M is for mentor: wise, trusted teachers wanted
We’ve decided to jump ahead in the series because – well, why not? In this chapter of The Social Entrepreneur’s A to Z, Liam Black reflects on the people who have helped him “weather the emotional and personal resilience challenges which come when you take over the hot seat”.
“I am listening for what it is that you love to do. Because that’s what you’ll be best at.” Ronnie Hughes, mentor
What is a mentor? Best definition I’ve come across is: “A wise and trusted counsellor or teacher. An influential senior sponsor or supporter or champion.”
I have been really very fortunate with the mentors who have come into my life. In 1997 I recruited Graham Morris to the board of FRC. He had recently stepped out of a glittering career in the car industry where he had operated at the highest levels, finishing his time as the boss of Rolls Royce and Bentley. He had more business knowledge and commercial acumen in his little finger than I had in my whole body and yet he was able to deploy it and help me learn without condescension or undermining me in my first CEO role.
Ronnie Hughes, with his sandals and beard, could not have been a more different character to Graham! He left social housing to set up as a life coach and social enterprise developer. But he was great for me too, helping me weather the emotional and personal resilience challenges which come when you take over the hot seat. His support and gentle but persistent questioning of my motives and responses was invaluable and helped get me through some very tough times.
I doubt either Graham or Ronnie appreciate the value of the hours we spent talking before FRC board meetings or just walking the streets of Liverpool.
My current adviser/mentor is again a very different sort of person from Graham and Ronnie, much younger than me and operating in an industry I never thought would be so helpful to me.
I have loved mentoring others, mainly younger social entrepreneurs. Sometimes it is about answering questions about business basics. Sometimes they have specific requests for introductions or resources. Sometimes they just want to be listened to about their fears and anxieties. Sometimes we just drink beer.
And how to get a good one? Think about why you need a mentor. Identify one – I got Graham by reading about him in the paper and writing to him. I noticed in the article he wanted to find a way of really helping Liverpool (his home city) so I told him I could help him with that and I needed his commercial nous.
“Mentor: A wise and trusted counsellor or teacher. An influential senior sponsor or supporter or champion”
So, just ask and be clear about what you want and what the commitment looks like. People like Graham are very busy and won’t respond to vague requests. Help them help you by being specific.