The first time I was asked to mentor a young aspiring person I asked the old-fashioned question: why should I, when no-one had done that for me? But then I thought about the rollercoaster of a ride I had in setting up my businesses and how many times it nearly failed, and I thought – don’t be dumb; we are here to help each other, not let someone potentially fail.
Mentoring doesn’t have to be about making someone as successful as you. The prisoners I have met though the charity Business in the Community – some working in the kitchens at Wormwood Scrubs – often don’t realise that we want them to play a full and active role in life. When I offered one a work placement at my restaurant, you could see a light go on in his mind as he felt valued for the first time. That was really great – not just for him, but also for me. Mentoring is a mutually rewarding experience.
There are pitfalls, though, which you need to look out for. Firstly, don’t get too involved. In your efforts to help someone on their way, you are there to encourage and empower someone rather than necessarily do things for them. Secondly, don’t get personal. Never give your home number or even your mobile. It’s a professional relationship conducted through your office – no socialising or sharing of personal information. Thirdly, be straight. Often people need mentoring because they haven’t been able to make the right choices for themselves, for example ex-offenders. If your mentee says he/she didn’t turn up for a job interview, tell them you’re not impressed. And fourthly, define your expectations. Is the mentee you have assigned been able to convince you that with the right level of encouragement and advice, you can help them realise their goals? If not, say so from the outset.