Why everyone’s talking about mentoring

Julia Elliott Brown mentoring

Only a quarter of British SMEs make use of mentors. Ahead of National Mentoring Day on 27 October, experts discuss what both parties in such a relationship stand to gain

JULIA ELLIOTT BROWN (pictured), founder and CEO of Enter The Arena, equity fundraising coaching for female entrepreneurs

Mentoring is about helping someone to find their own solution to a problem by asking pertinent questions, challenging them and suggesting – never dictating – a course of action. For the mentee it’s the chance to reflect, take stock and work through issues with someone who is mature, wise and independent.

Crucially, it needs to be a two-way relationship – the mentor should be gaining as much from it as the mentee. The relatively inexperienced people I’ve been mentoring bring with them new perspectives and fresh ideas. They’re often from industries that I’m unfamiliar with, so I will always learn something from them.

Mentoring also hones your listening skills. It’s so temping to hear a problem and say: “I know the answer. Here’s what to do.” But you have to learn how to help people find their own way. The mentee should be doing most of the talking.

If you’re able to support those who are trying to follow in your footsteps, you have a responsibility to do so. There aren’t enough women growing their businesses as effectively as they could be, for instance, which is a big issue. Female mentors can be inspirational role models to them.

Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely task. You don’t have the support networks that are available in big companies and you have to do everything from strategic planning to emptying the bins.

It’s developmentally important to have a confidant you can talk to regularly, but a lot of SME owner-managers are going without mentors. If you find someone suitable, all you need to do is ask them – I met mine at an awards evening.

Once you’ve found the right mentor, it’s important that you take the initiative in arranging meetings. I have hour-long discussions with my mentor at the IoD every quarter, for instance. enterthearena.co.uk


Russ Wilson mentoringROSS WILSON, director, Wilson Partners – Julia Elliott Brown’s mentor

Mentoring has become an integral part of the culture at Wilson Partners in recent years. Our mentees must drive the scheme in order to reap the maximum benefit. This way they fully engage with the process, which pays handsome dividends for them, the firm and me as a mentor too.

After 40 years of advising SMEs, I have accumulated a significant body of knowledge, which should be of great value to mentees. When I see how this benefits them, mentoring gives me a great thrill.

It is vital that everyone understands what mentoring is and, crucially, what it isn’t. The opportunity it provides to bounce ideas around, engage in role-play exercises, discuss a tricky problem etc is designed to challenge mentees, not to provide them with solutions, which is the job of a trainer or coach.

Confidentiality is vital if the mentor is to share their knowledge, experience and network, particularly when mentoring someone internally. In this case, the mentor needs to be constantly aware of potential conflicts of interest between this role and any other they perform in the business. wilson-partners.co.uk


Melanie Eusebe mentoringMELANIE EUSEBE, co-founder and chair, the Black British Business Awards

Being a mentor has been such a gift to me. There is nothing like helping someone coming after you to avoid the pitfalls that tripped you up on your journey – it’s what we’re doing with the Black British Business Awards. What’s more, the process has helped me to realise how much of my own experiential knowledge that I’ve taken for granted.

When you’ve been in business for a long time, it’s the art of war to step back and become the strategist, so that you can equip those on the front line with your knowledge. When I see a young person working on something I’d like to do but simply don’t have the time for – a great business venture, for instance – I will offer them my guidance and, once I trust them, my contacts.

I only choose mentees who work hard and have a passion for what they do. I consider my time an investment in their lives, so I want to be sure that there’ll be a good return. They get the satisfaction of achievement through their own efforts and, because I know I helped them, I find it really gratifying to see them succeed.

The Black British Business Awards celebrates its fifth anniversary on 4 October thebbbawards.com


Glenn Wallis mentoringGLENN WALLIS, doctor of coaching and mentoring, and principal of the Glenn P Wallis consultancy

When executed with skill, mentoring is a fantastic way for a business to make the most of the knowledge, experience and talent of its people.

Traditionally, mentors were seasoned campaigners who shared their expertise with younger people in the organisation. Increasingly, so-called reverse mentoring is giving junior employees the chance to inform and influence the work of people in more senior positions.

Creating a mentoring culture in an organisation is a multifaceted task. When you’re trying to do so, it’s important to take the following three steps:

* Define what mentoring will be like when it’s done brilliantly.

* Support the development of mentors in order to maximise their impact.

* Ensure that potential mentees know how to find a mentor, what to expect from the relationship and how to make the most of it.

Before the start of any mentoring relationship, your head of HR should hold a three-way conversation with the mentor and mentee to set the parameters of the process. Then mentoring will be ready to make a positive difference to all involved. glennpwallis.com


Debbie Wosskow mentoringDEBBIE WOSSKOW, co-founder, AllBright members’ clubs

A mentor will offer you perspective, guidance and a trusted sounding board as you work through new challenges. The mentoring relationship is invaluable for the mentee, enabling you to learn from someone else’s experience while developing your career.

Done properly, it can benefit anyone, but particularly people who would otherwise struggle to find guidance when it comes to progressing – those in the gig economy, for instance. The gig economy is a fantastic tool that enables flexibility and micro- entrepreneurship outside traditional job structures. Mentoring can help to ensure that working in this sector won’t limit your career development.

Mentorship is at the heart of AllBright, where we bring together like-minded women so that they can learn from one other. Although each individual is different, there are certainly common issues that affect many women, such as a lack of confidence or the gender pay gap.

The ability to hear from women who have dealt with many of the same issues is a fantastic resource. I’d encourage any business to provide opportunities for people across the organisation to convene and develop their own mentoring relationships. theallbright.com


John Phillips mentoringJOHN PHILLIPS, lead mentor, University of Wolverhampton

In 2010 I started a business mentoring programme in conjunction with the IoD. The scheme pairs members with final-year students at the University of Wolverhampton Business School with the goal of getting graduates into high-quality jobs as quickly as possible.

We focus on developing mentees’ soft skills, integrity, confidence and leadership potential through role-play exercises and asking questions as simple as: “How would you describe yourself?” For the purposes of our scheme, a good mentor will be able to identify their mentee’s personality traits quickly and recommend suitable careers.

Young people are incredibly rewarding to mentor – it’s so gratifying when they tell you with a huge smile that they’ve landed their first job. Furthermore, mentoring students offers execs a fresh perspective and the chance to spot young talent that their own firms could use.

We mentors regularly meet up to discuss what has gone well and what needs to be improved. Friendships are formed and we also do business with each other. wlv.ac.uk

John Phillips is a fellow of the IoD


Become a member of the IoD

The IoD has a range of memberships for directors, founders and co-founders, providing all the resources and facilities needed to enhance your business. To find out more about membership offerings and to join today, visit iod.com/membership


About author

Hannah Gresty

Hannah Gresty

Until she left the magazine in August 2019, Hannah Gresty was the assistant editor of Director. She previously worked on a local news website and at a fashion PR company before joining the Director team as editorial assistant in 2016.

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