That’s the very question I was asked at a recent networking meeting I attended in Newcastle.
And it made me think. First of all, it made me think what a mentor was because, being a bit of a thickie, I had never spoken to a mentor, had a mentor or even really given much brain space to the whole concept of mentoring. Once I’d finished with the deep thought, I gave the actual question some thought and I realised I had absolutely no idea what a mentor does, let alone whether I had what it takes to be one.
As you can imagine, I was intrigued.
So there I was, with a room full of other business women, waiting to be filled in on what it takes to be a mentor by a lovely lady called Meryl Dodd (you can find her on Twitter here). She was there to tell us all about the Get Mentoring programme, led by the Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative (SFEDI), which runs free of charge mentoring programmes to train people how to, well, become a mentor.
And so, in a nutshell (for the programme is extensive and comprehensive), I’m going to run through some of the salient points in the hope that I can pass on some of the interesting tidbits of information that I learned and perhaps whet your appetite for finding out more about the programme.
What is mentoring?
With its roots in Greek mythology the word ‘Mentor’ actually means ‘enduring’, representing a sustained relationship between someone experienced in a field and someone just starting out. Nowadays it has come to represent somebody trustworthy – a friend, a business partner, a teacher, etc.
What is the role of a mentor?
Probably most importantly here is what the role of a mentor is NOT. And that is giving advice (your insurance won’t cover you should that advice turn out to be bad), instructing (you’re there to guide not influence) and telling (you’re supposed to be helping your mentee find their own way and their own answers rather than telling them yours).
So with that covered, we discussed the actual role of mentor. We came up with the following (by no means exhaustive) list:
- Someone who is supportive
- Someone with knowledge and expertise in a given industry
- Someone who won’t judge
- Someone who is not controlling
- Someone who is trustworthy
- Someone to act as an impartial sounding board
- Someone to provide expertise on business in general and not get bogged down in details and technicalities.
There are many benefits involved in mentoring – not just for the mentee, but also for the mentor. From the viewpoint of the mentor, meeting with another business person and developing a relationship allows them to pass on any experience they’ve gathered throughout their years as a business person (or indeed as a human being), allows them to reflect on their own business during conversations they might not ordinarily have with other people, expand their business experience when mentoring someone in the different sector from their own. They might gain a fresh perspective on business problems from their mentee and their communications skills may improve as a result of having to explain or talk through a number of issues.
Now let’s look at it from the other side – the mentee. They can seek impartial help from someone more experienced than themselves, they gain support and reassurance that what they’re doing is a sound idea (or not, as the case may be?!), they have the opportunity to vent their frustrations to someone who can sympathise, they open up a whole new avenue of contacts provided by their mentor and they have the benefit of an objective onlooker – a vital tool if, like many business owners, they get too close to their business to see the wood for the trees.
Types of mentoring:
There are three main types of mentoring available – the best kind depends very much on each individual’s perspective. The three types are:
- Face to face or one to one
- Group mentoring
- Telephone or email mentoring (e-Mentoring)
Once we’d explored the basics of mentoring itself, Meryl turned her attention to communication and how best to communicate with mentees. Did you know that, during face to face communication, the average person only attributes seven per cent of the value of that communication to the words used? More value (around 38 per cent) is attributed to the tone of voice used and a staggering 55 per cent of the value of communication is attributed to body language.
Meryl told us about a variety of clues and hints to look for in people’s body language to figure out what they’re really thinking and how they’re really feeling, including clusters and changes, facial expression and head position, posture, eye contact and personal space. How a person (unconsciously in most cases) uses these expressions can tell the learned onlooker a lot more than simple words possibly can – so beware!
The remainder of the session looked at issues such as handling oneself at the first meeting, legal and ethical requirements, the mentor’s code of conduct, personal safety, the financial aspects of running a business and marketing, sales and customer service.
By the end of it all, my head was a-buzzin’ with ideas, questions and a strange drive to pull myself up by my belt-loops and get out there to become a mentor – now there’s something I never thought I’d hear myself say!
So what do you think? Is there a mentor in you? Would you like to become a mentor? The Get Mentoring programme offers free training for would-be-mentors and provides all the information you could need to take your first foray into that world. Don’t be shy, give it a go! Visit www.getmentoring.org or drop Meryl a tweet – I’m sure she’d love to hear from you.