Four months ago in the middle of a really full intense period of work I was asked by another member of Otley Cycle Club to be her mentor to support her to develop her own training business. I wondered how I would find the time and agreed to do in exchange for tea and cake and on an informal basis because I really liked her and wanted to help. At the time my main focus was about what I could offer as a mentor and whether I would have the time and relevant insights to support someone else. I did not really see it as something that would benefit me.
After just two mentoring sessions I have realised that this is far from another burden. A’s business is only a year old, mine is 10 years old. A is excited by all the diversity of the freelance role, she is enjoying the breadth of experience she is getting. I see her getting inspired by seeing one of my tweets from my work in Vienna to go and chase opportunities to deliver her training abroad via the UK Trades and Investment team (UKTI). She has all this energy and passion to just have a go, explore opportunities and find ways of marketing her products to others. It makes me realise how much I too still value these aspects of running my own business. Inevitably after 10 years you become a lot more ground down by the realities of navigating a business through the recession into recovery, you start to take for granted some of the aspects of owning a business that are so great. I sometimes take for granted all the learning I get from my international assignments and focus instead of how tiring it can be to manage the logistics of working abroad including missing luggage, cancelled flights and airport foods. Another insight has been comparing our home offices, this has made me realise that 10 years on mine is due for a makeover . I could use that as a metaphor to describe the whole impact on me of mentoring someone who is a very different stage of their business development. You become immune to your surroundings and situation and hearing another perspective is such a valuable learning tool. When I have developed mentoring programmes I have often said “of course you as a mentor get benefits from this too” as this great video which A was involved in but I am not sure I really understood what those benefits are. What I am learning is if you want to get something from being a mentor:
- Choose who you work with – I genuinely enjoy spending time with A so when the mentoring appointment pops up on my diary reminder I find myself looking forward to the appointment. Liking the person you are mentoring just makes the whole thing so much easier.
- Focus on Listening First – this is so easy with A, she talks me through all the latest projects she is involved in and I find it is so much better for me to pick out the themes at the end and not to force an agenda on the conversation.
- Share Experiences not Solutions – I avoid telling A what she should do but I do share my experiences of similar concerns and how I have dealt with this. One experience was about planning work and holidays into the diary so that you take time away from the business. I shared an experience of my worst holiday/work conflict and my learning from this. A took that away and develop a solution that she felt would help her avoid the same problem.
- Make Your Own Action Plans – usually the focus is on what actions the person who is being mentored will take but as a change why not think about what you are going to do. I have made a note of a number of actions I intend to take, including to stop moaning about the demands of international work and embrace the experience again!
So if someone asks you to consider mentoring them and you like them, say yes. The time you invest will be returned to you with profit!