Many papers of this type open with a definition. So let’s dare to be different. For one thing, it will start to set the tone of this paper. Are you prepared?
Whilst there is a place for a definition of mentoring, its use as an introduction has, in my experience, the propensity to be a limiting influence over what is written and explained. Okay, I agree that mentoring is different from coaching. But there are grey areas where the two cross-over.
And that already touches on a key point. Mentoring isn't for me about providing me-too advice in an attempt to satisfy the perceptions and pre-occupations of the client or individual, to take the easy-road, or to re-run second-hand ideas and philosophies.
For me, and I know for others, mentoring is about providing reflective opportunities for the parties to seek maximum advantage from exchanges and interactions, over a sensible period of time.
It is really too simple to say that one-size fits all. Tailoring the offering to clients and individuals has to be a critical element; plus an innate ability in appreciating situations, recognising opportunities, empathy and understanding, and depth of experience.
The key component for me is what I have called ‘the vitality to deliver’.
Undoubtedly, there are mentoring opportunities where classic responses, fitting with a textbook solution will be satisfactory. But the energy and vigour of the mentee and mentor are, I believe, critical. Working together will create outstanding results. After all, isn’t that what sells mentoring in the first place? Flexibility of mind and approach are important; and let’s not leave aside emotion which plays a part.
Equally, importantly, there are those, (and amazing is a vastly over-used word), mind-blowing circumstances where out-of-the-ordinary advice and support are critical. Those circumstances call for special judgement by the mentor and the mentee. It is really too easy to agree that the partnership will flourish without close understanding. Here, I opine that profiling is a distinct advantage. I have seen it used to significant advantage. It is worthy of consideration before the relationship is commenced.
For relationships and interaction is certainly what will develop. With the right chemistry association and rapport will deliver outstanding results. For example, award-winning business solutions which opened up an entirely new market for a professional services business with which I worked in a mentoring capacity. It is too late to take a dip into profiling later, as the die will have been cast. Ample preparation by both parties is my advice.
A quick rewind of this blog is important here. I consider that the preliminaries also need to resolve what the mentee, be it an individual or company, has in terms of their expectations. If acting as a soul-mate is what is required raises different issues to an outcome that can potentially deliver life-changing opportunities. Both are positive, acceptable results. But, the pacing of the mentoring and support are likely to be different.
For me, the best mentoring can set the world alight; but then the mentee has to be like-minded, probably a risk-taker, frequently action-driven, after being a good listener. Your mentor needs to have wide experience across industries, sectors, markets, public and private, not-for-profit, as well as cultures and age groups.
That’s a pretty daunting list. Nevertheless, it is an essential pre-requisite for top-class mentoring. Of course, if you prefer your personalised mentoring to be lower key, without offering you challenging thoughts and views, then the choice is yours. However, in my view and experience, this misses out on the opportunity that mentoring presents.
This breadth of experience illustrates how important the profiling I mentioned above is to the success of mentoring. Both parties really need to know a lot about each other. Right down to what drives them, what inspires and motivates them; and what are the tricky areas to be avoided. One of my mentors, a CEO of a leading international logistics business, called those the ‘tweaky buttons’. We avoided them. Not in order to limit our discussions and exchanges; rather to keep firmly focussed and avoid going off-piste.
Let's look at one extreme. If you don't want to remain a me-too business, then somehow you have got to break out of the mould. That doesn't mean changing every aspect of your business. But, with your mentor, (and others), you will need to decide on how you can plan for the future and effectively execute those plans to deliver the ‘success’ you are seeking. As the mentee, you will be in the driving seat in defining what will qualify as success.
For example: What products or services are you going to drop in order to concentrate your resources? Will your plans and your company ethos allow you to make that change? Do you need to build your own confidence and that of the business before taking that step? How can you best introduce those thoughts and your issues to your mentor? There are many others that you can add.
Providing mentoring isn’t a placebo, or a bolt-on. It should be part of your business and commercial armoury, along with, for example, professional marketing. My choice of the word professional is the key here. All levels and degrees of marketing advice are available within mentoring.
I recommend that you should be looking to aspire beyond just the basic levels. Like many disciplines today, marketing is fast-moving. Yes, a model like Porter’s Five Forces remains applicable. However, it was introduced back in 1979. Whilst it still holds good in 2016, there are now many up-to-date models that can also be applied and adapted. Here, your mentor will be able to advise and support you in deciding which to develop and suggest the best to apply in your particular circumstances.
Let me add this point that I have concentrated here on providing an example using a business model and tool. Mentoring has unlimited applications going beyond commerce and business.
Mentoring can assist in filling in the gaps in experience through the process of advice from others who and been there and done it. That just leaves one point - making sure that those giving the 'advice' have been successful in their own right; and in the circumstances that are being investigated. That neatly links back to my point on second-hand advice that can have its own limitations.
Mentoring may fast-track you to some of the solutions you are seeking, avoiding some of the likely pitfalls. You will still need commitment and determination to succeed. It’s not a direct replacement for hard work; but a highly respected adjunct to your business practices.
Chamber Council member Jonathan Nason works with award-winning national, regional and local client companies. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @quayprman