Running a business can be hugely rewarding. I am not talking about money, but making things happen, seeing ideas work, good people succeeding. It can also be deeply frustrating and brutally challenging. I have found there is one thing above all else that helps with what is difficult. Mentoring.
Guidance from someone outside a business that has experience, or specialist knowledge, not only helps in providing practical answers, but is a great stress reliever. You have someone that can show you how to overcome a problem, is on your side, and willing to help. Mentoring is normally cost free, but you can’t put a price on it.
It is true, that no mentor will have gone through the exact experience others face. But there are so many commonalities to so many business situations that it is inevitable that there is someone out there that can help with any given challenge. Someone that is an expert, or has been confronted by a similar problem and overcome it, or perhaps having analysed the situation with hindsight, they worked out what they should have done.
I have used mentors successfully to navigate varying scenarios. And it is amazing how many people will help.
There is great value to be found from having someone to share a problem with, not just providing solutions. Anyone who leads a company knows it can be a lonely place no matter how good the supporting managers you have. Having someone that relates, and is willing to talk through situations is a great antidote to leadership pressure.
Here are my examples of using mentors. It shows the breadth of guidance and support there is out there.
A good case was when I was in the process of establishing an office in Shanghai. I clearly knew how it should function in terms of what was required, but my knowledge of the cultural dynamics of building a team in China was limited. I needed help, and I wanted it from someone that had been in the same position as me. I could not have had more success in discovering exactly the right person. They helped with much more than the immediate challenge, and though no longer a mentor, we keep in touch, and always meet when I’m back in China.
I got another mentor at the same time to assist with wellbeing. I had an exercise and yoga programme that worked effectively, but more work pressure started to equal more stress. I got a mentor to get my mindset into the right place, and it worked.
On another occasion I found a mentor to assist with the Chinese business culture of managing staff. This was enormously helpful, and the same person is now helping me to improve my written and spoken Mandarin.
One of the things that stands out from my use of mentors are the subjects I got support with, and how unusual some of them were. But also, how I managed to source mentoring help relatively easily. If I could get mentors for specialist needs, then how much more simple to address more generic needs.
Undoubtedly, there is nearly always someone out there available and willing to help, We nearly all walk in the steps of others, and those that have gone before mostly have empathy for those that follow.
Deciding whether you should get a mentor?
For those that doubt the need for a mentor consider whether there are weaknesses that you would like to eliminate. Are there tasks you struggle with, the things you don’t like doing? What are the biggest headaches in your business? If these criteria apply then you could usefully be getting guidance. Whether this applies at personal level, or as a function of the company, there will be someone that can help reduce problems, or make them go away.
Sourcing the right mentor
Finding an appropriate mentor involves doing homework. View it as an investment. That is exactly what it is. Be prepared to spend time looking because the right mentor is likely to recoup the investment several times over, and not just in terms of providing solutions and money saving, but also the pricelessness of relief from work challenges.
Frequently, mentor selection is based on finding someone in the same sector of trade, or stage of company development, but neither of these factors may be important criteria if help is needed with people management, finance, training, outsourcing, or other generic functions. It means there are often a lot of options available.
What is important is chemistry. You have to be on the same wavelength more or less, because communication needs to be easy, and you may be with a mentor quite a lot of time whether face to face, on video calls or the phone. What you need is an effective working partnership. You do not need to becoming good friends, though that is my experience, but you have to be able to talk without personalities getting in the way.
Mentoring is for all managers
The subject of mentoring is nearly always focused on business founders and leaders, but it shouldn’t be. Middle and junior managers have to confront problems too. Most management support structure is built on line managers providing help, but in busy companies this may not happen even with the best intentions.
Also, and no matter how open the management culture of a particular business is, individuals are reluctant to flag the fact they have a problem, or are struggling. It is human nature to cover up weakness in front of colleagues.
However, consulting someone from outside an organisation is not the same as going to a superior. A third party perspective based on experience provides answers, but also creates assurance irrespective of management level. Mentoring is cathartic whoever you are.
Pay it back
I am a firm believer in paying it back. After benefiting so much from mentoring, I know how useful it can be, and believe it is important to share my own knowledge and experience. Currently I mentor two people that have recently founded start-ups. I know it saves each of them time, stress and money.
Mentoring becoming a mainstream practice would make a significant difference to business owners, managers, and companies. So many practices can be improved. It would ultimately reflect on the economy overall. We can all learn, but often don’t. Mentoring also removes a lot of work pressure. I recommend trying it.
By Domenica Di Lieto, founder and CEO of Chinese planning and marketing consultancy, Emerging Communications. https://www.emergingcomms.com
Domenica has nearly ten years of experience in Chinese marketing, and more than thirty years working in marketing in agency, client and media owner side. She founded Emerging Communications in 2015 after identifying a gap in consultancy and training services for Chinese markets, as well as the need for strategic Chinese marketing planning and delivery in complex industries. Emerging Communications has offices in London, Shanghai and Kingston Upon Thames.