Life is filled with problems to solve, lessons to learn and experiences to enjoy. Director of Business Growth Hub, Richard Jeffery, shares his full-circle mentoring journey and discusses the benefits of building trusted peer-to-peer relationships, our interconnectedness and how we can inspire each other.
Arguably one of the most insightful individuals to walk the earth in the last 100 years, Martin Luther King Jnr., once said: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny.”
The power behind his careful choice of words is that they force us to appreciate and consider our interconnectedness – the fortunes of our communities, and their progress, are reliant on the role each and every single one of us has to play.
This thought crossed my mind while I was working for a consultancy where, day in day out, I witnessed clients around the world growing at a time when most UK clients in the sector we were working in were consolidating – in doing so, declining the ripe opportunity to reach their full potential. This didn’t sit well with me, coming from the North of England; a place that I believed had so much more to offer.
Entrepreneurs and businesses needed to change their mentality; to see that if they only thought bigger, looked to innovate and to develop their people, they would achieve growth beyond their expectations.
Mentor: a brain to pick, an ear to listen, a push in the right direction
The etymology of the term ‘Mentor’ can be traced back to Homer’s Odyssey – Mentor being the name of Odysseus’ old and trusted friend, son of Alcimus, who he left in charge of both his palace and son’s education. Now, over three thousand years later, we immortalise his name as the term applied to the sharing of knowledge to a less experienced person.
It’s a priceless tradition – one that follows in the footsteps of fable and storytelling, each contains a learning passed down from generation to generation.
It’s almost profound how we can influence each other. I’ll never forget that throughout my career I’ve been lucky enough to have had a number of people, trusted friends, to call upon for good advice and business insight.
The moments that stay long in the memory are those when someone has invited me to pause for a moment, step back to think about “What I could do, rather than what I think I should do” and really reflect on “What lights me up?”
Sometimes it’s worth not taking the prescribed road, instead digging deep to identify what truly motivates you. And once you’ve discovered what it is that lights you up (a phrase I’ve been using a lot lately), a mentor who understands you can provide the clear direction.
It was an early mentor that helped me realise the broader opportunities in economic development – beyond the textile and fibre industries – that my skillset could be applied to which would help businesses in Greater Manchester grow, even in the height of recession. That our region’s businesses needn’t be on the back foot, waiting to see what others do to succeed.
Soon after, I established the Business Growth Hub as the organisation at the heart of entrepreneurship in Greater Manchester − growing from three people to 150 in little over five years. This would be considered a success in anyone’s book.
But you never stop learning. It’s something I couldn’t stress enough. Even to this day I still depend on the mentors around me to help build my resilience – as there’s always going to be challenges, problems and unfamiliar situations to navigate through. It sounds obvious, but there’s a big difference between managing three people to the numbers we have at the Business Growth Hub today − and when I’m getting bogged down in the everyday detail, they’re able to help lift my gaze to think about the longer-term picture.
It’s always been a vision of mine that every business leader in Greater Manchester should aspire to have a mentor – whether they’re a start-up or a mature business – and will remain so.
Research has shown that businesses that seek support, particularly during the first few years of trading, are more likely to thrive and grow. Clearly a mentor can add hugely to the success of a business, as my own story suggests.
Business mentors are really people with the practical experience and expertise to help business owners make the right choices. A mentor’s role is not to tell people what to do; their role is to share their experience to help explore, question and solve business issues.
Mentoring really is about working with someone who’s been there and done it, knows some of the short cuts and trade secrets and can make the relevant introductions to the right people at the right time.
I can’t begin to describe the pride I have for our team at the Business Growth Hub – including the 180 (and growing) engaged volunteer mentors who are actively working with us – and what they’ve achieved by channelling their professional experiences and professionalism to achieve a common goal.
But don’t mistake it for being something that only benefits the mentee − mentoring is a two-way street. You get out what you put in. If you asked any of our existing mentors, they’d be the first to tell you as much.
Out of my comfort zone
Perhaps there’s a theme developing, somewhat by happenchance, one that promotes the benefits of stepping out of your comfort zone. Something I’ve done myself quite recently.
About six months ago I grew curious about a student mentoring programme I’d spotted at Salford University, where I studied myself once upon a time. It felt like a perfect opportunity to genuinely give back to the community at the point of where my own journey began.
Now you might think, as someone who has mentored businesses for a long time, I’d have no hesitation in signing up. But I tell you, it honestly felt like a scarier option. After all, what do I know about being a student these days?
However, I enquired and was matched with a student on their Human Resource Development and Management course. It’s been such a rewarding experience! I’ve been able to share my experience and all the learnings that have been passed down to me over the years to the next generation, helping the student uncover his own goals and personal values.
The pleasantly surprising outcome is that in the act of doing so, I’ve again asked myself the same questions – and the mentoring cycle comes full circle as I envisage the next point of my personal business journey and how to get there.
A role for us all
Ultimately what I hope for Greater Manchester and beyond is that people, businesses and organisations come to see mentoring as a strategy for the future and approach it as such. Because mentoring – and by natural extension peer-to-peer learning – is, and always will be, the most important way to speed the development of talent. Furthermore, it’s a proven way of ensuring a business’ survival and propelling its growth.