Monday, 25 February 2019
Find yourself a great mentor. Watch doors open in your career. Simple. Well, sort of. As ‘How can mentoring help me’ webinar speaker and management coach Sara Parsons explains, ‘Before you get yourself a career mentor, it’s important to ask yourself whether a mentor is actually what you need right now and then understand what mentoring is about before getting involved. Having a mentor is not a one-size-fits-all solution.’
It’s important to note the difference between being mentored and being spoon-fed. E.M. Forster once famously said, ‘Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the moon’ – Parsons couldn’t agree more. ‘Many managers were spoon fed either as children, or in the workplace, and so have carried this leadership style through with their employees. The key, however, is for mentors to inspire their colleagues to think for themselves and share knowledge and insight that will allow them to fly’.
When the stars align, you’ve assessed what you need from a mentor and you’ve found that perfect person or group of people to mentor you, the business results speak for themselves. Recent reports show that 70% of small companies with in-house mentors thrive for 5 years or more – double the figure of non-mentored workplaces. And for a famous example of the impact a good mentor can have on an individual, just take a look at Sir Richard Branson. He claims his best piece of career advice came from his mentor, Freddie Laker, who told him, ‘You'll never have the advertising power to outsell British Airways. You’re going to have to get out there and use yourself. Make a fool of yourself.’ Branson has since mugged alongside Usain Bolt and served drinks on Virgin Atlantic flights in full drag…
So how can you, like Branson and his ilk, find a great mentor and capitalise on their expertise? Follow these five handy steps and you could soon be watching your own career fly.
Do you hanker after another level of support? Someone who’ll push you forward, listen and help you brainstorm, offer you guidance and help you define your career path? Do you want encouragement, someone who’ll back you up and say ‘Go for it’? Perhaps you simply want a brain to pick or expert feedback; someone who’s not your line manager who can offer you insight into a different area of expertise. Perhaps it’s someone who can help you cut through the thorny landscape of office politics or someone who can offer you knowledge of another industry; maybe it’s bits of all the above. The important thing is to be open and positive to finding a mentor and being mentored.
Think about your skill and career gaps. You may have an excellent line manager or business partner but perhaps their areas of expertise is not where you need the help right now. You may actually need someone really senior who sees the wider picture, someone who can tell you how they think your plans will pan out over a five-year period. Perhaps you’re wondering how to get a better work-life balance, in which case the woman from the HR team who’s done both with aplomb is going to be a better bet as a mentor than your male, single boss.
Make the distinction between coaching and mentoring, too: a case of skill base vs. wider picture. While there is an overlap between the two, mentoring is about finding someone with interpersonal skills who questions, listens, acts as a ‘Been there, done that’ role model, someone who can also help you find contacts, tap into networks and help you find new opportunities. A coach has expertise in one area. Coaching offers a short-term opportunity, while mentoring is all about the long term.
It’s important that the person you approach about mentoring gets something positive from the experience too. If you want your boss to help you or connect you with someone with the relevant expertise, tell them why you think being mentored would be advantageous to you, them and the business and sell it to them – whether that be on the grounds of boosting engagement, productivity, motivation or morale.
It’s important to cast your net far and wide to get the right mentor for you. You might initially find a mentor that does all the talking rather than listening. Maybe they’re just not right for you at this present time.
So how do you settle on and discount mentors? Most importantly, you have to be certain that the person you choose has something specific you want from them; you also need to feel a sense of rapport with that person and want to spend time with them. As Parsons says, ‘You don’t have to like each other on a personal level, but you do have to respect each other.’ And remember, mentors come in all shapes and sizes, from the people you work with to neighbours, friends and teachers.
Also bear in mind that there are different types of mentor schemes at work: there’s the informal set up, whereby you broach mentors yourself and then there’s formal mentoring, laid on by your company, which allows you to tap into people from other departments. These are often people you may never ordinarily cross paths with: the finance whizz who can help you with your 2015 marketing plan, for instance. Why not enquire with your Human Resources team today?
Finally, make a plan – it’s up to you to take the mentoring reigns and make it happen. Don’t allow mentoring to be a process that happens to you. Be proactive about what you want to get from the relationship. And remember that with the right mentor, the world is your oyster – after all, mentoring is proven to help employees with everything from self-confidence, performance capability, retaining jobs, career opportunities and network building.
And just think, spending time with someone who has such a positive influence on your career is sure to help you grow as a person – meaning one day you could follow their lead and become somebody’s life-changing mentor.