At our last Professional Consultants Association meeting, John Hunt, one of our members, led us through a roundtable discussion on the topic of mentoring. It was an interesting topic and quite a few of our members had the opportunity to share their thoughts on it.

John began the conversation by talking about his personal board of directors. This is his list of 10 people, including his father, who he goes to when he needs either advice or someone to run a few ideas through. It's a great concept because most consultants work on their own and, except for groups like PCA, don't always have people who they can talk to about business issues. Unlike working at a traditional job, there is no water cooler moment. A few members thought this was a pretty good idea.

One of our members talked about being mentored on the art of sales via recommendation by David Sandler, the creator of the Sandler System, and how it's helped his business throughout the years. Another member talked about trouble he had in getting other consultants to talk to him, even though none of them were in the same business he was, and how he now steps into the mentor role for anyone who's new to the concept of working for themselves, offering any advice he can locally for the cost of a lunch or having a phone or video conference conversation for those who don't live in the area.

The intriguing thing about mentoring is how varied it can be depending on the person mentoring, the person accepting, and the type of mentoring that's needed. It can be viewed in this ways:

* Mentoring can be specific to the business a person is in. If someone with experience doesn't mind giving advice on how things should go, without being worried about competition, that can be very beneficial to an open mind.

* Mentoring can be more general, such as the types of things a person newly self employed might need to think about and should be ready to ignore; after all, many new consultants come into the practice needing to learn how to drop a lot of habits they partook of at their last job.

* Mentoring can be culture changing. For instance, if it's a company full of consultants, making the decision to not only diversify but groom women and minorities so they will be taken seriously when promotion time comes around is an important step towards equality and fairness. It deomnstrates an acknowledgment that a diverse company means more ideas from different points of view and the potential for greater company growth.

Mentoring works best when the mentor and mentee also understand when not to cross the line, and how to be specific in needs. Some people chafe at advice on things they feel they already know. Others chafe when they ask a question that's so general that they're not getting what they need.

Finally, consultants sometimes have to think of themselves as mentors when they're working with clients. Often there's training or information that needs to be passed along so the client can succeed when the consultant leaves. If it's a long term contract, there might be a lot of training involved. If a consultant is willing to act more as a mentor than just a teacher, create a bond rather than a separation, it could end up being more beneficial and rewarding on both sides.

What are your thoughts on mentoring or being mentored? Do you have a story about someone you mentored, or someone who gave you some of their time and advice or helped you along the way?

Every once in a while mentees want specific, step by step advice in an effort to copy what the mentor has done. In those instances it's more like a teacher/student relationship, and mentors might be reluctant to spend that kind of time with someone when they have other things to do.


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