women in business

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.

 

New Year #Twinterview with Denise McQuaid

Denise and MaryI haven’t made any resolutions again this New Year but I do always start the fresh year by taking a good look at my own network & figuring out who I haven’t seen for a while & who I need to see over the next 12 months.  See my #100people blog on this topic here.

I’m conscious that I need to write more than I have been doing recently.  2019 was a very busy year for me (and I’m now making excuses … ).  I had a few new important pieces of work kick off early in the year & in addition I calculate that I spent altogether 10 weeks of 2019 in the US & a further 12 weeks in Brussels & Europe.

Twinterviews are such fun that I’ve decided to run a new series of them featuring people from my own business network.  My first of the New Year happened on 8 Jan 2020 & was with my good friend Denise McQuaid.  I met Denise in 2012 when I moved to London for the 3rd time.  Remember that time I went to London for 6 months & stayed for 5 years … Denise and I quickly became firm friends as we share many similar interests.  Anyway, here’s the transcript of what we were musing upon this week:

MM OK everyone (& Denise) – ready to go here with Q1 – This is the first of my new series of 2020 Twinterviews with @DeniseMcQuaid – Denise – do tell us what’s top of your agenda for 2020? #Twinterview

DM Travel! Having bought a house in London in 2019 my travel plans slightly got put on hold. Travel feeds my soul & I have been living vicariously through you, @SusanHayes_ @GimmeACamera – Sri Lanka, Slovenia & Nuremberg on are my hit list! What city would you add to my list Mary?

MM Well – I was in #Nuremberg in 2019 & really loved it so that’s a great choice – Q2 You’ve had a very interesting & global career to date Denise but what’s been your favourite job & what do you hope to be doing 5 years from now?

DM Good question! All my roles have given me something different, but my early publishing days in Boston were by far my most exciting. I love multidisciplinary teams, from sales to creatives, I love joining the dots, people, process & technology that is what really makes me tick.

5 years from now, a question my Dad would ask over Christmas dinner! I think having another global role, using all my international experience & network. Over the past number of years not using my Asian network & experience has made me a little sad given how hard earned it was!

MM I can truly see how that is important – recruiters – take immediate note now!! Q3 Following on from that last question, if you could live and work anywhere in the world Denise, where on earth would you choose?

DM My career is now in its fourth country, but I think the one city that still holds massive appeal is New York. I have a strong network there & I think the speed of NYC would suit me. It’s a city that feeds my curiosity so working there would be a great challenge and opportunity.

MM I like that answer … #NYC would suit me fine too & I’ll be there for a week early March prior to #SXSW20 – Right – Q4 You’re a legendary networker Denise – any top tips for experienced networkers wanting to improve the quality of their own network?

DM For me improving the quality of your network is about making a difference, make sure your network knows it’s we, we, we not me, me, me! And if the answer is no then say no! Don’t compromise your network or yourself & always do what you say you will. And never send blank LinkedIn requests!

MM I hear you on those awful blank #LinkedIn requests Denise – I always ignore those too – Q5 Your article about choosing to remain #childless went viral & created quite a stir a couple of years back.  Was there any fallout – good & bad?

DM The reaction to the article was staggering, it has presented me with some amazing opportunities, to speak more publicly about the topic & to help remove the stigma. The bad side, it highlighted further people who have a very strong unconscious bias about my & others decision.

It made me realise that as we fight for equal rights for women, for education, for a place in the boardroom that against the background of these ‘acceptable’ causes, a woman’s right to choose whether to procreate, or more specifically to choose not to procreate, is questioned.

MM Yeah – that is indeed a challenge that all of us as #womeninbusiness have to bear – Q6 You’re a champion of #diversity … How can others move beyond paying lip service to this important challenge Denise and take small steps to making a real impact?

DM I struggle that we put people into pots & label them, for me the Diversity & Inclusion agenda should focus on divergent perspectives not the label & the one step an organisation can take is to enable different perspectives to be heard to create a safe space where everybody can be themselves.

If you want to have a truly diverse company, you can’t remove the right to offend. We have to be tolerant of all views – the only thing we shouldn’t be tolerant of is people enforcing their views on others.

MM Very true – ok – onto something I was asked myself at a recent @winwomenuk event – Q7 – When you’re recruiting, what are the key qualities that you look for in a person?

DM I always look for curiosity, humility & through the interview I like to understand if the person is teachable and if they are willing to share their skills & knowledge with others. A good sense of humour helps too! A bad hire can destroy a team so easily.

MM Love it Denise – although my answer was different – I look for #kindness as I think delivering that takes a person a long way – curiosity, humility, a sense of humour & teachable are good too – onto Q8 What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever avoided (or ever made)?

DM Not sure I could pick just one! I have made many mistakes and avoided many. The mistakes I have made are when I don’t trust my gut, overthink and in some cases when I am worried about other people and the impact of my choice on them. But my gut is never wrong.

MM Yep – I think a lot (me included) will relate to that answer – it’s sickening when you have that feeling & somehow let something else rule you – onto Q9 – As an Irish person living in London, have you noticed any changes since #EURef & also the recent General Election?

DM YES, very much so. I have spent a lot of time explaining the Irish Border. I felt awkward/grateful I could vote in the referendum & election. I have been subjected to being told to go back to Ireland, that the Irish are no longer welcome. I am hopeful that things will improve.

MM Very sad for the many #irishinbritain – ok – onto something I really struggle with myself – Q10 – How do you choose what to say Yes to & what to say No to?

DM I always think of @TheSineadBurke’s excellent questions from her podcast with the amazing @rizmc.

  1. What’s the purpose?
  2. Does this fill my goals and ambitions?
  3. Does this pay the rent?
  4. Does this give back?
  5. Does this bring other people with me?

This is a real challenge as time is precious. I say yes to time with family & friends as a priority. Then I work on the basis will it feed my soul, will it help someone, what would my dad do! I throw my Dad into my decision making as he always asked the right questions before reacting.

MM I love that Denise – my dad’s been gone for 32 yrs but I can still hear his voice when I “ask” him important questions & need an answer – last one folks for tonight’s #Twinterview – Q11 If I could grant you one single wish to be used on Christmas morning 2020, what would it be?

DM Heard a great quote on a podcast with Heston Blumenthal recently that he saw on a pub wall ‘Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. There was no one there.’ My wish for Christmas 2020 is that I can say I was behind the door & I faced any fear, challenge or opportunity head on.

MM Wow – well that’s a great quote to finish with this evening Denise – thank you for being my first #Twinterview guest of the New Year & thanks to everyone for joining us this evening – @DeniseMcQuaid & I will now turn our attention to any questions you’ve sent us on the hashtag.

DM Thank you for having me Mary, your questions really made me think and it was a great start to the New Year!

Do you love gin? Do you love Donegal? Do you love to support entrepreneurs? Then this one is for YOU!

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Laura Bonner, founder & CEO of the Muff Liquor Co

If you answered yes to all (or indeed any!) of the above questions then this blog is for you.

Laura Bonner is one of my neighbours in rural Inishowen, Co Donegal and she’s about to go live with her crowdfunding investment campaign via the Crowdcube platform on Tuesday 24 September.  If you’ve ever fancied owning a piece of an Irish craft gin company then read on.

I knew Laura’s father long before I knew Laura as the Bonner family company installed our new windows way back when we bought our house in Greencastle 15 years ago.  I then spotted the Muff Liquor Company gin bottles creeping in behind the till in my local Centra in Moville & thought to myself – how on earth are they going to make a cheeky name like that work for their product?!!  Time passed & I was really delighted to find that Laura was joining my Back for Business group in January of this year.  Back for Business is a programme sponsored by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ireland that offers support to people who’ve come home to Ireland from other parts of the world & started a business (check it out if you’re thinking about coming home & have a burning desire to start something – I’ve included the link).

Since January we’ve become firm friends.  I love Laura’s hustle & her generally sunny outlook on life.  She faces every challenge she encounters in business head on & with an air of optimism.  Earlier this week I called up at her Moville HQ to conduct this interview & if I’m honest – to coat-tail (is that even a word? – but if it isn’t you know exactly what I mean don’t you?) on some of the excitement fizzing in the Muff Liquor team around the impending Crowdcube campaign.

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Laura & me at the “bar” in Moville

This is my interview with Laura.  I hope you enjoy the read & even more I hope you’ll believe in & invest in her fabulous company.  You’ll be sorry if you don’t … (By the way, I can confidently predict glorious success this week as when I was in London on Thursday & casually mentioned Muff Gin to a friend of mine, he quickly opened up his What’s App to show me a photo of a bottle of Muff Gin … taken last week at Exeter Rugby Club by the Muff Lickers he’s friendly with 🙂  )

(MM) Tell us briefly your reasons for starting The Muff Liquor Company Laura & give us a bit of background.

(LB) I’ve known since I was 19 that I was going to own The Muff Liquor Company and produce potato vodka. That was always my dream. My Grandad Philip McClenaghan was a potato farmer and he used to make poitin ((MM) if you aren’t Irish & don’t know what this is, follow the link… ) in his barn and I thought there must be a business in this. I went to college and had a solid career which I loved but the feeling in my stomach wouldn’t leave so in 2017 I made the move home and in February 2018 we launched the business with our premium potato based Muff Gin followed by our premium Muff Vodka.

(MM) Do you think it helps to come from a family of entrepreneurs?

(LB) Yes absolutely. I admire my Dad, my brothers and my sister so much. Their determination and work ethic has given me the drive that I have and taught me life

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A bit about Granda McClenaghan

values not only directed at work but that I believe you need in order to succeed.

(MM) Like me you’ve always worked as a woman in a man’s world – do you see that as a drawback or an advantage & tell me why.

(LB) I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t experience certain comments or backlash from a few male peers back in the day but I knew my worth and I always knew their comments were related to their own insecurities. The roles I have had and now have are predominantly male roles but women are being recognised throughout the world as empowering leaders and I predict that trend will continue.

(MM) I’ve met some of your wonderful international team & I know you’re very proud of them.  Why do you think the team & culture is important to get right in a startup?

(LB) I’m an extremely positive person, some say a little too positive but I have to work on that daily. I attract like-minded people and I believe it’s important for everyone in a startup to be on the same page otherwise it won’t work. Starting a business and running a business is difficult but having an amazing team around you helps and I have that. No one got anywhere in life on their own.

(MM) Have you found it difficult to find people for your team and do you place a lot of importance on networking?

Muff 1(LB) No, I’ve been quite lucky. I know in seconds from meeting people if they are for me in work and in my personal life. There have been two occasions where I went against my gut in the last two years and both failed so these days I’ll always listen to myself. I love networking, I love meeting people and I love hearing their stories plus I like to help people so if I can, I will.

(MM) You’ve been quite vocal about how difficult it’s been for you to borrow money from the Irish banks as a new startup.  There’s a bit of a fashion in Ireland (north & south) for banks to position themselves as “friends” to startups.  Do you think they should be more transparent about what they’re really offering?

(LB) Yes, I’ve found it extremely difficult and frustrating. Very disappointing to have institutes that don’t understand our business’s potential as they see us as high risk but if they did their research they would know that the global market has grown rapidly in recent years with the craft spirit market expected to reach USD 80.43 billion globally by 2025 according to the latest report from Grand View Research Inc. It would be great to have Ireland leading this charge as the spirits we as a country are producing are phenomenal.

(MM) Related to that last question, as a Donegal based startup you’re very familiar with the support currently offered by the Irish government.  What more could the government do for rural businesses & especially for Donegal based startups?

(LB) Every new business once established should be contacted by their LEO as by the time I contacted them I was too late to access many of the grants available to Irish startups.

(MM) What advice would you give to anyone else thinking about starting a business in

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This sign in the Muff Liquor HQ made me laugh … a lot!

Donegal?

(LB) I love Donegal, it’s my home. I want to create jobs locally and grow my business here. It’s harder for sure but like anything – if you care enough you’ll make it work. My only advice would be to contact the LEO office before you start and get the startup help offered from the very beginning.

(MM) You’re raising money via the crowdfunding based platform Crowdcube.  Any advice for anyone else going down this route?

(LB) I didn’t want to do it, I felt I should have been supported by our Bank and to have to part with equity at this stage is a hard pill to swallow.  However, it was our only option and so far it’s been great.  I’m looking forward to welcoming our new investors, fans and ambassadors. We’re really enjoying the campaign and the response has been incredible. It’s great to have interest from people who can see our potential and believe in us and know that we’re going to do it!

(MM) How can anyone reading this blog get involved in supporting you via your Crowdcube campaign?

(LB) Our investment opens officially at 9am Tuesday 24 September.  Anyone who’s interested in grabbing a piece of the action & becoming another fan of Muff can pre-register via our website at https://www.themuffliquorcompany.com/invest

(MM) Last one Laura – back to that company name – how did you come up with it & have you had any negative reactions?

Donegal people are used to hearing about Muff village.  Since we started using it for our spirits, the name & its connotations are already raising eyebrows across social media.  I’m confident all that will change after everyone gets a taste of our Muff Gin & becomes a Muff Licker themselves.  The name represents the cheeky identity I wanted for the company but I’m sure it’s the taste of our products that everyone will remember; not the name.

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Laura at her desk – both phones never far away!