Some relationships last for many years, perhaps a lifetime. However, most people outgrow their mentor and this is generally a good thing for both people − because when you know, you just know, says Business Growth Hub Mentor Relationship Manager, Chris Travis.
This was just one of the questions raised whilst at the launch of the Tech Manchester mentoring programme as part of an open discussion which involved around a hundred of the region’s business owners and mentors.
When posed with this question, mentors and business owners will often be divided in their opinion. Some believe that the relationship should last no more than three to six months, others believe that mentoring is a long-term process where an individual is supported over a number of years to realise their true potential.
Having spent years mentoring others and being fortunate enough to learn from some incredible mentors myself, I have often pondered at what point the relationship should come to an end. When should the mentor and mentee shake hands and walk away in separate directions into the sunset?
First of all, we need to define mentoring?
Before forming an opinion, it’s important to understand what mentoring is and what’s expected from the relationship?
The Oxford Dictionary defines a mentor as: ‘an experienced and trusted advisor’
The Cambridge Dictionary expands on this a little to define a mentor as: ‘a person who gives a younger or less experienced person help and advice over a period of time’
Neither alludes to a specific time period. Something we should all bear in mind.
All too often I hear a mentor described as ‘a sounding board’ for ideas – which is another equally ambiguous phrase. Although it’s a phrase that does provide a broad understanding of how the conversations may unfold, it doesn’t provide clarity on what a mentor actually does. Which leads to follow-on questions such as what makes a mentor different to a consultant? Is a coach the same thing!?
Where mentoring is concerned there are always two sides to the relationship, something we’re very aware of at the Business Growth Hub.
The role of the mentor differs to that of a consultant or a coach. They are three words that have lost all distinction for a lot of people.
I would explain the difference by saying a consultant has very specific expertise in a particular field where they are relied upon to offer solutions to an existing problem.
A coach has an expertise in coaching as method. Not necessarily expertise in the area or industry in which that person operates but a specialism in how people can implement behavioural change/strategy to achieve a desired result.
The common factor is that both identify solutions and tasks that can deliver improvements in the short-term. They operate in short, predetermined spurts.
Mentoring is about the development and growth of the individual. It’s not driven by a ‘business need’ but rather an ‘individual need’ – the mentee wants to reach a point in their business journey that the mentor has been to before and knows well. The mentor is committed to sharing their knowledge and time freely to help the mentor get to where they want to be. It’s a relationship that’s rooted in real-life experience and depends on trust.
So… back to the original question…
How long should a mentoring relationship last?
As mentioned in the introduction – the opinions and views in answer to the question were divided. Some people feel that as the relationship is based on the development of the mentee, it’s one that can continue for years.
At the moment, I have two mentors at present. One has been supporting me ongoing for the past 11 months. The second has supported me less frequently over the past two months.
(A question for another day is how many mentors should one person have!?)
Others feel that a structured mentor will identify the areas of focus, ask the right questions to reveal direction and answers, set next steps before allowing the mentee to implement those changes. They feel this can be completed effectively over a much shorter period of time.
One time, in the Caribbean...I had to ask!
Whilst on a cruise ship in the Caribbean in April of this year, I sat down with a successful business owner and asked him how he has developed a multiple seven-figure income by the age of 35?
He said: “In business, you have income producing activities. These things that pay; the things that will help your business grow.
Alongside those two or three areas of focus there is an abundance of ‘noise’ – basically, things that keep you busy but not productive; they’re urgent yet not critical.
Successful people ensure that 90% of their time is spent on these income producing activities and nothing else.”
He then followed up with a single statement that will stick with me for the rest of my life. He said: “People are rewarded in public for what they practice in private.”
How long did that conversation last? No more than 20-30 minutes. Yet, the impact on me has been profound.
I personally believe that there is no definitive answer to the question that makes the title of this blog. The duration of the support and the value that is received is often determined by the needs of the mentee and their receptiveness to change. Sometimes a single conversation can change the direction of someone’s life.
Whether three months, six months or six years – the reality is that it doesn’t matter so long as the mentee is impacted upon in a positive way, they develop and grow, and the relationship can be called a success.
Fundamental to the relationship is to outline a clear goal from the very start – so you both have a clear sight of what the mentoring relationship hopes to achieve. Achieving that is the important thing.
Time is relative.