The value of good mentoring is acknowledged across the business world – from global CEOs to middle managers, we can all benefit from a bit of guidance, support and advice in our careers. Sometimes it’s about making a big leap, sometimes it’s about fixing a few bits around the edges – and often, it’s about getting a trusted outside perspective, a person who can bring sound business insight and acumen, in a completely independent and impartial way.
Not a walk in the park
Sounds great, doesn't it? What isn't there to like? But mentoring (and being mentored) isn't a walk in the park. And for some people, being mentored can feel tougher than the challenge in hand. The reasons are quite obvious – your mentor is there to help you do what you can’t do alone – if it was easy, he or she wouldn’t be needed. And in order to think, do or behave differently, you will have to come out of your comfort zone.
In other words, to really bring value to you, a good mentor should be making things feel harder (in the short term) not just ‘better’. That’s not to say it isn’t hugely rewarding, fun and beneficial – you just have to be prepared to put the work in, roll with the punches and understand that those ‘difficult bits’ are exactly why your mentor is good for you.
Here’s a list of 5 things that show your mentor is doing a good job:
Answers don’t come on plates. It’s a common misconception that a mentor should be able to wheel out some solutions. In reality, it’s a happy but rare occurrence that the answer is so straightforward that you’ve simply failed to spot it. What’s more likely, is that the mentor will provide a different perspective – sometimes one that you haven’t thought to (or wanted to) countenance - but that helps you see the problem from a different angle. He or she can also bring insights from other industries, contacts and experiences, so while your problem may feel highly specific, you benefit from a broader spectrum of ideas and experiences.
You will be challenged. It’s a fairly good cert that at some point the solution will appear easy – if only somebody, something, some business or some competitor were doing something differently. In other words, it’s not you – it’s them. We all say it – and sometimes we’re right – the solution would be simple if X were to happen. But being mentored is about managing what’s within your control. So, no excuses. Your mentor should be challenging you to think about is within your gift to change – and if there are things that aren’t, why not? What can you realistically do to change that? Expect to be challenged and pushed by your mentor – they should challenge everything – because even if some things are beyond your control, it’s a fairly safe bet that not all of them are. By pushing you to the limits, your mentor will help move you forwards.
You will get homework. We all know the day job can be taxing enough, and adding extra-curricular activity can sound unappealing. Not least because the homework will probably involve doing things you don’t want to do – for example, having a difficult conversation that you’ve been putting off, confidently inviting yourself into a room full of networkers, or tackling what you consider to be a ‘distraction’ not a blocker. But good mentoring should give you specific action points – both for the long and the short term. A good mentor will be able to spot your weaknesses and areas of denial, and they will set specific tasks to blast through them. Don’t ignore the homework – it’s as important to the mentoring process as the meetings.
You will have to find the answers. This isn’t strictly true, of course – a good mentor will help where he or she can – and they should certainly be able to provide advice, make suggestions and open up your network to other people who may be able to help. But while ‘coaching’ is technically different to ‘mentoring’, a good mentor should use coaching to help you find the answer that’s right for you. Coaching provides the framework to help people help themselves, and that has to be a good thing.
It’s not counselling. You don’t want somebody to pat you on the back and tell you you’re great, while listening to all the issues and blockers you’re encountering at work. At least, that’s what you believe. But then you get to the mentoring meeting and there’s a real temptation to simply offload – here’s a person who will listen, understand and can help pep you up. Except… that’s not what you actually need. Friends and family are there for that. A good mentor won’t waste valuable time on letting you whinge – mentoring is not counselling!
If all of this sounds like hard work… it is.
But remember that being mentored can be transformative for you as a business leader, and for your business. Mentors help you surmount the apparently insurmountable – and can help give you confidence, ideas and build solutions. So while the journey may be challenging, the value is unquestionable.
And, actually, your mentor is your best business friend.
Angela Newton has over 18 years’ experience in content and brand development across the publishing sector. She is highly experienced in developing new products, brands and commercial channels, as well as repositioning and overhauling legacy brands to meet changing market needs. She provides strategic advice for businesses seeking to optimise revenue streams, improve ROI, develop commercial strategies and deliver financial growth.