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8 Secrets Your Business Mentor Won’t Tell You

As business greats like Bill Gates and Colleen Johnston can attest, there are certain things a true mentor can and cannot do for you.

Aaron Agius

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They say no man is an island. A helping hand from an experienced mentor can be valuable for anyone. Still, as someone who’s been on both sides of the mentoring relationship, it’s clear that too many people read more into these arrangements than is actually realistic.

A mentor isn’t a fix-all for the challenges you’re experiencing in your business. Mentors won’t tell you what to do, when to do it or how to move forward. They can, however, can help you reach the same end result on your own. You just have to be willing to commit.

Truly, there are many common misconceptions out there about the mentor-protégé relationship and what you can expect out to get of it. Here are eight secrets your business mentor won’t tell you.

Related: Find a Business Mentor

1. I can’t mentor you because I’m mentoring someone else

Mentoring is supposed to be an intensive, individualised and private experience. If you aren’t getting one-on-one attention, you’ve got a teacher – not a mentor.

Unfortunately, this presents a challenge for both parties. For mentors, it means turning down capable protégés if you’ve already committed to another. And for students, it could mean going to the trouble of identifying the perfect mentor only to be turned down for scheduling reasons – which may or may not be explained to you.

Don’t push it. The goal of a mentoring relationship is progress, and that’s only possible if the guidance is individualised.

There is a mentor or protégé out there for you, but you’ve got to wait for the timing to be right.

2. I’m not your coach

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A business coach works with someone who has the necessary skills and ability to succeed but needs help discovering it themselves. A mentor goes beyond that role by helping you develop the skills and knowledge you need to succeed.

Chief financial officer of TD Bank Group Colleen Johnston explains how her mentor, Ed Clark, filled this role:

“He understands the complexity of finance-related issues and provides excellent coaching in communicating that message to stakeholders,” she says. “He’s always been very helpful [in assisting me] to think through some of those types of conversations with key business partners.”

3. I can be your friend

More often than not, good mentor-protégé relationships begin as friendships.

A mentor doesn’t have to come from a formal program or from the upper ranks of the company. Really, anyone who has wisdom and guidance they’re willing to impart on you, including an experienced coworker, can be a valuable mentor.

Related: Can you help me find a business mentor?

4. I’m not your consultant

A consultant is someone who has specific knowledge, expertise and tools they will use to help improve your business – but this kind of relationship doesn’t actually involve any learning or improving on your part. Mentors should not be fixing your problems for you – they should be teaching you how to fix them yourself.

Bill Gates once spoke about mentor Warren Buffett, admiring his “desire to teach things that are complex and put them in a simple form, so that people can understand and get the benefit of all his experience.”

5. I don’t have time for you

time-management

Unfortunately, it is possible to find yourself in a mentoring relationship that isn’t beneficial.

Remember, most successful businesspeople are very busy, so if they don’t have time to really guide you, the relationship won’t be worth your time either.

If your mentor has some sort of ulterior motive for mentoring, such as a company mandate, then they might not genuinely believe in your ability to succeed. And if that’s true? They aren’t equipped to help guide you to the success you’re looking for.

6. I don’t have to be your only mentor

It’s a common misconception that a protégé can only focus on absorbing the wisdom of one mentor at a time. In reality, different mentors have different skills and strengths that can help you succeed in both business and life.

Take Michael Lee-Chin, a successful philanthropist and businessman, who names Warren Buffet as his business mentor and his mother Hyacinth Gloria Chen as his life mentor.

Related: 5 Business Lessons From Billionaire Mentors

7. I’m not going to lead you…

A leader tells you which direction to go without necessarily telling you why. A good mentor is more like a guide – someone who teaches you the path while helping you along it.

A mentor is supposed to help you grow and learn from your business experience and theirs. If they just gave you all the answers, what would you learn from the experience?

8. …But I will advocate for you

Good mentors go on to become advocates or champions for your success. They truly believe in your potential, and may go to extraordinary efforts to promote your skills and value to the others who will help you succeed.

A good mentor encourages a protégé to “have the courage to stick with a tough job,” which is exactly the advice AG Lafley, chairman and CEO of Procter and Gamble, received from his mentor.

Mentor-protégé relationships are far from limitless, but if both parties are in it for the right reasons, then they can accomplish a lot together. I’m a big fan of inspirational business quotes, and one of my very favourites comes from Tom Kelly of Ideo: “Fail often so you can succeed sooner.”

Related: How To Find A Strong Mentor To Guide You To Business Success

A good mentor may be able to help you avoid some failures altogether. But more often than not, they’ll be there to encourage and help you through your mistakes – taking you and your business to new heights you’ve never before dreamed of.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Aaron Agius is an experienced search, content and social marketer. He has worked with IBM, Ford, LG, Unilever and many more of the world's largest and most recognized brands, to grow their revenue. See more from Agius at Louder Online.

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Strategy

6 Questions You Should Be Asking When Coaching

Top athletes have coaches because they’re winners. Business leaders should be the same.

Nadine Todd

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Dr Marshall Goldsmith

Whether you’re a CEO looking for a mentor, coaching your management team, or structuring a coaching programme for your managers to implement, there are six questions that can help anyone get better at anything.

The expert

Dr Marshall Goldsmith is a best-selling author and world-renowned business educator and coach. He has coached top CEOs, including Alan Mulally, former President and CEO of Ford Motor Company.

The key to a successful coaching programme is simple dialogue and establishing responsibility. The person being coached must understand and agree that success lies in their hands. They must take responsibility for their actions.

Related: How Business Coaching Can Help You Achieve Your Goals

The method

Once every few months, have a direct coaching session. Ask (or answer for yourself) these six questions:

  1. Where are we going?
  2. Where are you going?
  3. What are you doing well?
  4. Do you have suggestions for my improvement?
  5. How can I help you?
  6. So you have suggestions for me?

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Strategy

4 Ways To Develop The Leaders You’ll Need In The Future

One of the most challenging aspects of leadership development is consistently and effectively identifying the next wave of leaders.

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One of the most challenging aspects of leadership development is consistently and effectively identifying the next wave of leaders.

It can be easy for those at the top to forget that eventually someone will have to take their place at the helm. And ignoring that fact has lead to issues with succession planning, unwanted turnover and other challenges in leadership development in many organisations.

2016 High Impact Leadership research from Bersin by Deloitte asked 2,422 HR and business leaders from around the world how well they believed they could discover new leadership talent. Just 35 percent of respondents said they were above average when it came to successfully identifying and developing leaders.

To understand why this is, consider the typical leadership development paradox. Traditionally, the first step is to choose who has leadership potential, then develop their skillset. Logically, however, this makes little sense.

How is it possible to identify effective leaders if employees have yet to receive any type of leadership development?

Here are four ways to properly identify better qualified candidates for leadership positions:

1Stop choosing potential leaders based on unrelated skills

Gallup’s 2015 State of the American Manager Report, which studied 2.5 million manager-led teams in 195 countries, found that the top two reasons employees are promoted to management positions are because they were successful in a non-managerial role or because of their tenure with the company. Neither of those criteria have any proven correlation with leadership skills or relevant experience.

Create a better means of measuring for true leadership potential. Look at the culture of the organisation and envision what it would look like for someone to lead by those values.

Also consider how successful leaders evolved over time in the organisation. Then use that information to make a list of recognisable traits to look for as signs of leadership potential.

2Broaden leadership development to more employees

People learn and grow at their own unique pace. Requiring that an employee reach a certain position or be with the company for a certain number of years before they’re offered leadership opportunities holds back those who might be ready for more responsibility now. Or even worse, it might push those who aren’t yet ready into leadership roles.

Instead, let leadership development be a company-wide initiative. This gives more people the chance to take the next step in their career. It also creates a larger pool of possible great leaders to draw from across the organisation.

3Track progress and growth

Track progress and growth

There’s no way of knowing who is ready to step up and lead unless development is monitored. Remember that this is a process. Employees need feedback from their mentors and coaches to know for certain what skills they’ve mastered as well as where there can still be improvements made.

Develop a way to assess progress for different leadership positions, and be clear with employees and coaches about what success would look like in different situations. For instance, explain what is expected of a first time project leader.

Get everyone on the same page about the developing leader’s responsibilities and how that should guide their team.

Then collect thorough feedback from all those involved. Ask the leadership candidate what challenges they faced as well as where they think they thrived. Pose the same questions to those they supervised and organisational mentors.

Over time, this will reveal patterns that make it easier to identify who is best suited for leadership in the long-term.

4Focus on continual leadership development

There is no such thing as too much experience. There is always more that can be learned. After leadership candidates have been identified, continue to nurture them. This keeps employees from feeling that they have plateaued, which is unfortunately common.

The 2014 Insigniam Middle Management Survey: Middle Management’s Critical Role In Saving Company Innovation looked at responses from 200 middle managers from around the world. It found that only 15 percent of managers believe they will ever be promoted to the next level of leadership at their company.

Whether intentionally or not, employees who have proven their leadership abilities are being told that their leadership journey is over – and this hurts both them and the organisation. Encourage a steady stream of highly trained and skilled leaders working their way up by demonstrating that there is no end to development.

In order to clearly see who the next wave of leaders is going to be, employees need to be given the chance to hone and exercise their skills.

That means redefining how leadership potential is identified and providing each employee with the chance to develop personally and professionally.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Strategy

Have You (Really) Put Your Business To The Test?

You should constantly test things in your business to see if they’re working. In that direction lies success.

Nicholas Haralambous

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There’s a pretty famous saying that people in business like to use: Always be closing, or ABC. It’s a very sales-driven concept that suggests that whatever you do, you should always be closing a sale.

I used to like that way of thinking: Drive your pipeline growth, work on the numbers and push the sales as hard as you can all the time.

That approach definitely works for certain types of businesses, but after a while it can be soul destroying work that leaves a business a bit hollow. So over the past few years I’ve been working on a tweaked methodology.

I call this method of building and selling: Always be testing or ABT.

Related: 3 Sure Fire Ways To Improve Efficiency And Find Your Business’s Productivity Sweet Spot

The concept is simple. You should constantly be testing things in your business to see if they’re working. If they are working, great, you can then start testing how to improve them. If they’re not working, you find out and can start testing fixes for the problem.

This applies to your team, your product, your day-to-day strategy for selling, customer acquisition and anything else you can think of.

Start testing yourself

The obsession with testing things started in my personal life. I was doing it without realising what I was doing. I started waking up 15 minutes earlier every month and after a while I was spritely and awake by 5:30am and walking my dogs or working while everyone else was asleep.

Then I stopped eating sugar for a while to see if I’d feel better. I did. That didn’t last but I then stopped drinking coffee to see if I’d sleep better. I did. So now I don’t drink caffeine of any kind after 3pm.

I found that I was constantly testing out everything that I did and tweaking my life accordingly. So one day I realised that this model would probably work in my business: Small, frequent tests with specific goals in mind to try to learn something new or verify something old.

Related: How You Can Make Those Sales When Nobody’s Buying (Yes It’s Do-able)

business-reporting-structure

Testing requires reporting

Setting up tests is not difficult. But tracking the results of the test requires preparation. Interestingly, when I moved Nic Harry from a pure e-commerce company into physical retail, I discovered how slow real world retailers have been to use technology to track changes they make in store.

With nicharry.com we have been able to test, tweak and track results for years. I have many tests and lots of data to pour through when I want information about a decision. I can make a change on the homepage and see if it leads to more transactions than the previous homepage tweak. If it works, great, if it doesn’t, I go back to the way it was.

I decided to take this type of thinking into our flagship store by treating each wall and window as a web page. We kept notes of which socks were on which walls and which socks sold better where in the store.

After a few months we had figured out which walls were the hotspots in the store. Then we started to move the socks around and see if we could influence who purchased what just by placing the socks in a different place.

This type of tiny testing environment helps me understand my stores, my team and me products with granular detail. However it wouldn’t be possible if my systems weren’t set up properly to help me track these changes.

Why test something that works?

People often ask me why they should test something that is clearly working. Well, what if one day your product stops selling and you don’t know why? What if your core revenue stream dries up over the course of a few months or years and you haven’t noticed?

Testing helps me to stay in front of my problems. I can think of a stand out example of a company that stopped testing and ended up losing: Blackberry. Do you remember them? I do, but not many people will in a year or two.

Related: 10 Brilliant Responses To The Customer Who Is ‘Just Looking’

It’s also worth remembering Kodak. Kodak was founded in 1888 and thrived for a century, literally. Then it stopped testing in the face of innovation all around the company and from within. In 2012 Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection. The ironic part of the Kodak story is that digital photography killed their business. Why is this ironic? Kodak developed the first digital camera in 1975 but didn’t test it in the market. They were worried it would eat into their existing business.

If only they had tested the product before they dropped it. Tests do not have to be large and complex. Implement systems that allow you to track the changes in your business whether online or offline. Then engage with your team about how they can help you to measure and manage the tests and then start with something small.

Testing for no reason is futile. It’s imperative to know what you’re testing and why. Once you’ve figured out your goals, start testing and never stop.

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