24th August 2010

Perhaps the most undervalued and under utilised asset in business today is experience. Experience helps you to make good decisions and is usually gained by making bad ones.

Too often in business the benefit of this experience is lost and not shared either within or outside of the company. This is an expensive mistake. There are many ways in which this knowledge can be harvested to help others and one such method is via mentoring.

Academics have spent many years and millions of words attempting to define mentoring and the difference between that and coaching and counselling. To the business this is of little relevance – it is the harnessing of experience which can give a business an edge over the competition that matters.

The word mentor comes from a character in Homer’s Odyssey taken over by the goddess Athena to guide a young Telemachus in his time of difficulty. In many ways this sums up the essence of a mentoring relationship. It is a helpful partnership based upon mutual trust and respect.

A mentor is a guide who can help a mentee to find correct solutions to both business problems and career issues. To work, the mentor will have both an empathy with the mentee and their business and will have encountered similar business issues in their professional life.

It is not the role of a mentor to run the mentees business, make decisions for them or line manage them. Rather that they help the mentee believe in themselves, question and challenge whilst providing guidance and encouragement. It is an excellent medium for exploring new ideas in confidence.

So, what should you look for in a good mentoring relationship?

Experience: usually the mentor is older but not always. I know of one person in his 20’s that mentors older people on the ways of the online world.

Availability: it may be great having a famous or successful person to mentor you but if they are not available to you when needed it defeats the purpose.

Focus: you need a mentor who is able to not only focus on you and what you would like to achieve, but also help you focus.

Belief: someone who believes in your potential; if they are not sold on you then they will not put in all of their effort.

Open minded: a mentor who will allow you to progress in a way that you need to progress, not necessarily in the way that they would prefer.

Positive: someone who is positive and helps keep you positive, to help you up when you fall and who cares about your success as much as you do.

Many successful business people have several mentors throughout their career helping them at different stages along the way. Sadly not all of them then act as mentors themselves. Being a mentor is a rewarding experience and should be a freely given service during a working life – not just when you are retired. If you are interested in becoming a mentor or having a mentor work with you then contact organisations such as NWES or Princes Trust who can act as impartial matching brokers.

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