It may sound strange but mentoring relationships should be viewed as similar to romantic relationships. If you are willing to put the work in, you reap huge rewards, but if you can’t keep the magic alive, things can quickly fall apart.
It sounds easy, but how exactly do you do this? How do you keep the relationship fresh?
The value of mentoring
Over half of new businesses fail within their first five years in the UK – and in developing or troubled economies like Zimbabwe, this rate is often much higher. Having a mentor can increase an entrepreneurs’ chances of success, as much as 83 per cent. The benefits aren’t just for the mentee either with most mentors saying they get just as much, if not more, out of the relationship than their mentee.
While finding the right mentor is one hurdle, the real journey begins once you’ve found a good match. A mentoring relationship can be difficult and sometimes the relationship can lose its spark and disintegrate. Common reasons for this are lack of time on one or both sides, a lack of flexibility, poor communication and lack of honesty and openness.
The good news is that there is plenty that can be done to make sure a partnership succeeds and achieves great results for both parties. Virgin Unite for example, is supporting mentoring programme PROWEB, which works with female entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe. Having created 60 mentoring relationships over the last six months, we posed this question to the women’s empowerment network: how do you ensure a mentoring relationship flourishes?
1. Find common ground
Hopefully if you‘ve been matched with a mentor, there’ll be things that you have in common that you’re working together on. However, to make things really fly, it’s a good idea to try and find a common interest that’s not directly related to your work.
“I think a mentorship relationship is also kept alive if you have common interests, and both the mentor and the mentee are open to sharing their experiences,” says Emily Maposa, an entrepreneur currently being supported by the PROWEB programme. Her mentor, Susan Makore agrees, “Find areas of interest that may not be work related. It may be something like sport or music which means that you can connect on a different level.”
2. Honesty is the best policy
One of the pillars of successful mentoring is honesty, and it’s really important in order to allow your mentor to help you solve the challenges you’re facing. Equally, from the mentor’s side, it’s important to share your true experiences with your mentee if you’re going to help them to succeed.
“If you’re honest and willing to learn, you can really gain a lot from the relationship. The value is in sharing experiences and being able to be yourself and learn from your mentor. If your business is having problems, you should be honest about it to give your mentor the best chance of helping you,” says Busi Marandure, another mentee on the PROWEB programme.
Gail Mawocha, a mentor on the programme, highlights the importance of sharing what else might be going on in your life if it could impact your partnership, “Be honest about any challenges you may be facing and keep the mentee up to date with anything that may affect the mentoring relationship.”
3. Make the time
Entrepreneurs are very busy people and mentoring partnerships often fall apart because one or both parties can’t devote enough time to meet up.
The PROWEB mentors and entrepreneurs recommend being both organised and flexible in order to ensure that you are both able to make the time to meet.
“We agree when we will meet in advance and mostly we meet first thing in the morning. Usually, if you schedule later on during the day it can be disturbed by other activities,” says Emily.
Sometimes life does get in the way and it just won’t be possible to meet up, so it’s important to be flexible in your approach. Gail emphasised working around each others’ schedules and suggests that “where a meeting is not possible we communicate via email or WhatsApp to keep in touch.”
4. Create the right atmosphere
It’s important that you both look forward to your meetings, and enjoy them while they are happening. If meeting with your mentor is something you get excited about each month, you know that you will probably both want to keep the appointment.
Gay Wilde, another of the mentors on the PROWEB programme told us, “I was always happy and excited to see my mentee. It’s very important to be relaxed, interested in what your mentee has to say and understand where they are coming from, as they want to learn from you and are most probably a bit nervous. Just sit down, chill, and talk things through.”
5. Share opportunities
Remember, mentoring is not a one way street - Far from it. In fact, mentoring should be a mutually beneficial relationship and a forum for shared, ongoing learning. As much as your mentor may be giving you opportunities for development, you should try where possible to give your mentor opportunities too. Busi says, “Give each other business opportunities. I'm always on the lookout for ways to help my mentor so that I can give back to her. She's given me so much and I want to give her a piece of the value she's given me.”
Finally, both mentors and mentees were keen to highlight the importance of friendship as part of a mentoring relationship. It’s important to respect your mentoring relationship and understand that it’s a lifelong friendship opportunity.
- Have you had a great mentoring relationship? Tell us about it and share your top tips for making it a success below.
- Help us help more programmes such as PROWEB by donating here.