Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Stephen Bubb

Q. People tell me I need a mentor, but I'm not convinced. What do I need to do to find out if this is really the case?

A. Often people around us can see our strengths and weaknesses more clearly than we can. If you usually trust these people and if they generally give good counsel, then why shouldn't they do so on this?

Someone offering to mentor or support you will need your full commitment to the process, so you must get your head around it. The chances are that they will be helping you on a voluntary basis, so they will want to feel that you want to help yourself.

If these friends and colleagues are outspoken, why not challenge them to help you answer your doubts. One of them could well be a good person to start supporting you in a mentoring capacity.

Graham Nash, the British singer-songwriter, described his mentor relationship thus: "The relationship with Atlantic Records was always a personal one.

Our friend and mentor, Ahmet Ertegun, was our main contact at Atlantic and our relationship was based on mutual respect."

Friends can be mentors without realising - I know I have become an informal mentor through friendship. Having bright young things simpering for words of wisdom is a curious thing at first.

Don't forget there are many ways of getting support other than mentoring.

Many of Acevo's members look for mentors, but after a conversation it's often clear that their needs are actually more suited to coaching or a peer-learning group.

Mentors often challenge you with unexpected suggestions. Although my staff would be surprised if I told them to do nothing for a while, a mentor might suggest exactly this. Clint Eastwood reminisces: "My old drama coach used to say: 'Don't just do something, stand there.' Gary Cooper wasn't afraid to do nothing."

Do be careful that you get what you need. It might not be wise to seek coaching support on governance from someone with no sector knowledge, for example.

Once you have decided to embrace the idea of external support and challenge, use many routes to find the right person and gain their commitment. Of course, you should build a number of different relationships with several people.

Yo! Sushi's Simon Woodroffe is clearly a prolific coach and mentor. Gerard Greene of Yotel first gained Woodroffe's attention by writing to him after reading about him in a magazine. After Greene sent out many requests for support, Woodroffe was the only one to invite him in for a chat. Use this to motivate you to contact people who inspire you, who you hear speak or meet networking. People respond to genuine pleas for help.

Whatever path you take, listen to those around you and remember that a problem shared is a problem halved.

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to

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