Business Mentor: How mentoring can help your entrepreneurial journey?

You Actually Already Know All There Is To Know About Mentoring as I will explain to you in a bit… but why do you need a business mentor to help in your entrepreneurial journey?

When I started my first business in the UK, I had little help with anything as there was only one real businessman in my family and that was my late uncle Terry.

Terry was a builder, but what I would call an ‘entrepreneurial builder’ and he was always destined to set up his own building company which he did, by undertaking large projects form housebuilding companies to bring their housing estates up to ‘ground level’ and then moving on to let someone finish them.

He would take me around to those sites when I was nine and tell me everything about them as well as later, building two shops that he would lease out and then live in the apartment above.

He was probably my first entrepreneurial inspiration and business mentor without even thinking or knowing he was and had he have not emigrated to Africa in the late 1970s he would have remained so to this day.

Back to my own business journey and I had nobody to help me through all of the steps and uncertainty of the process, especially the emotional uncertainty and I vowed that when I was successful in my own life, I would look help others to achieve the same and if possible greater.

That’s why I decided to be a volunteer mentor for Business Wales.

Think back to your childhood for a moment and can you remember those individuals who you seemed to gravitate toward?  And can you also think of those people who seemed to naturally take an interest to see how you were getting on in life and who would just give you a few ideas as to how to cope with something that you may be struggling with?

Think also about your teachers at school and throughout your educational life – what qualities did you think your ‘best’ teachers had as opposed to the ones on the other side of the coin?

And as you moved out into the big bad world of ‘work,’ then think about those people, managers, and bosses who would not only help you but give you friendly support and advice beyond what they needed to.

Lastly, let’s not forget the roles that our parents and immediate family play in our lives.

A few years ago I was on a long flight back from Asia to the US and I bought a book about the former leader of the General Electric company known as GE, called Jack Welch.

If you are an entrepreneur and/or businessperson then you will find the story and leadership qualities of Jack Welch inspiring to say the least and I know I did, but I was reading one section about the introduction of email to the company and Jack wanted to master how to learn and use email and selected a younger employee from France, I think to teach help him how to do it.

Here we have one of the most significant leaders of one of the most significant global companies using a process called ‘reverse mentoring.!’

So now we can take a look at what mentoring is and let’s go back to Mr. Welch and get his views as to the importance of mentoring.

I have a confession to make and that is when I first read a book about Jack Welch I bought it in Changi airport Singapore on the way back to London and I read it through the night but had never heard of him before – GE was vaguely memorable to me, but living in the UK there were not many GE household products if any and it was only when I went to live in the US, that I became far more brand aware regarding GE!

After reading the book I went back to the office, gave it to someone and said: “at last, someone else who thinks like me.”

I had no idea as to the magnitude of this man and to think now that he offers his own MBA to get ahead in business with the phrase:

“MOST MBA PROGRAMS STUDY GREAT LEADERS. OURS IS LED BY ONE.”

What Is Mentoring

how-a-business-mentor-can-helpIn the opening part of this article, I describe the very basic process of mentoring and how we as children actually learn how to pick a mentor instinctively and the entire process is natural and follows through our lives.

Today we seem to be making more of a ‘science’ about the process with many people having their own definition as to what a mentor is and coming up with formalized mentoring programs and courses and I do appreciate by the way, the importance of having some structure and guidelines around any process however natural it is.

As a mentor myself, I have my own ideas as to how to interpret and action the definition and I will explain one experience where I was part of a mentoring panel helping a bunch of entrepreneurs in a Q&A session.

The question that came to the panel was “what do you look for in a mentee.?”

One answer was that the mentor was looking for a “little bit of me” in the person and basically went on to describe their business life and the importance of being to relate to the mentee and form a basic friendship, which of course is a fair enough answer and more than prepared the ground for my own!

I explained that I have no desire to see elements of “me” in anyone and I am there for people to help them through the skills, knowledge, and experiences that I have because I have probably been ‘in their shoes’ at some point in my career or life and I have no desire to form or not form a friendship (if one develops then fine) – it is more of a ‘virtual’ relationship that is turned ‘on’ when required and lasts as long as it lasts.

Suzy Welch (wife of Jack Welch), explains it perfectly here when she explains:

“Here’s why everything you’ve been told about mentoring is wrong.”

Food for thought and you can have as many definitions, programs, and courses as you like, but what I am talking about is a simple process, that has no bearing on age and in the simplest of terms if someone is better at something than you are, then let them be your mentor for that aspect of your life, for however long or short that process is.

And as Suzy Welch explains further, when she says to forget the “close and personal thing,” as you don’t even have to know your mentor.  You can simply watch and learn from someone from their speaking or writing style without ever meeting that person.

Perhaps the most important part of what she says is that you can start to see everyone as a potential mentor!

If you want to go back in time and see how the art of mentoring developed then take a look at this article here to give you a brief history dating back to Ancient Greek times!

How To Select A Mentor

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I opened the article about how you already know about mentoring and that it is part of your life, especially your early life, so in effect, you have already been ‘conditioned’ to both selecting and being a mentor, so all you have to do is to go back and connect with those moments and bring them into relevance today.

I have explained that you have naturally gravitated to certain people throughout your life and for me, that is the first step – who do you gravitate to?

As we have discussed also, you don’t even have to know your mentor and in today’s world, it is far easier to evaluate mentors thanks to technology.  I bought a book at an airport and in all seriousness, Jack Welch was my mentor for that flight home and because I could also relate to what he was saying, it struck a chord with me, so I kept that book as a reference point and something I could always go back to and refresh my memory, so to speak, so he was in fact, always there.

When the video-sharing company YouTube came along, I could now pick anyone who I gravitated toward and listen to what they had to say from the comfort of my own home and one person that instantly caught my attention was Gary Vaynerchuk.

Gary to me was a breath of fresh air and it was the fact that he was going against the grain in the area of marketing and really captivating audiences with what he was and still is saying.  He was at that time, very controversial and he made me rethink all things marketing which had also been the effect of another person in my life who had and still does mentor me to this day – Jack Spirko.

Jack, on the other hand, was in my office and I could easily pull him to one side to ask him what I needed to know.  Both Jack and Gary are younger than me and that made no difference to the fact that they knew more than me about the subject I needed mentoring on.

Both also had a very direct and blunt style, pulling no punches and literally telling it as it is – I never met Gary and Jack didn’t care whether I was his boss or not, to him he spoke with both conviction and passion which made him an even better mentor for me.

So in the first instance, we can look at how to simply use technology and information out there to see who we gravitate to without even having to contact that person, but what if we do want to make it a little more personal and when we don’t have someone who is readily available to us in the way Jack was to me.

I will give you another personal experience – I have practiced Martial Arts for over 35 years and also got into Olympic Weightlifting and all aspects of diet, nutrition, etc. and one Saturday afternoon, I was browsing through the sports and nutrition books at a bookstore in London and I came across a book called High-Performance Bodybuilding, by John Parrillo, who was based in Cincinnati in the US.

I had quickly scanned through the book in the store and promptly bought it, reading through it totally that night, much to the annoyance of my then girlfriend who was waiting to go out to dinner.

On Monday morning, I decided to contact John and after working out the time difference, did so later on that day.  Three months later and I made my first ever trip to the US to meet him!

John at the time became my mentor for nutrition and strength training and I would spend a lot of time with him on the phone discussing all things around those subjects.

So if you want to find a mentor on a more personal level, then simply connect with them.

I did the same more recently with Fernando and having spent the last three years looking for an online mentor to help with with the technical aspects of online marketing, I searched, found Fernando and connected with him – the result being this very blog!

Now how do you make the approach?

In my case, it was simply to state why I was calling and you can also simply state that you are looking for help and for someone to mentor you.

We have talked about my interpretation of mentoring, but it is still important that you resonate with your mentor if you want more personal mentoring – you will be communicating with them after all, but keep things simple and don’t worry about timeframes, building friendships or anything other than the fact you need some help and advice from someone who is better than you at something!

Let’s also discuss the differences between mentoring and coaching, and consulting at this point.

Coaching is more about transformation with the coach helping the person to facilitate that transformation, to ‘bring it out’ of them, so to speak, rather than simply teaching something to someone.

Consulting is the giving of expert advice and can involve the undertaking of projects and services based upon that advice.

It is important to make the distinction because as all of these services are growing in today’s economy, some people are getting confused and misinterpreting the terms.

Being A Mentor

business-mentor-UKI am going to talk about being a mentor in the purest sense of the term and that to me is to share your knowledge and experiences to help and empower others.

There are various other factors here that come into play such as setting goals, ground rules, etc. and they are important for obvious reasons and there are also guidelines you may have to follow such as if you are acting as a mentor in a corporate environment or that have been set by a body such as the European Mentoring & Coaching Council.

It is very important to find your ‘mentoring style’ and this will obviously be relative to your personality.

Let’s have a look at some of the qualities you will find that a good mentor should have if you search the subject:

  • Establish expectations and ground rules
  • Do an assessment
  • Set mutual goals
  • Set a contact schedule
  • Listen carefully, then advise
  • Let them make their own decisions
  • Open Doors
  • Remain impartial and unbiased

Now they all seem fairly reasonable and definitely set the scene for the basis of any mentoring agreement, so let’s look at each one and Iook a little deeper:

Establish expectations and ground rules – no problems here as long as we understand the concept of ‘rules are made to be broken.’  I deal with entrepreneurs and people who are looking for high-performance results and they tend to be difficult by nature, to say the least.  Many times the ground rules have been broken and here I needed all my skills to sit back and try and see it from their perspective, which is sometimes tough and you have to learn to ‘bite your tongue.!’

Do an assessment – again, no problems with this part and this is where I ask the first question – “what is it that you need and let me tell you if I can help.” Now we can work through a needs assessment and more often than not, what they think they need is not actually what is needed.

Set mutual goals – you as the mentor must be able to buy into those goals and you cannot simply agree if you believe they are unreasonable.  I had a guy come to me wanting to ‘world domination’ in his market, which I agreed was possible, but advised him to start with the first 100-mile radius, as he was dependent on staff in each potential area of his operation.

Set a contact schedule – contact schedules in my world are almost impossible to keep to as needs and demands vary.  I tell all of my mentees to contact me anytime and if I can I will take there call (in fact I always try to take the call even to explain that I am busy).  The people who I mentor have schedules and lifestyles that are all over the place, to put it mildly, and their needs are different.  I have had examples where people will contact me for a quick five-minute motivational chat before they go into a presentation for example, but I will say that it is important to set a contact schedule, even if you know it will be difficult to keep to.

Listen carefully and advise – I have had several mentors personally that rarely listen to what I say!  I am serious here.  The people who mentor me already know exactly what I am going through because they have ‘been in my shoes’ and they can also anticipate what I am about to go through.  Mentors who are at the top of their game know this and the best ones can literally finish your sentences for you and then continue with the answer from the basis of what they did.  I am not advocating not listening in any way and I have often found in my search for a mentor that the more I have to explain, the more chance it is that I am talking to the wrong mentor!

Let them make their own decisions – I have to tell you what one of the greatest ever football coaches and mentors in the UK, Brian Clough said when he was asked what happens when a player disagrees with him – and it was something along the lines that we sit down, talk about it for twenty minutes and then we decide I am right!  But with decision making, you absolutely must let the mentee make their own decisions as, after all, it is their life.  This can be challenging for a mentor as in your heart, you know they are making the wrong one, but it is and always will be their decision.

Open Doors – This to me, is based upon how the mentoring relationship works – if I am building a long term relationship and I get to know the mentor well, then I have absolutely no problem in opening up my network to the mentee, but this is down to the trust and feeling in regard to the relationship.  I will, however, help someone if there is a desperate or urgent need to solve a critical problem if I can, but it is always at my discretion.

Remain impartial and unbiased – this is a ‘given’ to me and it is one of the great things about mentoring that I love – I can absolutely remain impartial and unbiased because I am outside of the person and their business.  It gives me the opportunity to bring in ‘fresh thinking’ and an outside perspective, but from my own personal experiences.

Finally…

Mentoring is a great concept and it has helped me massively throughout my career.  I love the concept that ‘everyone should be a mentor,’ which makes everyone a potential mentor.  Everyone has some key skills and those skills have the potential to mentor someone.

Let’s also not forget that we have already been ‘conditioned’ to both receive and give mentoring and that is the exciting part for me as we can empower ourselves as well as others to go and help others.

Don’t be shy about looking for a mentor or accepting the challenge of being one, you will find it a rewarding experience either way.

– Neil

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