learn about themselves, before your next meeting. If they are happy with that, great, but don't become a school master. If that is not what they want, find other ways of imparting the knowledge.
- There may also be specific actions or activity that you both agree should be carried out in the business. If so schedule a set time for you both to review these and to learn from them. Don't however keep checking up on the Mentee, that can quickly sour a relationship.
- You can assist by bringing a fresh pair of eyes to the business, seeing the roots of problems rather than just the symptoms. Try and get to the roots and explain why it is important to tackle those and not just the more obvious problems that result. Again you can't force them, if they just don't want to tackle them.
- Work through the problems together rather than simply give the answer. Encourage the Mentee to solve the problem with your guidance. They will need to be able to do that themselves when you are not around.
- You may not have all the answers. If there are others who can assist better in certain areas refer the Mentee to them. Make it clear that referring some issues to other experts is the right thing to do. You should not feel that you have to know everything.
- Along the way get feedback from the Mentee on how it is going. You can adjust the Mentorship accordingly to improve the Mentoring results. The relationship can also be a valuable help to your own learning and development.
- Don't treat the activity lightly and continually "fly by the seat of your pants". Give some thought and a bit of preparation before contacts with the Mentee. Think about questions they may come up with. Have suggestions for "next steps" ready.
- In your everyday life, look out for useful articles, contacts, exhibitions, marketing opportunities etc. that you can pass on to the Mentee.
- Finally, remember you are providing guidance, they make the final decision and never be tempted to do the job for them.
- Confirm the scope of the Mentoring and your roles
- Communicate on an agreed, but regular basis
- Set specific dates and an agenda for meetings
- Review progress
- It is important to understand what you want out of being a Mentor, this will help setting up the relationship in the right way
- Know your strengths and weaknesses, the areas that you can and can't help with
- Decide how much time can you put in
You can find Mentors and Non Executive Directors in the Company Partners database. Simply register as a Entrepreneur looking for a Mentor (if you are already registered, you can alter your details to include this in the My Account section - under "membership goals"), and then you can search our database of potential Mentors.