Mentoring is a secret weapon for entrepreneurs. It’s often the ballast needed to crack difficult problems.

Two weeks ago I said this on Instagram:


One of the many responses I received was from Rhonda Brighton-Hall, the founder and CEO of MWAH. Making Work Absolutely Human.

Rhonda and I met via Inspiring Rare Birds where we both mentor women entrepreneurs.

Our relationship strengthened as I began mentoring Rhonda and her co-founder and husband Michael on how to accelerate MWAH’s growth.

Rhonda’s advice on bullying changed my frame of reference. It also changed how I planned and executed a strategy to help a retirement village full of elderly citizens.

They have sustained systemic bullying for over a decade by its management which has consequently sent some broke and prevented families whose parents had passes away from achieving closure (due to an inability to sell deceased estates).

I’m going to share Rhonda’s advice in more detail but first, I think it’s important to realise that access to Rhonda’s perspective and wealth of knowledge came as a consequence of mentoring.

A ‘One Way Street’ Perception

From the outside, the mentor/mentee relationship can look like a one-way street where the mentee is always the one asking for help.

And it’s easy to understand why. For a large part of our early lives, we are formerly taught by teachers. And this process reinforces a knowledge dynamic where only people with experience can be the teacher.

However, the mentor/mentee relationship IS very different because, in order for it to work, both parties know that time and attention, the two most valuable assets, are being exchanged.

And the reality is that agreeing to mentor isn’t born out of obligation or just the desire to pay it forward. It also provides two new opportunities to learn.

The first is much like the way writing works. When you’re asked to explain or teach a concept, you have to find ways to make what you know useful and digestible. The more practice you have at explaining a concept, the clearer you become on what you know.

Second, mentoring broadens your knowledge horizon by exposing you to new ideas and products. Some may sit in industries adjacent to your own while others genuinely stretch your mind.

Mentees benefit in a different way. And while they are often very grateful for the investment in time, they detect inequality in the exchange of value.

They want to return the favour, they just don’t know how.

If this is you, relax.

Most mentors understand that value reveals itself in the long term and as a result, they are more than happy to reach out and ask for help when the time comes.

Today I mentor 17 founders and I’ve reached out to most of them with a genuine request for help. Their responses have been invaluable.

This is called reverse mentoring and it’s not uncommon.

Dealing with a bully

Bullies only respond to force. This is a popular opinion. It’s also an emotional response. And it’s the message I receive most often when I talk to people about bullying.

Unfortunately, it’s wrong.

Bullying is deeply misunderstood, largely because it is such an emotional issue.

And thanks to Rhonda’s expertise, backed by years of research, case studies and supporting governments, companies and everyday people on bullying, she brought remarkable clarity to an emotional issue.

Here are my three key takeaways:

1. In nearly all circumstances, bullying is multigenerational.

People are exposed to bullying behaviour within the first eight years of life. This behaviour usually comes from someone who the child has significant exposure to, which may or may not be their parents.

By the time the child is 12 years old, they are competent bullies. By 40, they are specialists and by age 70, with 65 years experience, they are experts. And the cycle repeats.

I never thought about bullying in terms of a capability until this point.

2. Emotion is a bully’s power base

From a young age, bullies see the effect their behaviour has on others and as sad as it is to say, they thrive on it. The greater the emotional response they elicit, the more control they wield. This is why force and violence usually don’t work and have little lasting impact.

3. Bullies don’t change

Bullies must be removed from the situation they created. They will not change because their behaviour is so ingrained. And it’s for this reason that it is also important to realise that compassion, empathy and being reasonable do not resonate with bullies. These are identified as emotions that can be exploited.

One last thing…

There is a simple way to apply these three principles. If you need to manage a bully consider an emotionless and deeply overwhelming campaign of fact-based questions.

It acknowledges the multigenerational nature of bullying, removes the base of power and as the answers to the questions are revealed, it will result in the bullies removal from the situation.

It saddens me to think of how bullying begins but the impact of their behaviour, in startups, big business or retirement villages is unacceptable. I hope Rhonda’s advice is as useful for you as it has been to me.

If you would like to reach out to Rhonda, do it here.