Bilateral mutual mentoring (or “What the mentor gets out of the deal”)

OK, so it’s the worst title for a blog post ever.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending some time sitting in the office of a middle-aged, and very successful, “traditional” businessman. And by that I mean he ran a company in the service industry in which, on the surface of it, many of us wouldn’t consider particularly exciting. His company has a turnover in the millions, and was growing rapidly.

He was smart, engaging, open-minded and over the course of two meetings we struck up a good rapport. It occurred to me that he would make an ideal business mentor. Many entrepreneurs swear by their mentors, and rightly so. For most in the early stages of their business lives they are an invaluable source of support, wisdom and advice. But one thing that’s never really discussed is the benefits that the mentor could get out of the relationship.

In my meeting with the successful businessman he mentioned how he felt many of his peers were staid and negative in their approach to business, and that the business scene in Cardiff was lacking in inspiration. I replied that he needed to meet some of the people I chat to on a regular basis. Some of the most creative, innovative, and inspirational “young” people I know are living and working here in Cardiff, building exceptionally exciting businesses. I wondered how much he would benefit from coming to a TEDxCardiff or NOCCI event, which are characteristically attended by early adopters, ambitious startups, entrepreneurs, web-heads, and people at the innovative, cutting edge of what Cardiff has to offer.

So here’s my proposal – what about a scheme that pairs up younger and older entrepreneurs? The wisdom and mentoring would still be “passed down” from the older of the two, but the younger would be able to reignite their passion for innovation, introduce them to new technology and ways of working.

I was in Ireland last weekwith Mediasnackers, helping people learn about social media, and how to engage with their audience on a really personal level. Many of them were from the generation above mine, and once they had the opportunity to see new technology and media in action and play with it (rather than just seeing it referenced in newspapers), they were absolutely blown away at the potential. Until that point they had seen the new web/media landscape as this insurmountable mountain of buzzwords and brandnames. But once you can sit them down and show them, they understand very quickly.

And so imagine what would happen if once a month (or however frequently suited them), these two entrepreneurs sat down over lunch and chatted. That one-to-one aspect is considered integral to the success of mentoring, so surely it could benefit the more senior of the pairing too… The wealth of business experience would flow one way, and the knowledge and access to exciting, innovative businesses and products would flow the other way.

Good idea? Who could we get to set this up and support it?

And who would you like to be your mentor, and what would they learn from you?

23 responses to “Bilateral mutual mentoring (or “What the mentor gets out of the deal”)”

  1. Is it good or bad that I’m not sure if I should be a mentored or be mentoring. And not sure if I would be old or young.

    Either way think the idea has some legs.

    • You’re definitely one of the hip and groovy youngster, Kevin!

      The fact that we’re older than every member of the national football team, and there’s members of the cabinet younger than us, should not detract from that!

  2. I think that’s a great idea.

    As a business that’s just had it’s 2nd birthday having someone to talk with and learn from without having the usual concerns over using peer networks (where so often it can be BS over actual substance) or else with friends who have little common ground from which to act as anything other than a rudimentary sounding board I’d relish such an opportunity.

    Bit of a long way to come from Colchester/London to Cardiff, but I hope you get it off the ground and it spreads East. 🙂

    • A thought on Alex’s comment – it doesn’t need to (always) be face to face does it? If distance is an object, how about videoconferencing/teleconferencing/skype/just phone?

      Neil – great idea – would love a mentor, and am stuck as to who to ask. Has got to be someone with the experience and also with whom there is rapport. How do you pair people up who don’t have anyone in mind?

      • no it doesn’t – but in my experience most value comes from face to face. That said – if you make the right connection then follow ups on the phone or on video chats can still be very worthwhile.

        However for a great mentor then I don’t think distance is an issue – it’s just easiest for Neil/whoever to have a local/regional focus initially to prove the concept I guess.

  3. Great stuff. The mentoring idea definitely has legs, but might it be fishing for red herrings if it is necessarily based around pairing people of different ages?

    In general I can see that there are generational issues here – people who grew up with the ubiquitous PC vs those who did not vs those who grew up with the ubiquitous internet.

    So perhaps looking to pair people from different backgrounds might be another way to position it.

    • I think you’re right – age would be a red herring. It’s about proven experience & sector and/or personality fit – so I’d happily take mentoring from someone my junior in age if they had the right experience and track record of success that would allow them to add value to my business evolving.

      Of course that asks the question of what they’d gain from such a pairing – but I’d like to think that if/when I’m in a position of having established a highly successful business then this is something I’d enjoy doing from an altruistic perspective, irrespective of obvious immediate commercial gain.

  4. Hey Neil,

    I think its a great idea. I would love to be matched with a mentor from a completely different industry – I’ve always been quite interested in medicine and engineering.

    I think there is a lot to be gained from their experience and knowledge. There are often suprising cross sector similarities. It may not always necessarily be what they know, but who they know too!

    I guess I hadn’t thought about what I could give in return. I’m sure I’d have something to offer…

  5. One of the most valuable experiences I have ever had as an arts professional was a mentoring relationship last year with a senior executive from a global industry (not in the arts). I think and hope it was mutually beneficial. We struck up a good rapport and found similarities and differences in our work situations which helped me to problem solve, think differently and creatively and manage some very challenging situations. The relationship (which lasted a little under a year and we met around 10 times) has had a lasting impact on me and I would recommend it to anyone. I think the fact that we were from completely different sectors was significant in helping me to explore my working life, attitudes, skills and experience from a completely fresh perspective. The relationship was brokered by Business in the Arts North West.

  6. Great port, and great idea.

    Perhaps extend to beyond entrepreneur to entrepreneur. As a civil servant I make an effort to expand my horizons beyond the grey suit brigade so find your efforts with Ignite, Nocci and Tedx invaluable – thank you. A mentoring could work both ways, us suits can get inspiration from the creative set, and we could give advise on negotiating the traumatic experience of navigating public sector procurement process et… especially important in Wales where so much of the contract work out there is public and will be shrinking for the next few years. I’d sign up for it.

  7. It is a worthwile idea.

    An organisation I used to work with in Ireland ran a few mentoring programmes across a few different themes. This was one general business growth one – – a friend worked on one that was specifically green business mentoring for entrepreneurs.

    We looked into a few different mentoring models for an ecodesign/sustainability programme we ran a few years back in Wales. It boiled down to a more simple version of getting Larger companies to exchange knowledge with SMEs

    Some of the simple lessons were – cross sectoral mentoring can be more fruitful, trust & legitimacy needs to be established, responsibility and process for mediation & brokering needs to be clear/well defined.

    In relation to my area of work I saw recently that the Federation of Small Businesses and Business in the Community are launching a new mentoring network which is spinning out of a wider business network –

    CIPD have some general info on Mentoring

  8. Great idea. No clue who could sort it out though. I’d be up for contributing! Not young as such anymore but certainly creative 🙂

  9. Wow, thanks for all the great feedback and thoughts everyone.

    Obviously mentoring itself is well established but I get the sense that most of us don’t feel its easy to access.

    Secondly, how to identify those mentors who would be keen to learn, as well as benevolently handing down their experience.

    And then how to administrate that pairing process.

    Maybe it’s a simple case of putting up a Gumtree-like page of small ads: “28 year old designer into mountain biking and social media seeks experienced mentor from any sector or industry”?


    Anyone can add, browse, seek, contact etc….

    I think it would be easy to get the younger ones on board, but selling it up to the older ones might be difficult. How is mentoring normally “sold” to established business people who are probably swamped with demands on their time anyway?

  10. I’ve now got a mentor, woop! I had a meeting at Business in Focus about funding and found that I totally clicked with my adviser and she’s going to be my sounding board and general brain-and-wisdom-at-hand from now on.

    I’m lucky to have met her – it was really by chance that we got on so well. That’s me sorted for now… But I still think it’s an important area of discussion with much potential for some kind of formalised system to be set up!

  11. That’s great news, Noreen.

    What have you agreed with your mentor in terms of time etc? And what skills/knowledge of yours are you going to be offering her? 😉

    • Time-wise, we’ve left it pretty open for now, the ownership is on me to get in touch when I want to – either by phone or email or face to face. I will be emailing her ideas for review over the next couple of weeks and am thinking I’ll probably want to meet up in about a month once things have moved forward a bit.

      Now as to what I’m offering in exchange… that’s a tricky one! Especially bearing in mind she’s a full time business adviser. She said she enjoyed the meeting and my enthusiasm and energy and is looking forward to seeing me/my business grow. Hmm I think I’ll have to ponder this one some more!

  12. With the news that Business Link will be no more this is definitely a great idea and thinking first door you should be knocking on is the Welsh Assembly Government – I would challenge you to make it a real life event/initiative to ensure maximum connection between mentors / mentees… you could set up an online site to promote and position/brand it like a dating site – that would be fun 🙂

  13. we’ve got a number of mentors, as arts based service providers we’ve benefitted from them networking us into companies and more inportantly to help us with aspects of our business that we’re not experts at. We have a general mentor who helps us with marketing, a few mentors who help us with finances and legal issues and always ask for help. We’ve managed to get LOTS of business from our mentors as they’re on our side and belive in us…’s definitely a way forward, and we’ve found that unlike the cliche, the more successful the person, often the more they want to pass on their experience. (or maybe thats just becasue we’re nice!!! )

    we know that without their help we wouldn’t be where we are today, and our company growth is mental at the moment and we’re not even 2!

    🙂 Lets chat about it Neil. I reckon we could get a partnership between Nocci and and another Business Networking group like maybe the IOD which might be very beneficual….(all of our mentors are Directors of their own succesful companies and all of them work with us for free!)

  14. I’d be interested in setting something up, if I had the time.

    Having said all that, this post was really to provoke discussion about what mentors can *learn* from the people they’re mentoring, not just to consider the standard mentor-mentee relationship, which is already well documented.

    • Hmm that’s true, sorry for straying from the original point; it looks like mostly potential mentorees have responded. It’s hard for a mentoree to judge what they can offer a mentor, you need to get more feedback from the mentor side of the equation really for a more accurate/insightful evaluation!

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