I’m working with a mentor at the moment who is building their business in the creative sector. They are very much at the startup stage and much of our conversation is around building collateral and strategy. The relationship between mentor and mentee is an unusual one in many ways, part formal, part social, part teaching, part learning. One of the questions that i’ve been wrestling with is ‘how much should i get involved‘? Whilst it seems obvious that the answer is ‘not much‘, i find it quite difficult not to get involved in the actual creation of content or, at the very least, editing or offering feedback.
Take the marketing material. We need to create a clear overview of what the business does and then build case studies from this. But what role should i take? We can talk about what needs to be done, i can review and provide feedback on what my mentee writes, or i can pitch in and create some original content myself. Now logically i know that the correct thing to do is the first option, or possibly the second, but it’s hard to understand exactly how mentoring a team differs from actually being in it. Or at least, it’s not hard to understand the difference in theory, but it’s challenging in practice!
Within any mentoring relationship, we are really looking for the mentee to be providing the answers, your role as mentor is to provide the structure to the thought process, with appropriate support and challenge. It’s just that in practice, it can be harder to remember what you should be doing.
It’s a learning relationship for both parties, there is no element of teacher and taught, although there is a clear feeling of an evolving understanding on both sides. There is learning, but it’s not from teacher to pupil. For me, the challenge is often to understand when to stop trying to solve problems and instead provide appropriate structures and support for someone else to solve those problems. Indeed, the challenge can sometimes be to recognise that the solutions are not ones that you would find yourself, because it’s not your business or your actual problem to solve.
Or, to put it another way, i think that one of the things that i’m having to learn more about now is about how to be a better mentor.
Within the mentoring relationship, we are more interested in the way that we come to resolve problems, more than the nature of the actual problem itself: if we learn together about methodologies for problem solving, then they can be applied to a wide range of future problems, giving longer term value.