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Mentoring through the COVID-19 crisis

For those engaged in a mentoring relationship, the current COVID-19 outbreak can provoke a number of questions, not least, should it continue during these challenging times?

The short answer is – ask the question of your mentee! Try to find out how they have been affected as a business and as a person. This may be the first time that they have faced such a crisis and as such, they may be in even greater need of someone to help them navigate the important decisions they may need to make. The support you give them may help to keep a positive mindset, discuss all of the options available to them, talk through the things that scare them and help them to build a more resilient business to face whatever the future holds. 

The one certain thing at the moment is that there is a lack of clarity on what is going to happen with the first lockdown period now continuing with no set date for it to finish. For your mentee, they may have had to close their business and your role here is to help them to be the type of leader they wish to be and to find opportunities to explore for their future business survival.

Start by focusing on the immediate decisions which need to be made – if they have employees, should they be furloughed and what if any of the financial schemes on offer from the Government and other organisations should they consider. The need then switches to reviewing their business model and looking at the ways forward. Help them to think through all the options and not just to panic and act out of a compulsion to do something. Provide a framework in which your mentee can see everything from a balanced perspective.

In order to survive at this time, businesses need to be flexible and adapt their model to the requirements of their customers both current and potential. Help your mentee to flex their product range, change processes and think of new ways achieve sales if the previous methods are no longer viable.

Your mentee may also wish and be able to dedicate time to helping the national effort by providing meals, producing PPE or offering deliveries to those in self isolation – help them to look at the practicalities of doing this.

Underneath all of this work to keep the business afloat, you can develop a safe space for them to release their stress and fear and delve deeper into their personal emotions at this time when they are trying to balance their domestic and business life on a scale not experienced before.

Take time to consider your own emotional resilience during this time. You will not be able to solve their problems, but you can provide a sounding board to help them to work out the best way forward for them. It may prompt you to question your validity as a mentor but rest assured, whatever help you provide, will make a real difference to your mentee. There is also a recognised value in being of service to someone during a crisis to help you re-evaluate your self-awareness and prove your self-worth.

You may need to review your mentoring agreement in light of new ways of working and reset the boundaries around what you can and can’t support your mentee with. You also need to accept that the mentoring relationship may fluctuate in the amount of time your mentee requires of you. Offer support to your mentee and don’t be offended if they don’t take it up. Make the most of your own mentor or business network for your own support as you can’t help anyone if you are feeling overwhelmed by the crisis – however, it is ok to share your experiences and feelings as long as they don’t dominate the discussion.

Be open minded and listen to what your mentee is saying. Question their comments to help them explore the options fully and make sure that you continue the process of follow-up to help them demonstrate progress. Set objectives for the short, medium and long term and make sure that you review them regularly.

As this is an unprecedented situation, there are no hard and fast rules on what to do, but the mentoring relationship can have benefits for both parties. Be realistic in what can be achieved and think back to how you felt when you started out in business. But most importantly, don’t be reluctant to keep the mentoring relationship going as now, more than ever, the mentee needs your support.