Help to Grow: Management Course | Kingston University

Mentoring the why, how and what

By Zoe Gilks with Glenn Bowering and Paul Shaw
August 21, 2023

This article is a bit different, we have interviewed two of our business mentors from our Kingston team, Glenn Bowering Director of People Inside and Paul Shaw Co-Founder of Restaurant Developments  to find out more on business mentoring, why you might benefit from one, what it is and how it can benefit small businesses.

Q: Why would someone want a mentor?

Paul:  Having a mentor can be a valuable and rewarding experience for a small business owner. Running your own business can be a solitary and stressful affair sometimes and its quite normal to feel that no one really knows what you’re going through. We all need advice and guidance from time to time and a business mentor can provide it.

A good mentor will never seek to judge, instruct or influence, only to support, guide and suggest. They can help you connect to people and resources you wouldn’t otherwise have access to and will provide a different perspective on business problems and challenges. Crucially, a good business mentor will always keep you accountable for your decisions and actions and will help you to maintain discipline and momentum as you develop your business.

Glenn: Running a business can be hard work and isolating. Often business owners reach a level where they are extremely busy but the results they care about seem to plateau and it’s not clear why.

A mentor is someone who shares their knowledge, skills or experience in order to help someone else develop. The motivation for working with a mentor is usually because someone is approaching the limit of how their own knowledge, skills and experience can be used to progress.

Working with a mentor can help a business owner stand back, re-evaluate, gain new perspectives, and often benefit from the experiences of another.

Q: How would you go about choosing a mentor?  

Paul: Firstly, be clear about your goals. What are you looking to achieve through mentoring and what kind of mentor is most likely to help you reach your objectives? Look for someone with experience that is relevant to you. They might not be in your direct line of business, but they will probably be in a related line. You may want a mentor who has have expertise in an area where you‘re not so strong yourself – marketing or finance, for example. Most importantly, you need to get on. Look for someone you feel you can really connect with; someone who listens; someone who grasps the challenges you’re facing; someone who won’t patronise you, but will communicate with you in an open and honest manner.

Glenn: When looking for a mentor, rapport and chemistry are key – you want someone you feel comfortable opening up to and connecting with. At the same time, don’t be afraid to choose a mentor who will challenge you and push you outside your comfort zone. If you feel a little discomfort, that’s probably a good thing.

While industry-specific expertise can be helpful, a strong business mentor provides broader guidance on leadership, strategy and professional development. This is a developmental relationship, not a consulting or coaching engagement, so make sure you’re clear on boundaries.

I’d suggest having an introductory meeting to make sure it’s a good match before formalising the relationship. Be upfront about what you hope to achieve through mentoring and what you need in terms of availability, style and experience.

Q: What are common misconceptions about mentoring?

Paul: Mentors are not coaches: they won’t tell you what to do but they will help you to draw your own conclusions and reach decisions that are right for you and your business.

Mentoring is not a silver bullet: you have to want to commit to the process and you have to be prepared to trust your mentor. Most of all, you have to be completely open and honest. Without transparency and honesty, the process will fail.  Mentors will not solve all your problems: you will solve your own problems – with the help of a mentor.

Mentoring is not a one-way street: a good mentor will learn as much from you as you will learn from them. The best mentoring relationships are true and equal partnerships.

Glenn: It may not be just about business. Many founders are the bottleneck to growth so you may need to work with your mentor in areas like your leadership style or your reluctance to let go of the reigns or even developing comfort with allowing your staff to make mistakes. You should be prepared to look inwards.

Mentoring is often confused with consulting. Many feel it’s important to look for someone from their industry so they can ‘pick their brains’. However, while a mentor may share knowledge and expertise in a general sense, it’s not the mentor’s place to provide you with answers.

Final Q: What outcomes would you expect from your mentoring experience? 

Paul: Deeper insight into your business. A fresh perspective that will give you ideas and inspiration. Greater accountability and, therefore, productivity. Access to opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise arise. Access to a wider network of possible partners, clients and supporters.

A strong and long-lasting relationship with someone who really understands you and your business.

Fewer feelings of isolation, anxiety and overwhelm. A stronger, more productive and more robust business.

 Glenn: Working with a mentor will often involve an objective assessment of your business, so you can expect to feel good about all the great work you’ve done as well as identify some areas for improvement.

You should get a sense of moving forward in some way; e.g. with your leadership, the direction and/or strategy for the business, a renewed clarity and focus or some other aspect of business that is important to your personal and business growth.