Nigel Mills: The most effective mentors for entrepreneurs are other entrepreneurs

The chairman of the Entrepreneurs Forum in the North East says experience is vital when we nurture our next generation of job creators

Supp Nigel Mills
Supp Nigel Mills

Peer to peer mentorship is a key element of the work of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, and our members tell us they hugely value the opportunity to work with, and be guided by, people they respect for their experience and know-how.

In the world of business, there are those who believe that mentorship can be learned and delivered by people as a career choice, regardless of their level of experience. There are also those who do not believe this makes for the best possible experience and results for the mentee.

I fall into that latter category, and it was heartening to hear this viewpoint voiced recently by Sir John Hall, a man who has been there and done it all in the North East business world.

Sir John was receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Entrepreneurs’ Forum at a ceremony at the Hilton, Gateshead, and his acceptance speech reflected the need for mentors of entrepreneurs to themselves be experienced entrepreneurs who have had their hands dirty, learning and achieving success in business.

An article in a national Sunday newspaper recently gave voice to a number of people who had used mentors who were appointed by organisations backed by the Government.

First, let me say that it is commendable that the Government is looking to support entrepreneurs in this way. However, the feedback given from this limited sample of users was not overwhelmingly positive.

For example, some talked about how their appointed mentor had little experience, less than the mentee, and almost none of being successful in business. While the enthusiasm and willingness of the mentor in question is to be welcomed, one must question the value of the process if the mentee has nothing to learn from the relationship.

In reality, it is one thing to understand the theory of business, but the real experience gained “at the coal face”, so to speak, is the source of the added value that turns an okay, or even a good mentor into a great mentor who will really help an entrepreneur to learn and develop, not only as an individual, but also with their business and ideas.

The concept of an appointed mentor is also one which is divisive. Whenever possible, a mentor should be chosen, with the mentee having the final say. Chemistry is very important.

For those newer entrepreneurs whose networks are not yet developed to the point where a choice is available, there is, perhaps, a place for such an offering. However, organisations which help to build that network and also encourage mentor-mentee relationships, create multi-faceted opportunities for personal and professional development.

It is often the case that a mentee should choose a mentor to whose achievements and standing they can aspire. Here in the North East we are blessed with a large number of entrepreneurs who are not only the type of individuals one would wish to emulate, but who are willing to help others to achieve their goals.

The Entrepreneurs’ Forum encourages such activity through its mentorship programme, and we have seen some encouraging results, members flourishing with the support of their mentors.

This willingness to support peers and younger or newer entrepreneurs within the business community is a trait which not only benefits the individuals, it provides a boost to the regional economy by creating strong organisations and industries.

  • Nigel Mills is chairman of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum


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