Creating a Positive Mentoring Environment

Discover the key to creating the right environment where the entrepreneur can flourish.

Creating a Positive Mentoring Environment

The key to an effective mentoring relationship is to create the ‘right’ environment where the entrepreneur can flourish. One school of thought is that for a mentoring relationship to succeed, the mentee must have a similar personality to the mentor. However, compatibility can only be developed from within a relationship, it cannot be anticipated beforehand.

“A good match is to be with someone who has knowledge and experience to learn from. Someone you can connect with. You’re telling them really confidential things so you have to feel comfortable in the relationship”.

– Futurpreneur Canada Young Entrepreneur

Mentoring helps people to focus on the challenges and arrive at their own solutions. In discussions between a mentor and mentee, two main methods are used: ‘pulling’ and ‘pushing’. Pulling calls on the ability to offer a safe place where the mentee feels able to share their agenda, interests and goals. Also, to offer support by listening, asking the right questions and drawing out the mentee’s own answers to problems. Pushing, on the other hand, calls on the ability to offer stimulation through creative ideas, challenges, knowledge, success stories, models and tools, leading-edge thinking and wisdom. Good mentors balance these two approaches. When in doubt, they ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’. Why? The mentee must stay in charge and fulfill his or her agenda. That way the mentor ensures the mentee finds the meeting personal, practical and profitable.

The skill of listening is central in creating a positive mentoring environment. A model commonly used by practitioners that can help the mentor is to:

  • Look interested
  • Inquire with questions
  • Stay alert
  • Test understanding
  • Empathize
  • Neutralize your feelings

Look interested:
How do you show you are interested? Good mentoring is about giving your undivided attention to the mentee. From the moment the meeting starts to the point you say goodbye, the entrepreneur needs to feel they are the most important person in the relationship.

Inquire with questions:
Do ask open questions i.e. those that start with what, why, where, when, who and how. Sometimes it feels more natural to prefix the open question with; ‘tell me’, ‘describe’ or ‘explain’. For example: Tell me what inspired you to run your own business; Describe how you felt when your business plan was approved by Futurpreneur Canada; Explain (to me) how you will keep your costs under control in year one. A good meeting will be 70/30 i.e. 70% of the talking will come from the client and 30% will be the mentor guiding, asking questions etc.

Stay alert:
During the process of listening, the mentor will hear significant response to questions; ‘Yes, I did get angry when my biggest customer said they wanted to stop doing business with me’. This is an opportunity to probe what happened and seek as much information from the client as possible.

Test understanding:
When the mentor is spending 70% of their time listening, it I important to ‘play back’ what is heard to ensure the ‘picture’ as presented by the client is a clear one. This method of summarizing allows the mentee to confirm that what the mentor says is a true record. It shows that the mentor has been listening accurately and as a result helps to build and develop trust.

This is a key skill and is used to show that the mentors do not just listen to the facts but to the feelings behind the facts. A useful technique is to use the must word. ‘I can understand that it must have been very upsetting for you when you had to cancel the holiday (you had been looking forward to) at short notice’. It shows that you are able to put yourself in the mentee’s shoes by focusing on the feelings presented. Empathy can take practice (especially amongst male mentors who are less practiced when compared to female mentors) but as long as it is presented with respect, understanding and genuineness, then it can be a most useful technique to use.

Neutralize your feelings:
It is ‘natural’ for us all (and mentor are no different) to be biased, to be prejudiced; either positively or negatively, towards another. As a mentor, it is important that our thoughts and emotions are held in check because of the signals that it can send; ‘Are you sure that is the best way to dress when you are giving client presentations’ This suggests YOU disapprove. As an alternative, why not try; ‘Tell me how you are going to prepare for your client presentation’? Keeping the dialogue adult to adult (as opposed to parent to child) is key in creating a positive mentoring environment.

i Pegg, Mike, The Art of Mentoring, Management Books, 1999.

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