Making a difference with technology

This year I am excited to be involved as a mentor for Startup Boost in the North East. Startup Boost is a global tech startup pre accelerator aimed at working with great early stage entrepreneurs to prepare them for accelerator programs, seed investment and revenue through a six week part time program. It reminded me of a post I wrote in 2018 and thought I would post it here as it is still fully relevant now.

I’m lucky enough to have been on both sides of the mentoring process throughout my 20+ year career and its something I urge everyone to do. As a mentor, I’ve been able to pass on my knowledge and experience while learning about others. As a mentee I’ve received invaluable insight into all aspects of work and life.

In my opinion, done right, the mentoring process is one of the best ways to learn and develop and can be the difference between making or breaking. But it’s a process of cross-cultivation and is far from one-way learning.

Its a two-way street

Wikipedia (which I quote to make a point, not as the best source on mentoring!) says:

Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.

I guess this is a pretty good description of what mentoring is, but it is a later sentence that encapsulates it better for me:

It is a learning and development partnership between someone with experience and someone who wants to learn.

The keyword here is partnership. I am a great believer that any high quality learning or education comes from two-way dialogue. When a teacher or lecturer stands at the front of the class and professes their knowledge, how much actually goes in? How much will you be able to apply to situations in your life going forward? Yet when they involve you in the process, or even more so put you at the centre of the process the results are substantially different.

In mentoring, that is best delivered when mentor and mentee go through the process as peers. While a mentor by definition needs to have specific knowledge that the other doesn’t, every mentoring experience I’ve been through has been thoroughly enlightening in hearing about the experiences of the other — whichever side I’ve been on. In many cases, I’m quite sure I have learned as much from my mentees as they have through my mentoring. I hope the same is true for my mentors.

Respect is essential from both participants, but as a mentor working to remove any pedestal placing goes a long way to ensuring your mentee that we may have different experiences to share, but we are all capable of making the worst of mistakes, or not living up to our own, or other’s expectations.

A key part of being a mentor is listening. If we’re actively listening then the likelihood is we’re learning something from every sentence.

Finding your mentor

Mentors I’ve had have come from obvious places such as business support organisations, and less obvious places such as a drink after a conference. Always be on the lookout for great mentors – whether mentoring in a formulated relationship or doing so out of a general mutual respect, you are always only a conversation away from changing your mindset forever, or inspiring you to change something about your life or work.

In my opinion, it is not necessary to formally discuss the relationship of mentor and mentee – regular conversations or e-mail discussions can be enough for you both to get out of the relationship that you need. I’m not even sure if all the people I consider my mentors would know that they are so, but they have provided me with the advice, insight and feedback when I’ve needed it most without even having to ask. I cherish these people and while ensuring I don’t encroach to far into their time, I try to make sure I speak to them every so often to help stimulate my thinking and forge my choices.

Finding your mentee

It’s quite likely that they will find you. In your work and life, you will meet people who realise that you have something they want — that relationship can develop completely naturally. That said if you have specific experience you want to share with others, it will really depend on your setting, context or sector.

If you are looking to enter a formal mentoring process and you are a bit lost of where to start, business support organisations will often provide mentoring training, and universities will often have a student programme that does the same. While I don’t feel training is essential, it does give you insight into how others have had success and you most likely wouldn’t be reading if you didn’t have an appetite to pass on your experience and insight to others.

In the UK, one sure way to offer your services to others is to visit your local University. Most of them will have a mentoring scheme where you can sign up to be matched with students and/or graduates who are looking for that extra knowledge that can’t be obtained through lectures or course work. if they don’t have a programme, the likelihood is that there will be someone who can help you, help others.

I don’t think mentors should as such be paid. That may be controversial but in my opinion mentoring is about a passion for sharing and learning. When it’s paid for, in most cases the whole process becomes much more about the provision of a service over the development of a natural relationship. If you are doing it right, the rewards should be such that payment simply isn’t necessary. If you’re in the “industry” of mentoring the likelihood is you should be doing more, and that it’s more likely a coaching role you’re proposing.

Mentoring at Work

In my case it was a mentor that literally shaped my future when I was in my late teens who was critical in providing me with understanding, knowledge and inspiration that stays with me now, almost 20 years later. As a mentor you really do have the potential to change lives. But this person was employing me at the time.

If you are in a management position, or have people that you work with daily who have different or less experience to you, there is a strong possibility that having time spent mentoring your colleagues would be hugely beneficial to you, and those around you. Time to share your experience and to listen and understand how your experience can be harnessed by others helps reduce risk, increase empathy and share knowledge.

Being Humble

The best mentors I have had are able to explain their feelings at different points in their career or life, not just the routes to success. Embracing your mistakes and failures is also key to helping others understand how you dealt with the outcomes and reactions when things go wrong, as they inevitably do.

In addition, listening to how a mentee has dealt with success, or adversary, should provide you with another perspective, another experience to inform how you do things in the future.

I recently received an evaluation from a mentee I worked with from Sunderland University and found the following feedback invaluable:

“I found it extremely helpful to talk my ideas through with someone who was experienced and clearly knowledgeable, without an overt agenda or significant desire to glorify his own achievements. The latter might sound trivial, but I found this to be an extremely important personal quality in Adam.”

Mentors are by definition taking a leadership role, and as in most leadership roles this is not about proclaiming about how you are more knowledgable or more experienced than the person you are trying to support, but about helping them understand their strengths and make the most of them through the channels of your vision and experience.

New Infrastructures for Mentoring

I strongly believe that we need new infrastructures for formal mentoring, especially in the North East. As I’ve mentioned already there are opportunities out there but there are still a LOT of people out there who would benefit from the support of a mentor, and people with the time, experience, knowledge and nature to help. I have a few ideas about this and am aware it’s being discussed in different places, but that’s for another blog post.

For now, I’d love to hear your experiences of mentoring, any challenges to my thoughts or feedback in general. But if you have the space to do some mentoring I urge you to do it. If you’re in need of some expert advice – seek those that hold it and ask. The worst that can happen is that they say no.

This was originally posted on Medium: