Mentoring is often helpful, but what makes for really outstanding mentoring?
Mentoring is fashionable but elusive: for every outstanding example there are probably many faltering relationships.
Jon Bradford, one of the early architects of Accelerators in this country, runs the first few weeks of his Accelerators as a sort of Pecha Kucha style encounter with a seemingly endless series of mentors (he claims to have over a hundred): first the entrepreneurs meet fresh mentors in staccato style encounters; then in a second round, they meet those whom they have chosen to meet a second time or those who have chosen to meet them a second time – a gentle progression, you might say, towards a mutually valuable relationship – which is certainly the essence of such roles. These discussions, he says, are essentially about feed-back, advice and contacts – in this case around developing ideas for new IT businesses.
Mentoring is of course about endlessly changing issues, topics and styles; and it often moves on at a later stage to help with the evolution of the business; and in longer term relationships into personal help and support. But, having been involved in early-stage venture capital myself and in mentoring, I believe that there are four questions that are always at the back of the mind of successful mentors:
· Is what I am hearing real – from my experience and my perspective?
· Is what is proposed now the right thing to be concentrating on?
· Are the chances of this succeeding good – or what should be done about it?
· What external help would be valuable at this moment; and who else that I know can best provide that help?
There are so many initiatives at present whose aim is to foster mentoring, not least those of The Princes Trust, the British Bankers Association, Nesta, BIS, and many in the field of youth unemployment; and so much general advice (must have had relevant experience; be a good listener; not be prescriptive etc), yet so little that helps us in the selection, matching and development of good mentors. Understanding what makes for successful mentoring is an elusive problem.
With these objectives in mind, I am currently talking to a number of mentors who have been suggested to me as outstanding in their role; and asking them about their contributions to turning-points in the businesses of those with whom they have been working; and then seeking to ask the same questions of some of those whom they have mentored. And I am keen to work with groups of mentors, to provide opportunities for them to draw on each other’s experience as mentors – about their more successful contributions.