Being a woman in business is exciting and rewarding but it can also be overwhelming. That’s why the best thing I ever did was to invest in a mentor.
I’ve always understood the value of mentoring having been a mentor myself in various forms for twenty years. The first mentoring role I had was in my final year at university. I mentored a female student on the first year of the Aerospace Engineering course we were both reading. A couple of years into my first job as a Flight Test Engineer I began mentoring work experience students and new graduates. Flight Test was a popular choice for budding aerospace engineers. This was as close as you got to being Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis or Tom Hanks, without actually joining the air force. Mentoring them was about encouraging them to stay in engineering whilst making sure they realised that aside from the excitement of working in ‘mission control’, briefing and debriefing pilots and even flying in fast jets, the job was hard work and required a high level of commitment.
Later, when I worked at a University I mentored undergraduate students. After I became a Chartered Engineer I mentored other engineers who were working towards Chartership status and I held an industrial mentoring role supporting engineers and project managers working towards their Masters degree.
The first time I paid to be mentored was in my early 30s. He called himself a Career Mentor but these days he’d probably be called a life coach. At the time I had my own consultancy business which was going well but I knew I wanted to do something different. He helped me clarify what it was I really wanted and after a few sessions I knew my goal, why I wanted to do it and how I was going to go about achieving it. Some five years later I was clutching my Psychology degree in my hand. It was time to hire a mentor again.
And so over the last few years I’ve hired several mentors. One helped me come up with a great business idea. Another, like me, left her professional career to mentor high-achieving women in business and so really understands my needs and those of my high-flying female clients. Another mentor has worked in business for decades and knows pretty much everything there is to know about running a small business.
Seeking out mentors has been invaluable to me. At times I would have been lost without their support. Here are the three reasons I believe every business women should have a mentor:
1. Mentors listen, support and encourage.
Mentors listen with no hidden agenda. They’re either naturally good listeners or have trained to become one. Unlike family and friends who, no matter how well meaning, have a vested interest in what you do and any changes you make, mentors can be objective with their support and encouragement.
2. Mentors will save you time, energy and tears.
Mentors rarely tell you what to do but they will point you in the direction of useful resources and help you negotiate obstacles on on the path they or their clients/mentees have previously trodden. Where discussing work and busines related challenges with family an friends can leave you feeling deflated, after spending time with your mentor you’ll often feel energised and motivated. Unlike the tears of frustration you shed when you struggle on alone, these tears are quickly replaced by affirmative action plans and focus. You may well shed tears with your mentor but they are tears of relief at having found someone that understands the challenges you are facing.
3. You start seeing results.
Of course a mentor won’t do the work for you. Even a good consultant will empower you to be able to continue what they have started after they leave. It’s you that does the work. But with the support of a mentor you’ll see results. You stop going round in circles. The overwhelm melts away and you find yourself making decisions when previously indecisive, taking action when previously stuck and able to take calculated risks when previously paralysed with fear.
Mentoring comes in all shapes and sizes. I’m sure there are people out there who will be quick to point out that mentoring is very different to coaching which in turn is very different to consulting. As a consultant and mentor who has hired coaches I understand this. But in the end the aim is the same. To help you get results you wouldn’t otherwise get. To help you achieve things you wouldn’t otherwise achieve.
The level of hands on support you need will depend on your circumstances. You may need someone to listen. You may need someone to guide. You may need someone to advise. You may find a mentor in your workplace or outside of it. Your mentor may be someone that takes on the role as part of their job or for their own personal and professional development, as I did for many years. Or you might hire a mentor or coach to listen, advise, guide and support you.
Whichever it is, I believe we all need a mentor.
As a brilliant woman in business you reap the rewards but you also shoulder much, if not all, of the responsibility. And no-one can do that all by themselves.
I’d love to hear about your mentoring experiences so please do drop me a comment below.
P.S. If you are feeling like you need to get ‘unstuck’, get more productive or eliminate overwhelm and are fed up of doing it all alone, Power 40 mentoring is a program I have launched for International Women’s Day 2015. For more information click here.