Month: August 2020

Mentoring – it’s maybe where the hardest work gets done

Mentoring pic

I’ve had these scribbles lying about on my makeshift desk since early lockdown.  Back in March I was asked by my neighbour Karen McCormick to speak at a webinar for the Inishowen Development Partnership‘s group of community mentors.  Karen & I go way back.  Over 15 years ago when she worked for Business in the Community in Derry I was part of her pool of business mentors.  Fast forward to today & mentoring is a lot more common.  Everyone knows that the trick is to have a mentor but be a mentor too because guess what – mentoring is one of the best learning and personal development opportunities out there and everyone has something to offer to someone else.

Anyway, the push to finally do something with the scribbles came yesterday when I heard Marcella Rudden from Cavan LEO talking about mentoring & coaching on yesterday’s RTE ReIgnite show with Aine Kerr.  So let’s start with the definition of a mentor.  The dictionary says “a trusted counsellor or guide” but in reality it’s usually so much more than this and in a business mentoring relationship, I’d argue that there’s a healthy dollop of networking thrown in.  (I saw an awful new word when I was researching – mentworking – ugh).  And before we start, let’s deal with the constant confusion between coaching and mentoring.  Coaching tends to be more specific and task/goal oriented e.g. teaching someone quite specifically how best to, say, manage a team or learn how to produce a budget.  Coaches are often paid and it’s usually a teacher/student type relationship where the coach knows about the specific topic, is teaching a certain skill and is in charge.

Mentoring is more relationship based, wider in scope and often lasts longer than coaching, although when I think about my own mentoring interactions, some have been as short as a coffee date and others have lasted for decades and still continue on.  Sometimes the relationship stalls but then is reignited again by the mentee at a future date, and for the mentor that can be an interesting experience if they’re open to it and have the availability.  For the longer relationships it takes a while to build up trust at the start because the mentee may feel vulnerable and nervous about sharing their problems and challenges.

It’s also about continous development – so there’s an element of helping the mentee prepare for the future (their future rather than the future of the organisation they may happen to work for at that time) as well as deal better with their current situation.

So these are the things that mentoring isn’t:

  • as we’ve already said, it isn’t coaching or training
  • it isn’t passive & it isn’t a one-way street; it requires both parties to engage, communicate and learn
  • it most certainly isn’t therapy and where it strays over into this territory, it can be hard for the mentor to get the discussions back on track.  It’s ok to touch on personal issues briefly in the overall context of the relationship but you must avoid getting bogged down and this becoming the focus of all you cover or talk about.  If that happens, you should gently steer the mentee towards accessing a different type of more personal support.
  • it isn’t a cure-all – it’s just one of the components of a mix of supports that people need in order to progress and to have more chance of personal and organisational success.

Top 10 Tips for becoming a great Mentor

It wouldn’t be my blog unless there was a top tips section folks!  Here we go:

  1. As you would expect with any (even informal) contractual relationship, set and agree the expectations at the very beginning.  Skip this step at your peril.
  2. Take some time to get to know the person if you don’t already know them and figure out what makes them tick.  Incidentally, this applies both ways.  If you’ve read any of my recent blogs you’ll know I wrote recently about people contacting others for help without ever bothering to find out anything about them except to know that they might be useful.
  3. Realise that each of your mentoring assignments are likely to be different and approach them as such.  Everyone has different styles and ways, different standards, different levels of ambition, different amounts of energy, different regard for timescales and deadlines.  I just counted up the number of people or teams that I’m in mentoring relationships with right now & it’s six with another looser circle further out of probably another ten or maybe more.  The deal is never the same.  Embrace the variety and don’t try to force every interaction to be the same.
  4. Linked to this last point, don’t make assumptions based on other mentoring relationships.  Also don’t make it about you.  Don’t immediately relate situations back to something that has previously happened to you.  Instead ask more questions and dig deeper.
  5. Learn the art of active listening.  There’s loads written about this so go & have a browse and start putting it into practice.
  6. And don’t feel you have to immediately respond or give instant advice or feedback.  It’s ok for you to go off & check something and then come back.
  7. Good mentors are willing to share, when appropriate, mistakes they have made or situations that have tripped them up.
  8. Look for opportunities to share with your mentee.  It could be making introductions for them or including them in an event where they’ve expressed an interest in getting to know more about an area.
  9. Lead by example of course.  This one goes without saying.
  10. Approach each mentoring relationship as though it will last forever.  This is what I do.  The honest truth is that you’ll give better long term guidance if you start off with that mindset.  As you can imagine, this advice is unpopular with anyone who is getting paid for mentoring as their approach has different drivers from people who are doing it for altruistic or personal development interest.

In my working life I’ve had two key mentors.  One I’ve known for 20 years and one for 30 years.  I stay closely in touch with them both still although it’s more of a social thing these days.  Occasionally I will run something past one of them and I’m likely to do that if I have an important decision to make & I want a trusted ear who will appraise the siituation in a less emotional way than I might.

Outside of situations where mentors are allocated to you, finding the right mentor and persuading them to engage with you isn’t always easy.  People will say no because they don’t have the bandwidth or because they don’t think the fit is right.  Take your time choosing and maybe draw up a short list before you start asking and try not to take it personally if they say no.  Strangely it doesn’t have to be someone who works in the same industry as you & often it’s better if they don’t.  As long as they’ve been where you are and can offer the appropriate level of steer & guidance.  I don’t really understand people who mentor others for payment but if you’re going down that route as a mentee then be even more careful who you dance with.  The business world is full of people who aren’t who or what they say they are but the process of finding that out for yourself can be a painful one.

I’ll leave you today with a rather splendid quote from Rosalynn Carter, wife of former US President Jimmy Carter.  “A leader takes people where they want to go; a great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go but ought to be”.  She’s 93 & he’s almost 96 so they must be doing something right.

 

10 sources of joy this working week

Office view

Today’s view from my desk

It’s 21 weeks tomorrow since we cut short our long awaited trip to SXSW & dashed back to Donegal in a hurry from New York City.  Since Monday 16 March I’ve been working in a makeshift office in the porch of our house in Co Donegal.  Ok – it isn’t really an office – it’s a table and a garden chair with a couple of cushions but there’s glass on 3 sides and all day long (since early April when they returned) the house martins swirl around me and I listen to their babies (we’re onto the 3rd batch in all our nests) burbling with delight when the food arrives in.  It’s getting greener in here too as the seeds we planted one desperate weekend in April are now fine big plants.

Map of Greencastle

Where we live

We’re right up near the top of Ireland (yes – some parts of southern Ireland are actually further north than Northern Ireland) on the shores of Lough Foyle near the start of the Wild Atlantic Way.  Anyone who’s been on a zoom call with me since March has probably seen the view from my desk as I always show off the beauty of Donegal when I can, even when it’s raining.

Apart from 3 brief trips across the border to NI we haven’t been anywhere in that time.  I didn’t even have my car for the first 3 months.  It sat in Quigley’s Point where I’d left it in for a service early March.  My old life included a lot of travel.  A lot.

EIC Feb 2020 Jury

EIC Jury Feb 2020

Already in 2020 I’d been in Scotland twice, London many times, Budapest, Vienna, Brussels in February for work at the EU, Ghent (for the magnificent Jan van Eyck 600th year exhibition), Oxford, Galway & the Portershed in the snow in early March, running an Enterprise Week event with Sharon O’Dea, Belfast with Susan Hayes for IoD NI’s annual unmissable International Women’s Day event, on to NYC on 9 March and a whirl of events and parties with Mary Ann Pierce.  Always busy.  Always on the move.  Always with people.Van Eyck

When everything stopped I wondered what I would do.  I wondered if I’d be able to work.  I really didn’t know how to figure anything out.  The basis of all that I do had shifted.  Other people have written about lockdown far more eloquently than I ever could so I won’t go on.

Sharon and me Galway

Sharon O’Dea & me in Galway 2 March

But this morning, almost 5 months on, I spent a few minutes reflecting on what an enjoyable and productive working week I’ve just had.  These are the 10 work related things that have brought me joy in the past week:

  1. I started mentoring a new team through the Oxford Foundry. I’ve done loads of zoom mentoring right through lockdown.  I started off by offering my time back in March via Pauline Logan at the Dublin City Women in Business Network to women whose businesses had disappeared overnight and who were trying to figure out what their pivot was and it’s grown from there.  Mentoring is such an enriching two-way process and zoom makes it so easy and efficient.  Jump in & give it a go if you haven’t already.  Everyone has something to offer and something to learn.
  2. I caught up with 4 of my American friends and colleagues in this past week (Brian McMahon, Kelly Hoey, Marc Ventresca and Mary Ann Pierce). I set aside time for a proper chat with each of them and was grateful for the time they spent with me and the news and ideas we exchanged.  From time to time I think back over the conversations we had and it makes me happy.  Friendship and time spent with friends is precious.
  3. I reconnected with Limerick sisters Perry and Jacqui Meskell, Huggnote co-founders
    Limerick Fireside Chat

    Fireside chat in May 2017 with Pat Carroll in the Bank of Ireland

    and we had a great call. Thanks John Collins for the nudge.  Perry and Jacqui’s energy and enthusiasm for their startup is completely infectious and I’ve been sending people Huggs ever since.  Try it – you’ll love it too.  It’s great to circle back & reconnect with people.

  4. I joined Northwell Health’s amazing star studded Constellation Forum event in New York City #TCF20 (thanks to Mary Rodgers for the invite) and was blown away by listening to Stryker CEO Kevin Lobo. He talked first about some of the benefits that have accrued to his company’s teams as a result of lockdown but what really impressed me was what Kevin said about Stryker’s approach to Diversity and Inclusion.  I am paraphrasing but the basic premise is that diversity focused recruitment campaigns attract great people but when they find there’s no real inclusion in place in the organisation they quite rightly become disillusioned and move on.  At Stryker they’ve developed an internal grass roots initiative called “Think Twice”.  You can’t be responsible for your first thought but you can be responsible for your second thought and your first action.  You can consider and make your first action more thoughtful and inclusive.  I was on a panel with Sheree Atcheson earlier this year where I heard her refer to unconscious bias as unchecked bias and this ties in well with that train of thought.  Go Kevin.  There aren’t many people these days that I would willingly work for but I would come & work for you!

    Imperial Enterprise Lab

    Imperial Summer Accelerator

  5. I participated in Imperial Enterprise Lab’s Summer Accelerator as a mentor. This week we saw the progress our 7 teams had made in the 4 weeks since we last met and it was inspiring to be part of.  Thanks to Euan Bell for organising.
  6. The new venture Awaken Hub that a few of us started during lockdown is really gaining momentum. We already have lots of people engaging with us and our next event which is happening Mon 10 August is more or less sold out.  Looking forward to the conversation on Monday evening and can’t wait to hear from our speakers.  Thanks to Mary Carty, Sinead Crowley and Clare McGee for being co-founders with me.  We think this is the start of something amazing for women founders in Ireland north and south and beyond.  Join us awakenhub.com
  7. I got a call from a friend asking me if I would be interested in joining his newco Board as a non exec. I’ve been appraising my various Board roles over the summer and have decided to step down and move on from a few and make room for new blood but also give myself something new to get involved with.  This call came as a nice surprise because I hadn’t actually announced that I was looking for new challenges.  Shout me if you’re in the market for new non execs.
  8. I was on the panel at this week’s Derry Chamber webinar. Our topic was Building
    Chamber webinar

    Derry Chamber webinar

    Your Digital Business.  It was a lot of fun and the audience posed us some lively questions.  Great to meet the new Chamber team and to have a chance to catch up with Sharron McCormick of With Love Recipes and to hear how she’s getting on.

  9. I conducted an experiment and introduced two of the founding teams I’m mentoring to each other. One team has bags of experience & is working on a new innovation, one team is newish graduates with tons of ideas.  It was like lighting a fuse.  Now I am waiting to see what emerges.  Professor Ventresca that I mentioned earlier in this blog once observed that I’m building a guild with my investee portfolio.  I find it’s good to have collaboration at the heart of most of the things that I do.
  10. Last but not least I had a brand new investment close this week as part of an angel syndicate. Angel investing is certainly not dead.  I have a couple of others in the pipeline too.  I’m sure that the founding team will be having a great weekend as it’s been a stressful enough time to raise money.

There.  They were my 10 sources of joy.  Writing them down has reminded me what a varied, privileged and interesting life I’m lucky enough to have in this very uncertain world we live in.

 

How to avoid the “waste of time” introductions … do your homework

NetworkingLast week I gave an in depth interview to a couple of guys who are writing a book about entrepreneurship and investment.  They asked me a lot of questions about my own angel investment process and especially how I go about first identifying and then deciding which companies I am going to invest in.

This got me thinking about the sorts of interactions I have with founders and entrepreneurs generally and the ways in which people end up at my (these days) virtual door.

Anyone who knows me well will have heard my own views about LinkedIn.  I used to use it exclusively for people that I had actually met in real life and had a conversation with.  In a nutshell I would describe my LinkedIn network as being people I could lift the phone to and ring if I needed something or people I would answer the phone to if they rang me.  I’ve relaxed the rules somewhat during COVID to include people that I’ve had meaningful online video conversations with.  I just counted them up there.  Since returning from New York City in a terrible hurry on 14/15 March I’ve added 154 people to my LinkedIn network.  Between 7 & 8 new contacts a week.  I’d be interested to hear how that level of connections growth compares to other people in my network?  Like everyone else I get loads of connection requests every day from people I don’t know or haven’t met and I ignore these 99% of the time.  Occasionally someone writes a covering note that’s interesting or engaging enough to catch my attention and when that happens I may reply … but I still don’t connect.  My reason is quite simple.  I’m not selling anything and therefore having 10k LinkedIn connections that I don’t know isn’t of any interest or value to me personally.  I understand why other people build those types of networks but it isn’t for me.  That’s what I use Twitter for.

So when I look at that list of 154 “new” people they are an eclectic mix of other entrepreneurs and founders, investors, civil servants and people who work in some capacity for the EU, academics and postdocs plus a few random interesting people.  The lion’s share of them have come to me by way of introduction from a mutual 3rd party.  Again, I’d be fascinated to hear how this compares to other people in my network in terms of how their networks grows.  In more depth, when I look at this week’s 8 people, 4 were introduced to me by people in my close network, 3 were people I met at online events this week (one at University of Oxford, one at Imperial Ventures and one at my local Chamber of Commerce) and one is indeed one of those rare randomers – someone who attended an event I had hosted a few weeks ago and then wrote to me cold and I liked her enough to have a call with her and then we connected.

I’m getting to the point of this blog in my own roundabout way.

About half of the 154 people I’ve connected with since March I would class as people that I have met and liked who are interesting to be linked with and we will enjoy reading about each others progress and content but we have no immediate identified need from each other.  We connected because it’s just part of collecting people and who knows – maybe something will come up in the future.  But the other half … they are people that someone has connected me to with a specific purpose and it’s these people that I’d like to discuss today.

Specific introductions come to me in several ways.  Some come from my own close network and happen without the need to do that double intro dance.  Someone has asked a person in my network for an introduction to me for a specific reason and my contact has qualified that person’s interest and then either made the introduction or said no.  They haven’t asked me first if it’s ok because we know each other well enough that we don’t need to do that.  You will all recognise this in your own networks.  The people you know well and who know you well and know what you’re interested in and how much time you have available to have conversations with strangers and also your own appetite for doing that.  These introductions are always super interesting.  Similarly I will sometimes ask people in that same close network to introduce me to one of their contacts as there’s something specific I want to ask them about or an idea I have that I’d like to float past them.

Other introductions come from people in the next circle outside that close network.  They usually ask first if it’s ok to make an intro for X and they sometimes give me brief background as to what it’s about and what X wants or needs.  I also frequently do this for other people who ask for introductions to people in my network.

This is the introduction that can go spectacularly wrong and I have a great example of that from last month and that’s what this blog today is about.  The waste of time introductions.  Someone had asked me if it would be ok to introduce her friend to me.  Her friend is starting a tech platform business as a first time and solo entrepreneur and she needs help on many different fronts including but not limited to access to talent, access to finance, advice about outsourcing tech development, hints and tips about what her immediate priorities are and a lot more besides.  All of which I could have given her pointers on and would have been happy to do.  She even needs to create a significant amount of online elearning content.  Something that I know more about than I care to.

Unfortunately she did no homework in advance of our call and had not thought about the purpose of our 30 minutes.  Instead she used it as a one way diatribe opportunity to ramble to me about her plans, name drop people I’ve never heard of and she asked me no questions.  I’m guessing she followed up on the introduction to me because her friend had gone out of her way to make it but she used our time together very badly and I quickly realised she didn’t know anything about me or what I do or have done.  I stopped her 15 minutes in and asked her what she needed from me or what the purpose of the call was.  She didn’t know.  She didn’t know that I’m an investor who specifically invests in women leading early stage tech startups and she didn’t know that I’d built and sold an online learning business.  But this blog isn’t about blowing my own trumpet.  At the end of the day this doesn’t matter that much to me.  Sure – I was a bit put out by having 30 minutes of my morning wasted … and I’ll ask a lot more questions the next time that particular person tries to have me take a call from someone she knows again.

The person who really missed out here was the wannabe entrepreneur.  All the people in that chain wanted to help her but through her own lack of preparation she has ended up no further ahead.  She has destroyed her friend’s reputational capital and alerted me for what it’s worth to the fact that she’s a scatterbrain.  I did gently say to her that she would get more out of calls with people if she had done some preparation but she told me … wait for it … that she hadn’t had time !!!  Oh my.  I’m not even going there.

So this is what I do on the odd occasion when I ask for an introduction to someone.  I’ve already done my homework on the person before I ask for an intro.  If it’s more oblique and someone initiates a connection by suggesting they will intro me to so and so, then I usually say let me come back to you & I go and do some homework on the person.  I tell the intermediary what it’s about & they either ask the person if they’ll take the intro or they go ahead and introduce us by email.  I then send the person a brief note in advance to tell them what I’d like to talk to them about.  I do this so that they can think about it in advance.  If I’ve never met you but we have a call next week & you’ve already told me what it’s about then I can be thinking about that from time to time between now & then.  Otherwise our time goes on you telling me what you want to talk about.  I then have the call.  I join promptly and am very mindful of not taking up more than the allotted time.  I follow up straight away and I am grateful for anything that the person does for me.  At the end of the call I ask them if there’s anything I can do for them.

The no prep or badly prepped scenario applies in so many instances from sales calls right through to investment pitches.  Don’t be that person.