By Domenica Di Lieto, founder and CEO of Chinese planning and marketing consultancy, Emerging Communications
I needed help. I was establishing an office in China for the first time, and while I fully understood how it would function in terms of serving clients, I had limited knowledge of local operational company structuring and team dynamics.
I recognised I had weaknesses, and I needed guidance. For women in male environments, it is important to be as informed as possible.
I found non Chinese business leaders working in Shanghai that had faced the same challenges, had been successful in overcoming them, and were prepared to provide the support and advice I needed. One person in particular was enormously helpful, and while no longer a mentor we keep in touch and meet whenever I’m in China. We exchange ideas all the time. I keep learning.
At the same time, I got a mentor to help with wellbeing and stress. I had a fairly good regime in terms of exercise and yoga, but with additional work pressure it helped to get a fresh perspective. It worked.
I have since had a Chinese culture mentor, who is now helping improve my Mandarin. The cultural aspect of people management was particularly useful because the rules of internal corporate communications are not the same in China as in the UK, and in fact, are often different depending on region. Annie was a teacher in China, and is a natural mentor who has helped me significantly, and is now coaching me through higher level Mandarin exams.
I don’t envisage a time when I won’t have a mentor. There is always something to learn, and new challenges to face.
I had to do a lot of homework to find the right people prepared to help. You have got to consider it an investment, and to get value from it the mentor has to be qualified in terms of knowledge and experience, but you also need a certain amount of chemistry. You don’t have to be best friends, but you do need to be on the same wavelength to some degree, and prepared to work around the hours of each other.
If you believe you can benefit from a mentor, but not sure how to start then consider subjects in which are you struggle. Can you find someone who has been there before who is prepared to help? The answer is probably yes. Weaknesses are usually easy to identify – they are the personal things you don’t like doing, or the business things that are the biggest headache.
If you identify a personal weakness then seriously consider finding a mentor that can help with it. The same applies to the business itself.
There is also great benefit in encouraging others in the company to consider mentoring, even those quite junior. Support and advice is usually expected to come from line managers, but time pressure and other factors mean it is not always practical, or effective. Even if internal support does work as it should, lessons can be learned and improvements made by getting an outside perspective.
It is also important to assist others. Pay it back. We all need help on the way. I currently mentor two people that have recently launched start-ups. They don’t have much experience, and providing them with lessons I learned saves them time, stress and money.
I will help others in future. It builds a positive information and support cycle that not only helps individuals, but it helps companies leading to increased employment. If every business leader, or sector expert were to provide support for others who need it, there would be a positive difference in the economy, a benefit to everybody. It is also just a good thing to do.
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