Posted: Mon 12th Jun 2023
Mentoring can be an incredibly fulfilling experience that can significantly affect someone's life, career and business. As a mentor, you can pass on your expertise and offer guidance to someone looking to develop their skills, grow their venture and achieve their goals.
However, mentoring does involve more than just imparting your knowledge. There are certain skills you need if you're going to make a meaningful impact on your mentee's personal and professional growth.
So, what makes a truly great business mentor? Here are three vital qualities that any good mentor should have.
One of the fundamental characteristics of any mentor is empathy. A mentor who can understand their mentee's feelings, point of view and struggles and connect personally and emotionally should find success when shaping the mentee's career path and goals.
After 25 years working in industry, Emma Ellse moved into academia and now educates students in marketing, business, leadership and consultancy. She recognises empathy as one of the essential qualities in mentorship.
"You must be empathetic and understand what your mentees are going through. You don't always need to have all the answers. Sometimes, mentees need me to bring personal experiences and concrete examples of when I did something specific.
"Sometimes it's about telling them where you messed up and made mistakes, where things went horribly wrong, and if you could go back what you'd do differently. I think they learn a lot from that."
Svetla Stoyanova-Bozhkova is a member of the Chartered Management Institute's (CMI) business mentoring scheme and manages a large team of academics at Bournemouth University Business School. She says:
"It may sound cliché, but a good mentor must possess a genuine interest in other people and a desire to help them grow and develop. Being empathetic is a key attribute."
"A good mentor has empathy with the mentee, listens well and coaches the person by asking open and probing questions. It isn't about directing a mentee to take specific actions; it's about helping them realise the opportunities and solutions themselves."
Small businesses see significant development through mentoring: Become a mentor and provide 10 hours of one-to-one support. Find out more
The ability to listen well
A crucial skill for mentors is active listening. It's not just about hearing your mentee's words but understanding their perspective and needs. Listen to their concerns, ideas and views, and use this information to tailor your approach.
"The ability and the willingness to listen. Running a business is no mean feat – there are many ups and downs, twists and turns and an incredible amount of learning to do as you go along. It's even more challenging when balancing work life and raising a family.
"At times, all a mentee wants is to speak to someone who gets it, who's been there and clearly understands where they're coming from."
Experienced mentor Richard Lockyer, who's worked with large PLCs, small family companies and everything in between, advises:
"Listen, hear, and understand. You need to be able to identify where your mentee is on their journey and modify your style to suit them."
Many business mentors volunteering as part of the Help to Grow: Management Course said being a "sounding board" was necessary for the business owners they support. As David Bailey says:
"A good mentor is a confidential sounding board for ideas and challenges. The mentee should be comfortable bringing topics to the table for discussion, knowing they can review and explore them in a safe environment."
Watch this webinar to learn more about the process of working with a mentor or coach, the right time to do it, and what the benefits are:
An open mind
A good mentor will remain impartial and free of bias or prejudice when listening. With an open mind, they can help guide and refine the mentee's ideas and challenge assumptions respectfully.
Fiona Minett teaches, educates and coaches small business owners and entrepreneurs in harnessing the power of PR. She says:
"A good mentor has to be able to remain objective. Mentoring isn't about projecting your options and experiences in a way that will force mentees in any given direction.
"Instead, it's about pointing out opportunities and potential pitfalls, asking the right questions, listening to the responses and opening up a mentee's thinking and perspective on their own business and corresponding entrepreneurial journey."
Following a very varied career, Helen Hill went self-employed and now runs three businesses. Once she became her own boss and sought guidance from mentors and experienced peers, she understood the importance of finding someone who could genuinely listen.
"You must be able to listen without judgement, switch off your mind from everything going on elsewhere and focus on the individual in front of you. And that's harder than it sounds!"
Entrepreneur, business coach and mentor Nikki McReynolds says mentors don't find solutions to problems but help others find their own answers through various tools and techniques.
"So, it's important that the mentor is non-judgemental. We all make mistakes, and so a mentor needs to be open-minded and not give any judgements, so they can fully support the mentee."
Want to help a small business grow?
Being a mentor goes far beyond the rewarding feeling of 'giving back'. Mentors gain a range of personal development benefits from the experience.
Become a voluntary mentor for the Help to Grow: Management Course and commit 10 hours over 12 weeks to support businesses with their growth action plan. Sign up today
The national mentoring element of the Help to Grow: Management Course is being delivered by a partnership of Newable, Enterprise Nation and the Association of Business Mentors on behalf of the Department for Business & Trade.