Business mentoring has been getting a great press recently and for lots of good reasons: having a mentor is a great life choice for anyone in any stage of their life, not just when they’re in the process of starting up their business. But what does being a mentor actually entail? How can you become an effective one and ensure that your mentoring skills and knowledge are applied for their maximum effect?
Many mentors will tell you that the heart of a good mentor – mentee relationship is exactly that: it’s a relationship. It’s all about you and them. Simples, as the meerkat relationship managers might put it.
Well, yes, in one very important sense the process is based on a relationship between two people, rather than a person and a tree or a person and a pet budgie. On the other hand, just waving it away as merely a matter of ‘relationship’ as if that explained everything isn’t quite enough.
Assessing potential relationships along the ‘Like, snog, shag, marry, avoid?’ paradigm is one way of planning a mentoring relationship but opens itself up to all sorts of misunderstandings, walks of shame and life long regrets.
We might start by seeing the mentor – mentee relationship as a dialogue between two people whilst understanding that there are at least a further two people sat on the shoulders of each party whispering into the ear of that party. This ‘dialogue’ is really between four parents and their two children who are still wrestling out their own voice in the world.
We might also recognise that both the mentor and mentee (does anyone else squirm at that word, ‘mentee?”) exist in all kinds of contexts, the economic being just one. They are both rooted into complex soil systems of other relationships, networks, practices and habits: all these affect the ‘relationship’ between the two parties and need exploring to ensure a healthy relationship between the two of them.
And finally, we need to recognise that if a mentor mentee relationship has undercurrents of power surging under the surface – if the mentor is driven by the need to ‘do good’ or ‘help people’ for example – then there is a real risk that the ‘Like, snog, shag, marry, avoid?’ paradigm becomes the modus operandi of that relationship. And whilst that might be fun for a few star filled nights on far flung beaches, the hangovers of the morning after might not be what the business needs in the long term.