When we put together the Truth About Resilience report earlier in the year, something interesting stood out in our research: 50% of males we spoke to believe that a mentor is a number one priority when developing the skills to be self-reliable, compared to 11% of women. To explore this unexpected finding and why it might be the case, we spoke to Miles Protter, a WA-based expert in mentorship.
A former investment banker, Protter is the founder of both The Values Partnership – a business mentoring and leadership consulting service – and Men’s Business – a not-for-profit organisation designed to teach men to become good mentors both in and beyond the sphere of work and business.
At RedZed, we’re big believers in the importance of mentors for self-starters and the self-employed. And each year, we prove that through our Meet the Master competition, by sending the winner anywhere in the world to meet their small business hero.
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Protter shares our belief that men from all walks of life benefit from having a mentor or a number of mentors to learn from: mentors who can teach them “technical stuff – like ‘here’s how you sell to this kind of client’”; mentors who can challenge them and encourage them to continue on their journey; and mentors who can ask tough questions and make self-starters accountable for their development and growth.
But he also believes that men are going it alone by choice much of the time, and they do so because many see asking for help as a sign of insecurity and weakness. So they never speak up.
This lack of desire to seek help during difficult circumstances is also reflected in some of the other findings of our Truth About Resilience report, as 41% of people we spoke to like to put their heads down and battle through difficult circumstances, and 41% actively seek the challenge of those circumstances.
In fact, only 4% of those we spoke to turn to support networks in times of crisis, while 45% feel their best source of strength comes from within.
When it comes to men and mentors, Protter believes the difficulties for males come from a range of areas. They have no idea what’s available, and they don’t want to look weak or stupid. Many have never had an example in their lives of a kind, good man willing to offer his time. They’re embarrassed to ask someone to help.
And lots of men who could be mentors don’t offer themselves up to others, thinking they’re insufficient or don’t have the expertise to be a mentor. Protter believes many men have no idea of the difference they could make.
He says that our research finding that 50% of “blokes” would like to have a mentor is incredibly interesting, because it’s not something on the radar of a lot of the people he works with. But he’s incredibly happy that we found a large group of men who see it as a priority.
“The guys you’ve found know what they want, they’re going for it, and they need some octane to boost what they’re doing. That can explain the difference, and I’m delighted to hear it,” he says.
Protter believes that good mentors don’t just help others develop skills that work in business, but in life. He thinks mentors can help self-employed men develop strength of character, strong values and a sense of purpose that they alone can struggle to define.
“If you’re an elite athlete you will have that, but how many young men who aren’t elite athletes are encouraged to do that? It’s a real problem when you look at our society,” he says.
And to fix that problem, Protter believes younger men need to reach out for support, and older generations of successful men need to learn how to mentor – they need to understand the years of value and insight they can add to the lives of younger men in business and beyond.
Because it’s all well and good that 50% of men feel they need a mentor, but that breaks down if there aren’t enough mentors out there for men to speak with.
“Many older men don’t get that they’ve got something valuable to offer, and then don’t know what to do with it,” says Protter.
“It stops these guys from reaching out to younger men and saying ‘let’s grab a coffee once a month, and I’ll be a sounding board as you make your way through life’. Sounds easy, right?”
If you’re a bloke in business looking to engage a small business mentor, or are someone with experience to share and are considering being one yourself, there are a range of state government organisations around Australia that are ready to help you:
- Queensland: Business Queensland has a suite of mentoring programs available for small owners and self-starters.
- New South Wales: The WorkCover Mentor Program pairs small business owners with mentoring services and offers a $500 rebate to help them develop workplace health and safety.
- Victoria: The Small Business Mentoring Service provides owners and operators with mentors from a range of industries.
- South Australia: The Business advice services website provides helpful links to mentor support services.
- ACT: Canberra BusinessPoint offers mentoring programs and one-on-one consultations with experts for small business owners.
- Northern Territory: The NT government links small business owners with Small Business Champions who offer support and advice.
- Tasmania: The Tasmanian Government offers two free services aimed at linking small business owners with mentors.
- Western Australia: The Small Business Development Corporation provides a range of information about business incubation, mentoring, networking and support.
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