I have to start with a disclaimer that there are many experts n who may want to challenge or even correct me. I’d welcome their insights so anyone reading this blog can have a balanced view rather than just mine! I am basing this blog on my experience and what I believe mentoring is all about. .
What is a mentor?
To me (and trust me this definition will be different for others) a mentor is really a story teller using their own life and experience as the book of reference. They work in partnership with a mentee (not sure I like that term!) to foster insight, identify needed knowledge, and expand growth both for career opportunities and in thinking.
It shouldn’t be confused with the role of a Line Manager which is critical to everyone – indeed if you are looking for a mentor in work it should be with your Line Manager you identify the need for a mentor, as mentoring is about supplementing the coaching you already receive. In my experience, the mentoring relationship consists of an experienced leader providing guidance and advice to an employee with less experience. The employee is often looking to learn from someone who is successful and well respected. You can of course have a mentor outside of your current organization but they are less likely to be able to accurately translate their stories into your work life – that will be down to you.
What should you look for?
Firstly a mentee must select their own mentor (it can be from recommendations from others but the choice HAS to be the mentees). It’s a personal choice and based on individual needs – you may have many mentors over the course of your career because you need different things at different times. You should think carefully about what you want out of your mentoring experience before selecting the person you want to approach. You should look for someone who you perhaps respect, admire or know you would have a connection with. Someone who has the experience to call upon that is right for you. Don’t forget you drive the mentoring agreement not the mentor. If you don’t schedule time – it won’t happen. If you don’t prepare or think about the time you have you won’t get the most from it. It’s about how you approach the sessions and what you want out of it that is critical to your own success. Don’t be disheartened if a mentor declines as it should be taken seriously with a time commitment from both so sometimes the timing may not be right for that person.
My role as a mentor
Mentoring gives me the extraordinary opportunity to help someone’s personal and professional growth by sharing knowledge I have learned through years of experience (i.e. getting old!). While the primary intent of my mentoring role is to challenge the mentee to think in new and different ways, the mentee is not the only one who gains from the arrangement. As a mentor, there are various ways I benefit as well.
Enhance my skills: Mentoring allows me to strengthen my leadership skills by working with individuals from different backgrounds and with different personality types. For example, as a mentor I can help bridge the gap between generations that have varying workplace values and styles or from different locations and cultures.
Develop and retain talent: As a mentor I can contribute to the success of an organization by helping to develop and retain good employees. I can get people to think differently about career choices. In particular I am keen to encourage people to broaden their experience and to appreciate it isn’t always about moving UP in the organization or to a new organization. There is much to learn and many opportunities and I hope to make people think more about career choices.
Create a legacy: I have borrowed this one from why I am a leader but to me it is part of why I mentored when I worked in my last organization before starting Anything Is Possible. I wanted to create a legacy that has a lasting impact on my mentees. Maybe in time they can inspire new ideas, pass on strong values and lead a happier and more successful life – which would be amazing!
Who have been my mentors?
My grandmother for one – she has more life experience at 95 than anyone else I know and she has a way of asking thought provoking questions. She is also completely disconnected with work and so only knows the person in front of her. I ask her opinions and thoughts and then use her knowledge to translate back to what I do. My partner is also a wonderful mentor but it can be tough to separate personal love for each other with mentoring. However, she knows me better than anyone and challenges me more by pushing boundaries and highlighting weaknesses but also inspiring me with how she has achieved success in her career.
Within work I had two people I had an on/off mentoring relationship with for a number of years. One was a senior leader in Roche that stayed within the organization for decades having a long and successful career before leaving due to a US site closure. I still talk to her every couple of months. The other is someone still at Roche who has moved across divisions and across sites and been diverse in his career path. He is someone I only connect with occasionally and it is usually when I find myself somewhat “stuck” in career path ideas or my own personal development. My conversations usually start with “I’m in a dilemma!”
How I mentor
How well I mentor can only ever be judged by those that I partner with. I expect my mentee to book the time they want – I don’t chase or hassle. I often pass on things I read or hear to them outside of when we meet if I come across something I think makes sense to the sessions we are having. I often ask them to think differently and explain how they see things but mostly as I said at the beginning I tell stories about my own life, own learning, own mistakes. I also try to make sure we laugh a lot as mentoring has to be fun too!
For some I spend time thinking how I can boost their self-belief and esteem and others how I can calm them and perhaps adjust their expectations. I mentor a lot around leadership – the journey, how to have presence, what it isn’t etc.
So my mentees only ever get from me what I have to share. Where I think the true brilliance of mentoring lies is when you can see early on in the partnership where their challenges and opportunities are and choose your stories so they can find those very precious and personal “A-HA!” moment.