Mentoring gathering pace

Mentoring Conference illustrates the many different roles that mentors play
The interplay of minds is perhaps the essence of mentoring, but up-to-date experience is of increasing importance in a fast-changing world.

The government launched a compaign for mentoring with a great fanfare in 2012, so this first conference of the Association of Business Mentors is something of a milestone in the progress of mentoring. The point was well made that mentoring is experiencing rapid growth, and becoming more professional, with rising standards and the first signs of institutionalisation (ie the appearance of mentoring organisations.) Far less pervasive than in the United States, it has a long way to go.

Finding a mentor is often provoked by a need that is felt but cannot be met by any other means. Discussions illustrated that it is seen as an enduring and personal one-to-one role (like that of Prince Charles and Laurens van der Post), in which the kind of relationship is of the essence: as providing an opportunity
• to discuss one’s private thoughts;
• to consider one’s aims, objectives and progress;
• to work through a particular issue;
• to get a different perspective (eg longer term/more holistic)
• to help in identifying problems or opportunities;
• to reveal unseen factors;
• to get a better understanding of oneself;
• to gain inspiration;
• to affirm one’s commitment.
So it is unsurprising that people often choose people they know well for these roles; and any intermediary needs to know both parties well or risk a mismatch.

For more specific issues, such as advice on a business function, objective or technology, or about the marketability of a proposal, nothing can replace up-to-date knowledge (your mentor needs to know about the latest in Google Analytics, Crowdfunding or 3D printing, as he or she does if the business or the industry is going through a specific phase eg a period of great change or rapid growth.)

The conference was mainly about helping self-employed mentors to develop their business. For most mentoring roles, depth of experience that a second career implies is an essential qualification. Sessions were about identifying one’s mentoring strengths, defining one’s roles, getting more clients and enhancing one’s business processes. While many see mentoring as something that has its own rewards and payment is not among them, Jonathan Pfahl of the Rockstar Mentoring Group urged us with great gusto to treat it as an entrepreneurial young business.

Organisations that aim to provide mentors often have great difficulty in enabling those mentors to establish satisfactory ongoing relationships with their mentees: making a good match is evidently very difficult. Experience, background and expertise can be matched easily enough, but understanding motives, needs and feelings is more elusive. For many people, their mentors play an enduring role; but for some people, mentoring needs change with circumstances and with moods, and some organisations like Accelerators YCombinator and Techstars (and more rarely some people) are able to provide different mentors to meet those changing needs.

Mentoring clearly has an important role in a fast-changing world, and conferences like this one can help in advancing its cause, especially in terms of mentoring skills and mentor-matching.

John Whatmore
February 2015

See also at ‘Applied Creativity’

(1) I am a fly on the wall at an Accelerator’s Mentor Day
The day provided the programme’s entrepreneurs a free-form opportunity to meet mentors and for them to learn something about each other. It suggested to me five different mentor roles. Sept 2014

(2) I interview the ‘best mentor’ in Startupbootcamp’s FinTech Accelerator
In and out frequently, he steadily evolved his role by offering the wealth and breadth of experience of a life-time’s work in a top bank – clarifying progress and problems, acting as a sounding board, offering experienced insights, and marshalling help. Dec 2014

(3) ‘Mentor Managers’ can work miracles for startups
Above all else, early-stage ventures need their hands holding in their new adventures, but they have no idea about whose hands to hold. Mentor Managers can help them by finding experienced and expert mentors. Jan 2015

(4) Mentoring: great benefits, but considerable problems
The benefits and the problems are well recognised. Several different routes are evolving, and four distinct approaches to the managing of mentors have different benefits and different problems. Dec 2014


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