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Mentors, ‘well, it’s all ‘w*nky b*ll*x’ isn’t it?’

"I need to concentrate on reducing costs, increasing value or improving efficiency not get all touchy feely about business."

Women holding a cup with 'like a boss'
Women Boss

I’ve heard this so many times. Business people across the globe hold those three phrases close to their hearts. In a streamlined, cut down, lean and agile business model there’s no time for mentors.

As a colleague would say: ‘well, it’s all ‘w*nky b*ll*x’ isn’t it?’

Although this phrase makes me smile I know how the sentiment is actually rather misguided. A leader needs a mentor pure and simple. It doesn’t matter at what level or what industry as we can all benefit from regular review. After all, it’s so easy to veer off track. It’s also really easy to be swayed by people giving you back what they think you want to hear. In addition, it’s also useful to articulate our thoughts, fears, observations and plans aloud.

5 good business reasons to having a mentor

  1. If you book in to see a mentor you make time. It becomes part of the routine to sit down and discuss important issues.

  2. Therefore you place ‘planning’ at the top of your agenda not just as an aside in the diary.

  3. You take time for reflection where you can analyse your key strategic priorities and discuss them.

  4. You can review the processes and strategies you’ve used and evaluate their success.

  5. You can explore different options and benefit from discussion away from the rush and tear of the everyday.

Sometimes just being asked: "what is your role and what are you responsible for?" can demonstrate just how far you’ve moved from your original goal. Having a mentor is not about being passive and it’s not about demonstrating weakness. In fact it’s quite the opposite. A mentor functions in a variety of ways and I see my own role as fellow explorer, questioner, reflector, ‘suggestor’ and provoker.

How does having a mentor work in reality?

Let me use an example. Recently I spent four hours with Kay, a solo entrepreneur. I could see she was skeptical. In our conversation I understood that the last thing Kay wanted was to be told what to do or what to think. ‘I’m not here to be inducted into the patriarchal school of business.’ she said.

That gave me the opportunity to explore why she was here and explain that a mentor was a helper not a guru. She was not here to ‘catch the standard’ but to explore her business model and look for improvements, developments and to achieve her goals. As the session evolved I could see that as we worked together she was more comfortable.

We asked questions such as:

  • How can I improve my visibility and awareness?

  • What can I do to develop growth, sales, customers and engagement?

  • Where are my key income streams?

  • Are they project-based, transactional or monthly recurring?

  • Who am I targeting: start-ups, small or medium businesses or organisations or a mixture? 

  • How do I shape my services to suit?

This wasn’t a brand new business. It had been relatively successful but was still operating like a start-up, five years down the road. Inevitably this caused an impact on finances, strategies, and planning. Without the key strategic priorities in place growing the business was always going to be chaotic and unnecessarily stressful.

We discussed the role of reflexive practice. This is where we reflect on the actions undertaken so as to undertake continuous learning. This means thinking as you undertake everyday actions as well as reflecting on them later.

At the end of the session we had, in fact, undertaken a full company MOT. 

There were a list of tangible and achievable actions and it was as if the company’s tyres had been tracked. However, Kay had not been inducted into a traditional mentor-mentee hierarchical relationship. She possesses a highly specific way of being a change agent. She is an innovator and the last thing she wanted was someone to give advice based on their successes. At no point did she hear: ‘This is how you should proceed.’ Being shown the tools to make progress was key.

Using a mentor does not need to be prescriptive or limiting.

Having two-way exchanges was crucial to Kay as a businesswoman and a creative. I would say, therefore that having a mentor does not need to be prescriptive or limiting. A mentor is not an all-seeing fixer of problems.  Having a business mentor is not about dependence. It certainly isn’t about receiving traditional messages dressed up to look like something different.

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