“Treat mentees the same way as addicts”: Ivan Massow on mentoring

02 December 2015 -


The finance entrepreneur, activist and former alcoholic offers his advice for mentoring in business

Hannah Baker

Mentoring should be approached in the same way as treatment for addicts going through rehabilitation – without judgment and by allowing people to make mistakes – according to former alcoholic and high-flying business leader Ivan Massow.

Massow has experienced serious failures in his business career, including the loss of his multi-million pound financial advisory company in 2002. Its collapse eventually saw him flee to Spain and fall into alcoholism. But, he says, having a mentor throughout this period proved to be invaluable, giving him important advice and guidance during successful and more difficult periods alike.

Now sober and involved in several business and political ventures in the UK, he is himself a mentor to a number of entrepreneurs. Here, he offers his advice to both mentors and mentees.

1. Don’t tell people what to do

“Mentoring is a little bit like when you’re supporting an alcoholic – you can only make suggestions and be there for them, you can’t force them in any way or preach too heavily.”

2. Ask lots of questions

“I trained as a Samaritan and they don’t actually try to answer your questions, they continue to ask questions until the person comes up with the solution themselves. It’s the same with mentoring – it’s much better to guide the person to the solution.”

3. Let people make mistakes

“There is one person I have taken right from start-up to running a big business and it gets harder and harder to tell them what to do, which is why I don’t. There is a point when you have to let them make mistakes. Most people are resilient and businesspeople like dealing with problems. Nearly every day you are thwarted – that’s the nature of business.”

4. Find a mentor with skills you don’t have

“When I’m looking for a mentor, it’s always for someone with skills that I don’t have. Look for someone who can come at things from a completely different angle – a second set of eyes, someone you can trust and have confidence in.”

5. Don’t pay for mentoring

“Don’t ever pay for a mentor – there are plenty of groups, which will be able to put you in touch with someone suitable for your needs.”

Ivan Massow was talking to CMI chief executive Ann Francke at a CMI ‘Bouncing Back’ event. Watch Ivan discuss his experiences of coping with business setbacks at www.managers.org.uk/bouncingback

Powered by Professional Manager