A thought for September

It is September. Autumn is coming in fast. Already we are pulling the curtains much earlier, the leaves are changing colour and the berries are on the trees and shrubs. The children have packed their bags and are back at school. Sometimes it is a new school or even off to college or university. They are learning how to tackle the unknown and finding new ways of doing things.

And what about you? Did you have a great holiday away from all the demands of work? I hope so. And are you now back at work? Be honest, are you thinking “2017 is two thirds over but I am not two thirds of the way through my objectives”? Are you starting to feel anxious about achieving your targets? It happens to us all.

What is your reaction? Are you reacting? Lots of us flounder. We go on doing what we have always done and expect it to produce different results; of course, it doesn’t; we get more of the same. It is only if we change that we create change.

I want you to confront a big question. You are only as good as you will let yourself be. How much room are you giving yourself to change, develop and grow?

There are many routes to creating that change. However, as a business mentor I want to suggest you look at mentoring. Why?

Recently I was listening to Harriet Harman being interviewed by Peter Hennessey. It was fascinating.

When the Labour Party came into power in 1997 she became Secretary of State for Social Security responsible for 80,000 staff and for processes that impact most of our lives. She did not do well and there was much talk about her being sacked. She said to someone “Tony won’t sack me, he is my friend”. The reply was “No, he is the Prime Minister, that is his job”.

Later she was asked why she did not stand for leader when twice as Deputy Leader she had run the Labour Party whilst it selected a new leader. She said at the time it never occurred to her.

Both are situations where a mentor would have been asking questions and helping her work with the answers, encouraging her to take appropriate action and to stretch herself. We would have seen and helped her explore the possibilities.

So why do I say you are only as good as you will let yourself be? You are the only asset in your business that will appreciate. Everything else starts its obsolescence before you unpack the box. You can improve and grow every day. You have the potential not to be just good but to be great.

In the musical world, theatre and sport we regard it as natural for someone to have on their team a person whose role is performance improvement. This is not yet as widespread in the business world as it should be but listen to the real hotshots and they cite a mentor somewhere in their careers as critical to their development.

What is a mentor’s role?

  • To be objective and tell you the truth. Remember the Emperor’s clothes in the fairy tale?
  • To help you identify opportunities and help you capitalise on them. Then entice you outside your comfort zone to exploit them and let you grow.
  • To help you avoid trouble by helping you identify it and then either avoid it or develop a strategy to get out of the situation with as little damage as possible.
  • To give you confidence and inspire you to try new things, face the things that block you and experiment
  • To help you review your performance and spot where you can improve.
  • To support you through the rough times and celebrate with you when there are successes.

A good mentor really gets you: what motivates you, what your aspirations are and what your constraints are. They get inside your head and you can hear the questions they might ask even when you are not with them!

They are secure in their own skins and so do not need to compete with you. They share their experience and their knowledge of both management and personal skills and help you develop them.  Of course, I think mentors are a good thing because we focus on you and your issues in the real world. However please choose who you work with very carefully.

Chemistry is hugely important. This is a highly personal relationship and if you do not get on at the outset it is unlikely to improve. I offer everyone a strings free blind date in which we can talk for an hour or so and really get a feel for each other. Recently I was incensed when I heard someone offer a 15-minute free phonecall and call it a selection process. That is nowhere near long enough and certainly there should be no question of payment. This is a very important decision on both sides.

Experience is vital. Make sure your possible mentor has run something successfully. It might be a big or a small business but they need to know what it is feels like to have to juggle cashflow and lie awake at 3am worrying about the sales funnel. If they have never had that experience how can they understand what drives you?

What is their approach to the work? We are all very different so ask and ask again until you understand it. Just to give you an idea what I mean let me outline my approach. Having had the blind date and deciding we like each other I start with what is on the client’s mind; that thing that finally brought them to me. Then I work both forwards and backwards until we have looked at the whole business: its history, current trading and the future. We work at the client’s own pace, there is no rush. We identify your goals, the facts and practicalities of the situation, what your options are and what you are prepared to do to reach your goals. Not everyone is prepared to take the obvious route and we may need to create a strategy that fits with your comfort zone.

Any session will focus totally on you and your business but it is not threatening in any way. We talk over coffee. You will know the answers. It will feel positive and exciting.

If you feel threatened, judged or the mentor seems to be taking over your business get away from them quickly. Those behaviours are not ethical.

None of this is original.  Your relationship with yourself is unique. Are you aware of your potential? Are you developing it? Are you challenging yourself to grow? Are you taking the action required to meet your goals? Do you want your legacy to be “s/he was always the best he could be” or “s/he could have been great if only……”?

If this has been interesting, please share it. Think about working with a mentor and please chat with me about what you are hoping to achieve. I might be the right person for you or I can help you find someone who is. In the meantime, life is good; let’s live it to the full and be the best we can be.