Mentoring – the fastest growing business in the world
Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I? We’re in the mentoring business ourselves. But it’s true. It is growing so fast now that it is difficult to keep up the supply of mentors. Added to which, the needs of mentoring are changing for a world disrupted by galloping technology, tsunami digitisation and a need to adjust attitudes and behaviours to deal with new social, medical and moral demands. We require the best of experience to be passed on and the worst of experience to be abandoned. There has not been a time in my life when good mentoring and coaching were needed more.
Know your Customer (KYC)
I add coaching to mentoring. They are different things but my 30+ years in the business suggests that distinguishing between them when dealing with a client is a mistake. Mentors coach and Coaches mentor, whatever is required. And that is the point. If ever there was a business that needed to KYC it must be mentoring & coaching. Good doctors treat causes; bad doctors treat symptoms. Good mentors & coaches treat narrowness of thought, lack of confidence, misuse of creativity and fear of risk-taking. And, like good doctors, they also address the superficial symptoms of these things and the need to make appearance right.
Demand drives growth
How can mentoring & coaching grow so fast? As with any business, demand drives growth. I think there are a number of reasons why there is such demand. First, the old job stability has gone and with it the relationships between the young and the older employees. The latter were the mentors when you had a job for life. In my own case, my UK Chairman, Peter Reynolds, was my mentor and friend. He devoted a lot of time to teaching me how business worked but he also acted as a personal mentor to me, guiding me through the pitfalls of personal relationships, management techniques and employee discipline. I had other good mentors, too. Peter was my main influence.
Which is not in any way to discount the mentoring I got from the farm hands with whom I worked as a child nor the many good managers I had when I first went to London to earn enough to get married. There is not a week goes by without my thinking of them and thanking them for their remarkable patience and wisdom. And the point is that anyone who has decent values may be a mentor to you. You can observe potential mentors if you look for style and then examine the ground rules for it. Notice a manager who is distinguished from the herd? Watch carefully. Trump was such a manager and he certainly has style. Trouble is, it isn’t based on grounded values.
Finding the right mentor
If the manager with style who you notice has values you know to be good, s/he is a potential mentor. So what distinguishes the professional mentor from the casual mentor? Two things, I think. First, the professional has spent years studying the critical questions of mentoring – how to read people, the art of asking questions that matter, creative character assessment. These are techniques that require study and work. The professional devotes time to them. Second, the sheer experience of handling many people is a qualification for professional mentors. They have learnt that for all that experience can teach them, every person they deal with is different and needs special attention if they are to be fulfilled.
Mentoring and coaching can be there for short-term gains in crisis situations but their greatest value is in medium- and long-term, equipping you for greater confidence in the VUCA world. In 1940 I was delayed for ten hours on a railway station on my way home from school, on my own. I was eight years old. There was a big movement of troops from north to south, all part of the war effort. Eventually, a nice gentleman, who was also being delayed, started talking to me. I was very tired and hungry. He took me to see the Station Master and between us we persuaded this figure of authority to hold up the next troop shipment and let our train through.
The Heart of Mentoring
I didn’t recognise this kind man as a mentor at the time but he was certainly one of my first. Many years later, reflecting on this event, I coined a phrase, based on it, that said “Living our personal standards is better than living others’ laws”. It is the very heart of mentoring that we help develop an individual, not a processed robot. That requires rock solid values to stand up to the temptations of expedience we see all around us. It is good to be pragmatic but not about honesty in dealing with others. There are plenty of people who will do deals that in the end disgrace both parties to them. Business has been rife with them for years. They have to change now if the world is to survive as a place to live in.
I started by saying that there were a number of reasons for mentoring’s spectacular growth at this time. Another important one is the way technology is creating a world of process. Process is good, of course, for routine things, for engineering, doubtless for robots, too. Wherever a job can be reduced to process it will benefit from fewer human errors, less dangerous deployment of people and faster completion – humans have a limit to their speed. But the business of life is not so well served by process. Individual fulfillment is a worthy goal for a human. It is only achievable when that individual thinks for himself or herself, makes personal judgments and uses the full faculties of their brain in the process. Process eliminates these vital parts of a human’s life journey.
At the crossroads
Business itself is at a crossroads of decision making. There are siren voices calling for the old ways. They must not prevail. The barbed wire of aggressive protection stifles business progress. Today’s mentors have the chance to cut through that protection for the rising stars of management and control.
In the end much of what we achieve in life has to do with our ability to cooperate. That is why much of the benefit of a mentor is in weaving the collaborative fabric of success.
The principles are simple. The practice sometimes takes a little longer.