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Business Owners are Like Athletes: A Spotlight on ILM 7 Graduate & ABM Full Member Les Gill


November 3, 2023

Celebrating Business Mentoring: Successful athletes have coaches, and successful business owners have mentors.

In this final spotlight, we speak with ABM Mentor and ILM7 Graduate Les Gill about his mentoring journey and the value mentoring can bring to business owners and senior leadership. Les shares his insights on the ILM7 programme and how he’s planning to keep learning as a mentor.

Image: ABM Full member Les Gill

Les's Mentoring Journey: How Dealing with Failures Made Me a Better Mentor

What led you to becoming a business mentor to begin with?

I instinctively began integrating mentoring and coaching into my leadership approach, even though I didn't label it as such at the time. I came to the realisation that those who receive some level of mentoring or coaching often do much better in their chosen vocation. So, learning more about mentoring was always something at the back of my mind as I was sure it would be of great value to others.  

So, after going through different stages of corporate senior management, I realised that I had conquered quite a few challenges as well as failed many times too. It was dealing with those failures that inspired me to pursue mentoring as a next step. I thought to myself how could I help others overcome their own failures without repeating mine?

Once you’ve decided to pursue mentoring as a profession, what were your next steps to become a professional business mentor?

I got involved in the pre-runner for the Help to Grow Management course, which was my first encounter with the professional approach to business mentoring. From there it was a journey of professionalising my practice and dedicating more time to mentoring others. Slowly, I moved from working as a manager to being a consultant to being a coach and now identifying as myself as a professional coach and a mentor.

Business Owners are like Elite Athletes - They can't do it without the support of their coaches.

How can mentoring bring value to SMEs?

The first step is to get clients to understand the value of mentoring and coaching. If you look at elite athletes, they all have mentors and coaches to succeed. They can't do it without the support of others. So why should business owners consider themselves independent and resilient enough to achieve their goals without the need for coaching and mentoring?!

Having worked at senior levels in companies of various sizes, I found the advantages of having somebody who is a qualified mentor but also has a high level of business experience to be invaluable. As mentors, we can help unpick the tangle of everyday operations, business strategy and business tactics. We can bring clarity and clear vision to support the decision-makers in an organisation.  

I think one of the main elements of mentoring is accountability,  holding clients accountable for their actions, decisions and progress. All whilst creating an environment of trust and confidentiality.

Learn more about the ABM ILM Level 7 Qualification

The ILM7 Programme: Key Takeaways & Learning

What motivated you to pursue the ILM7 programme?

I felt I needed to get my mentoring practice calibrated. Am I doing the right thing? Am I doing enough of the right thing, or do I need to do more of other things that I wasn't aware of?

That’s when I came across the ILM programme. I wasn’t sure which level would be a good fit for me but after speaking with someone at the ABM, I decided to go with the ILM7 qualification. The point wasn’t to get another qualification but rather to teach this old dog new tricks. I wanted to offer more value to my clients and improve the quality of my professional  services.

What were your main takeaways of the ILM7 and how did it help you professionalise your mentoring practice?

The ILM7 really opened my eyes to the broad spectrum of activity that goes into a balanced mentoring practice. I've learned a lot about structuring my mentoring sessions in a more professional way. I was a little bit ad hoc before.

One of my main takeaways was to take better records of the mentoring activity. Thanks to the ILM7 programme, I know have the skills, awareness and tools to structure the front- and back-end processes of my mentoring approach more effectively.  

What are your tips for any prospective students of the ILM7 programme?

Well, first of all, it's not easy. It takes a heck of a lot of dedication – and quite a few books!  

I think my top tip is to work with your fellow students. In our small group, we supported each other throughout the programme, for example by setting internal deadlines and holding each other accountable. It took us a couple of months to fully grasp the value of this commitment. It would have made our lives much easier if we had have implemented some sort of internal system earlier.  

Learn more about the ABM ILM Level 7 Qualification

Keep learning, keep growing, listen more, and talk less.

Now that you've completed the ILM7, what's your plan now going forward to continue your professional development?

I intend to revisit the valuable books I've invested in. Currently, I’m rereading the book "Time to Think" by Nancy Kline. I believe that revisiting these resources is essential to ensure their concepts remain firmly ingrained in my practice.

Also, fostering an ongoing dialogue about mentoring is really important to me. My ILM7 cohort Brenda (Etchells – ABM Full Member) and I have initiated a podcast to spread the message about the value of mentoring but also to keep learning from each other. Even if our podcast doesn't attract a substantial following, it will allow us to have a robust conversation about professional mentoring and coaching.  

I also plan on staying actively involved in the activities of the ABM. I've been invited to a number of the Help to Grow alumni sessions at the business schools locally to me, just to give feedback of what mentoring is like after the Help to Grow programme.  

For me personally, keep reading, keep up to date with what's going on, and never stop challenging the status quo.

As a Full Member of the ABM, it’d be great to hear what motivated you to join? And what do you find the most valuable about your membership with the ABM?

In the beginning, my involvement with the ABM stemmed from a seeking professional development. However, what has sustained my membership in the ABM is my appreciation for the organisation's commitment to elevating professional standards in mentoring. The impact of the "Help to Grow" initiative on the ABM has been nothing short of remarkable. It’s been fantastic to see the waves we are starting to make in the business landscape.  

Ultimately, my reasons for continued engagement in the ABM revolve around the pursuit of professional recognition, and I consider myself an integral part of the wider mentoring network across the country. I find the individuals within this network to be remarkably engaging, highly motivated, and exceptionally qualified. The more advocates we have promoting the merits of mentoring, the better the cause becomes.  

To wrap up, what's next for you on your journey?  

Well, you'll be delighted to know that I’m planning on talking less and listening more. I already talk less than I used to!

I’m currently engaged in advising senior teams from diverse cultural backgrounds, which poses a very stimulating challenge in understanding different thought processes across cultural differences. I’m planning on further pursuing this as it really contributes to my growth in mentoring and coaching. I’m also considering completing supervisory training.

My challenge lies in retaining what I learn, a common struggle as one ages, but my commitment remains steadfast: keep learning, keep growing, listen more, and talk less.

Connect with Les!


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