The role of a business mentor is multi-faceted – working usually with the founder(s) of a business on all its aspects, as they create, then work to achieve, their vision. It’s hard, if not impossible, to separate such a person from the business and so the role requires us to work with the person too, to find out what is holding them back (“blockers”) and enable them to overcome their internal hurdles. Some of the hurdles are huge and it can be hard to cope with them. It’s said that “into every life a little rain must fall” and everyone has, or will have, significant difficulties. Often we choose to ignore them and anaesthetise ourselves with alcohol or drugs. Sometimes we project our issues onto those around us, getting angrier than is justifiable or ascribing negative traits that are not substantiated.
A mentor can help her mentee to fully uncover the problem, in a safe environment where there is mutual trust, and guide the mentee to healthy coping mechanisms. There are several:
- Talking is probably the most important one, which is why therapy is a growing market. When we talk out loud we hear ourselves more clearly and sometimes this alone is enough. There has been more than one occasion when one of the authors has simply listened until the speaker ends with “well I’m glad we sorted that out, let’s move on”. The requirement to put our thoughts into a cogent piece which another can understand enables us to understand it too.
But sometimes it leads to the blockage- “I can’t”, “I don’t know”. A good question to ask at this stage is “But what if you could/did know”. You might expect this question to be dismissed as silly but it often produces a breakthrough (so long as you wait long enough to hear the answer!).
- Mentors, unlike coaches, are also able to empathise and share their own experience of similar situations. The purpose is not to instruct, but to show that problems do eventually get resolved. It gives the mentee information to work with rather than looking only at their own resources. It’s one of the reasons why we believe mentoring will overtake coaching as the preferred method of personal growth.
- Some problems are very specific and not in the domain of a business mentor – alcoholism and drug addiction are two areas where support groups are known to have beneficial effects.
- Physical activities can also help us to cope. Exercising properly is a well-known source of feel-good hormones. Hugging too. And don’t discount crying or even shouting: the release that is felt, often changes our physical state and enables a calmer look at the underlying problem.
- Writing is also highly recommended, especially for those who ned time and space to think before speaking. Write out the problem; or keep a journal that covers your feelings as well as the activities. Then ask why that meeting went badly? Why did you feel threatened when the buyer dismissed the recommendation of his colleague and you had to start from scratch?
- Escapism can also help us. When a firm failed to win a major client they discussed cancelling their away day (to New York!). But it was booked and so they went. The problem seemed so much smaller from three thousand miles away. A weekend in the country may be enough. A favourite movie can also re-assure us that however bad things seem, something will turn up (Pretty Woman anyone?).
- Substances that relax us can also be effective. A glass or two of wine is frequently relied upon and anti-depressants can give us space and time when everything felt so heavy and fogged up. But you don’t need us to tell you to tread carefully down these paths.
These coping strategies may not seem part of the mentor’s role - we’re not doctors, therapists, psychologists nor psychiatrists, whose expert roles may be required. But without the ability to overcome internal barriers as well as the external ones (strategy, teamwork, finance, sales and marketing) progress will be handicapped.
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