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Mentoring for leaders

Sharon Green

A leaders stands with a book, ready for mentoring

Mentors can help leaders become more self-aware and step out of their comfort zone, reports Sharon Green

Business owners, managers and leaders are often trying out ideas for the first time.

This means that, however experienced and successful they are, it can be useful for them to turn to mentors who can encourage new ideas and effective leadership practices.

Sarah Ackroyd, director at Bristol’s Centre for Mentoring and Coaching, says mentoring is about supporting the individual you are working with, listening to them and holding up a mirror so they can see themselves clearly and learn more.

People who are experts in their field often find their way into mentoring roles by sharing their knowledge and helping colleagues transition into leadership roles.

“Learning how to lead is about interpersonal relationships and how you develop those relationships,” she explains.

So how does someone find a mentor and develop a relationship with them?

Ackroyd says it depends on the organisation you are working for. Large organisations often have in-house mentoring schemes, internal coaches or a senior member performing a mentoring role.

Those moving up the corporate ladder or in a small business setting may want to seek external options such as a mentoring centre, suggests Ackroyd.

The frequency in which the mentor meets with the mentee can be a structured arrangement or less formal.

But Ackroyd says it’s important the person being mentored takes the time they need to develop between mentoring sessions so they don’t become too dependent on their mentor.

“Six to eight weeks [between sessions] is about right,” she says. “Less than that means they haven’t had time to digest what was discussed in the session and put things into action.”

Sharing experiences

A good mentor is somebody who is happy to share their experiences, knowledge and contacts and is honest about the mistakes they’ve made in the past

Jackie Fletcher, a life and career coach, says it’s important for leaders to find a mentor that will offer a supportive relationship.

“A good mentor is somebody who is happy to share their experiences, knowledge and contacts and is honest about the mistakes they’ve made in the past,” she points out.

Fletcher adds that good mentors give people an understanding of how to be better managers or leaders.

They will share what is required to succeed in a particular firm, be aware of how to deal with office politics and know the right people to interact with.

“Someone may be a good worker but is never noticed by the decision makers. Helping somebody to understand what the measurement is for promotion and working out the best path for them to take is part of what I do as a mentor,” she says.

A mentor can help leaders to become more self-aware by challenging them to be more open-minded and forcing them to step outside of their comfort zone, as real learning rarely happens in a safe environment, Fletcher explains.

“Regular conversations are important. But it’s not enough to simply talk about it,” she adds.

“The person has to try it, work with it and experiment with it. Then come back and discuss it. Coaching is about expanding possibilities and encouraging people to look at things from a different point of view.”

Mike Beech, founder of discount voucher site shoppingvouchers.co.uk, participates in an informal mentoring programme with an investor in his business.

He says the mentoring relationship evolved organically and was based largely on trust between himself and his mentor.

Beech says receiving mentoring is a valuable part of running his business, particularly when it comes to key decision making:

“It’s beneficial to get another perspective and one that is wiser than your own. Because this is my first business I don’t think I would have got this far, as fast, without someone helping me.”

As a sole business owner, Beech says having a mentor is crucial for brainstorming and planning. “I don’t have any partners to share ideas with so it’s good to discuss ideas and bounce them back and forth with my mentor,” he explains.

Beech’s mentor has helped him with high-level business planning such as hiring staff, developing strategies, and discussing where they would take the business once it becomes more profitable. “My mentor is able to offer advice based on their prior experience in those areas and has given me access to their professional network when I’ve needed to get in touch with people who can help me,” he says.
Ackroyd emphasises the benefits of having a mentor:

“A one-to-one relationship means that the mentor is there specifically for you. It’s absolutely geared toward your personal development. It’s about gaining self-confidence and recognising your own skills and your own potential.”

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