We know that one of the top barriers to business growth is leadership development. How can you train and develop the people you have to equip them for the challenges of business growth? And is there a cost-effective way of doing this? This month we were delighted to speak to Gavin Richardson about how mentoring could be the answer to staff development issues and the value it can bring to businesses.
Tell us a bit about the impact mentoring has had on your own career.
Whilst mentoring has become more prevalent in recent times, I’ve had multiple mentors during my career progression. It’s is the quickest way to gather information to enable good decision making. Learning from someone who’s already gained a high level of experience is so valuable, it ensures any pitfalls are mitigated as far as practically possible. At the start of my career I served time as an apprentice and my boss at the time was a great mentor to me, sharing knowledge and guidance which helped me to make the best decisions. We’re still in touch today.
Through my work as a trustee of the Chartered Management Institute I continued to see the value of mentoring and was keen to give something back and that’s why I have joined the North East LEP’s Growth Through Mentoring programme as a mentor myself. I’ve found that being a mentor helps me to reflect on my own working practices and enhances my knowledge, helping me to think differently and reflect on different eventualities, at the same time as helping somebody else.
Continuous development is so important even for seasoned leaders, there is always something to learn! I continue to support the development of new initiatives, sitting on national approval panels and supporting universities with curriculum and programme development.
What kinds of business skills can you learn from other people that you can’t learn from a textbook?
Knowledge that you learn through an MBA can be critical but, as the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know and learning from others’ experience provides another layer of ‘know how’ to inform strategic and business thinking. Mentors can help you to avoid mistakes that might otherwise have a negative effect on a business. Whilst some mistakes are inevitable, only a fool would think they always have the best answer and that everything is black and white - it is not. Wisdom is a valuable asset.
Can mentoring help make someone a better leader?
Without a doubt. Taking the time to reflect and learn from guidance is what separates a great leader from the others.
Why do you think mentoring is especially important to businesses that want to grow and scale?
As a business grows, you’ll face numerous decisions along the way. Having a mentor gives you the opportunity to explore your ideas, you can’t underestimate the value of an experienced sounding board to help you make the right choices and to reflect on the decisions which have been made. Access to this outside knowledge can only help a company’s likelihood of success – the CMI’s ‘Bouncing Back’ research showed that mentoring can be key when it comes to developing resilience in a business. Leading a business, particularly through high growth is very challenging and you won’t get it right every time but an ability to learn, recover and move on swiftly is crucial. A mentor gives you the time and space to think, talk out loud and ultimately helps you to come to a decision and course of action to enable the business to move forward with the benefit of insight.
How should someone prepare for their first mentoring session (as a mentee)?
Go into it with an open mind and know that there is knowledge to be gained whatever your business goal – whether you’re working towards increasing turnover, sales, or expanding the business, you can reach that goal with the help of your mentor’s knowledge and experience. The main thing is to give it a go!