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What is Business Mentoring?

Traditionally, the term ‘mentor’ might conjure up for us a picture of a ‘white-haired wise man or guide’. In fact, the origins of the word mentor come from Homer’s The Odyssey. Before leaving to fight the Trojan War, Odysseus left his son and his entire estate in the care of his friend Mentor, who then guided the young Telemachus as he grew up. Mentor however, was only in his early twenties!

Within a more modern context, most of us might be familiar with the concept of a business mentor within our workplace as being someone who has more experience or wisdom and is willing to share their knowledge and insights in bringing on a younger colleague, guiding their career within the company.

It is only relatively recently however, that the term mentor has broken out of the workplace and into the marketplace and the term ‘business mentor’ is often freely bandied around to encompass a broad range of activities and services from business angels to non-executive directors.

Business Mentoring begins with absolute and genuine belief in the businesses we work with and their onward success. With anybody other than a professional business mentor, time and attention will always be divided amongst their own activities and the business mentors level of motivation.

Let us be in no doubt however, most successful entrepreneurs will attribute much of their achievement to the support and guidance they received from a business mentor – Richard Branson still cites the support and belief given to him by Sir Freddy Laker as being one of the key drivers behind his success within the airline industry.

Business Mentoring does not involve employing a consultant or employee to help run your business. Instead, it’s a relationship between you, the Business Owner, and someone with business experience that can guide you through making the difficult decisions, point out ways of improving your business, ask you the tough questions and motivate you to want to achieve higher levels of performance, all within the bounds of a trusted relationship.

Because it’s lonely at the top, business mentoring can offer you a partner in the process, a sharing of views with someone who really knows the ropes. Working with a Business Mentor will help you gain fresh insights into problems and decision making, through impartial, objective discussion and feedback.

A mentor will act as a trusted confidant to their mentee over a flexible period of time. If you are thinking of finding a business mentor, you should be clear on what you can and cannot expect from them

A Business Mentor will:

offer an outside perspective on both you and your business
listen, confidentially, to the things that are worrying you about your business
help you by sharing their own experience of both failure and success
give friendly, unbiased support
provide honest and constructive feedback
be a sounding board for ideas
help you with your decision making by suggesting alternatives based on personal experience
provide contacts and networks to further your personal and business development
provide ongoing support and encouragement

Your mentor will not:

provide a counselling service
give specific technical business advice, which would normally be provided by an expert business adviser
provide a training service
provide a coaching service (relating to specific business related tasks, goals and objectives)
take responsibility for the success of your business away from you, the business owner

Are mentoring and coaching identical?

No. People often confuse mentoring and coaching. Though related, they are not the same. A mentor may coach, but a coach is not a mentor. Mentoring is “relational,” while coaching is “functional.” There are other significant differences.
Coaching characteristics:

Managers coach all of their staff as a required part of the job
Coaching takes place within the confines of a formal manager-employee relationship
Focuses on developing individuals within their current jobs
Interest is functional, arising out of the need to ensure that individuals can perform the tasks required to the best of their abilities
Relationship tends to be initiated and driven by an individual’s manager
Relationship is finite – ends as an individual transfers to another job

Mentoring characteristics:

Takes place outside of a line manager-employee relationship, at the mutual consent of a mentor and the person being mentored
Is career-focused or focuses on professional development that may be outside a mentoree’s area of work
Relationship is personal – a mentor provides both professional and personal support
Relationship may be initiated by a mentor or created through a match initiated by the organization
Relationship crosses job boundaries
Relationship may last for a specific period of time (nine months to a year) in a formal program, at which point the pair may continue in an informal mentoring relationship