If you haven’t already done so, please click here to read my post on the power of trying, even when you don’t succeed. It should serve as a good precursor to this article.
Last year I took part in a cross-company mentorship programme organised by the 30% Club. The programme was excellent in engaging an audience with a single focus, mentoring, in order to achieve its goal of placing women in at least 30% of C-suite positions globally.
As someone who is naturally inquisitive about human relationships and having been involved in several mentoring programmes, I felt it was worth reflecting on the power of mentoring: What it is, what it isn’t (very important), and why and how everyone should get involved in 2021.
Whether you are a mentor or a mentee, consider your personal and professional development like a business, with you as its CEO. Who you have around your virtual boardroom table is vital. Surrounding yourself with people who align with your agenda, and challenge and support you to achieve your objectives, means you are more likely to succeed. A mentor and a mentee should both be sat at your table.
Mentoring has the power to make long-lasting, positive and effective change. It works differently for everyone, whether looking for your next promotion or hoping to achieve a rewarding work/life balance. Mentoring sits nicely alongside coaching and counselling as a long-term, development-focused and somewhat less formal relationship.
Mentorship has a number of different definitions , but I like to refer to it as:
A structured and trusted relationship between someone seeking personal or professional development with the guidance and support of someone with experience.
It’s important not to overstate the word “experience”. Everyone has experience in their own way, and a key aspect of mentorship is asking your mentee the right questions based on their experience, rather than knowing all the answers.
Three things should define a mentorship:
1. Agenda – the ownership rests with the mentee to drive the engagement, i.e., what they want to achieve, and this is driven by the agenda. This is often one of the barriers to entry, as many people don’t know what to ask, but setting the agenda enables both parties to focus on the actual, rather than expected, objectives.
2. Confidentiality – it’s crucial that the discussions are kept private and confidential. This is the foundation for building trust and enabling discussions to go into the detail required to be effective.
3. Empowerment – it rests with the mentor to empower the mentee to take ownership of their own learning and development. This is best described as guiding the mentee to think about what they haven’t considered, rather than giving them answers based on their opinion. The subtlety of this is often lost but is of utmost importance in drawing out the true benefits of mentorship.
Mentorship is not about telling mentees what to do, regardless of how successful the mentor, and however tempting it might be. It took time for mentors to build their knowledge and experience, and although mentorship can cut corners, it can’t – and shouldn’t – remove that process completely. Similarly, the path of the mentee will not, and should not, be the same as the mentor.
A great way to get involved as a mentee is to look for structured programmes at work or in your local community. This can quell some of the fear of rejection from prospective mentors. Alternatively, ask your line manager or close friends if they know anyone suitable. The key to getting started is to know the aspects of personal or professional development, i.e. the direction of travel. The first step in a mentorship is often identifying the specific areas of focus, so don’t feel that you need to have these before engaging.
When reaching out to a prospective mentor, an effective method might be to say: ‘I’m interested in developing A, B or C, and was hoping you might mentor me, or know someone that would.’ If their response is negative, do not take it personally. Most likely it is due to their own circumstances, and if they don’t have the time or experience, it wouldn’t make for a good arrangement.
I have often found that mentees punch above their weight when searching for a mentor, which adds to the daunting nature of asking for help. For example, a junior manager asking the CEO of a listed company to be their mentor. Look for someone one or two levels above you, inside or possibly outside of your own industry, who has achieved something you are also looking to achieve.
To possible mentors out there, the first step is recognising that your experiences have value to someone else. Although it can be presented as a transference of knowledge, being a mentor is a hugely rewarding experience. I have gained insight into other people’s views and opinions that have supported my own development. Ask at work or in your local community about available programmes, but also spend time researching how best to engage in a mentorship, as this will help structure those crucial initial interactions and get you off to the best possible start.
As a final point for both mentees and mentors: enjoy it.
You can find more information about the 30% Club and their cross-company mentorship programme at www.30percentclub.org. I would never claim to understand the challenges faced by women, but as someone who is passionate about equality and naturally inquisitive about human relationships, as well as a husband to an amazing wife, and father to a fantastically inquisitive daughter, this particular programme stands out for me and is worth some attention.
As an entrepreneur, employee, and mentor, I’m fascinated by personal development and helping people achieve their personal and professional objectives. I post related content regularly, so please follow The UnExtraordinaries to receive updates. If you enjoyed this article, consider giving it a Like or sharing it on social media to help it reach a wider audience. If you want to get in touch, feel free to contact me on LinkedIn.
Have a great day!