We’ve all been there... questioning ourselves about what to do, which way to turn, which career path to take, and we’ve all mulled over the endless possibilities without  really getting to an outcome that we are certain and positive about. So what’s the solution? 

Ever thought about a mentor?  Ever thought what mentoring is all about?  

"A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself." — Oprah Winfrey

Statistics suggest that ‘80% of CEOs polled have stated they have had mentors’. That’s not to say, however, that you have to be an aspiring CEO to want or need a mentor.  Furthermore, ‘Employees who received mentoring were promoted FIVE times more often than people who didn’t have mentors’. 

I’ve been lucky enough to have (and still have) a number of mentors throughout my career. People I have a huge amount of faith and confidence in to talk through my thoughts, hopes and fears and in return, receive challenge, advice and further questioning which have enabled me to make a decision and stop my mind circling round in an endless loop of unanswered questions. 

I’ve also been on the other side and mentored graduates and colleagues from other teams which I’ve found hugely rewarding. 

So...what is mentoring?

It’s a relationship between two people where one (the mentor) provides guidance and advice by discussing and understanding what the other (the mentee) is going through.  This relationship is based on trust and confidentiality to help improve skills, self-reliance and balance the pros and cons of career choices. 

It’s imperative that conversations are confidential and the relationship is seen as a partnership to gain most value as, ultimately, the process must be developmental and value adding for both parties. 

What mentoring isn’t

It’s not a process driven by the mentor to discuss and fix the mentee's problems. It has to be driven by the mentee to work out the right outcome for themselves, while utilising the experience and views of the mentor. 

The process should in no way be secretive or undermine the mentee's line manager, and it is certainly not a promise of career development or progression, although it should aid this. 

Additionally, the mentor is not there to counsel or listen to the mentee’s work or personal grumbles or instil their own thinking and viewpoint. 

"The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves." — Steven Spielberg

What makes a good mentor?

You don’t need to be a high flier or big talker to be a mentor. In fact, you just need to be a good listener, be able to facilitate discussions through constructive questioning and demonstrate empathy. You also have to be comfortable to help your mentor achieve their goals but not push or force them in a specific direction. Above all, the mentor needs to be non-judgemental and act as an enabler for the mentee. 

Depending on the situation, you can be one or more of the following roles:

  • Role model. This is about leading by example and using your knowledge and insight into the organisation or situation to explore the issues and options for possible future actions.
  • Critical friend. This is all about tough love. Sometimes you need to challenge your mentee to get them to really think about what they’re doing and what the right course of action is.
  • Advocate. This is all about assisting your mentee with networking opportunities and providing exposure internally and externally to others who may be able to assist with promotions or other developmental opportunities.

What value can you get out of being a mentee?

You can gain fresh insights and a different perspective by an individual who has exposure to different experiences and take ownership of your career and future by discussing opportunities in a safe environment. 

It provides an opportunity to obtain help with difficult relationships at work, overcome a specific challenge or issue faced in the workplace from someone who is not directly involved in your immediate environment. 

Through this relationship you open yourself up to new networks by exposing yourself to new areas of the organisation and create wider networks that you can rely on. 

Ultimately, you should come out of the process with increased confidence and a fresh perspective. 

What value can you get out of being a mentor?

Becoming a mentor gives you the opportunity to demonstrate and develop your leadership skills by helping others to develop and fulfil their potential. 

Using and sharing your own skills and experience is a good way to assess and recognise what you have achieved during your own career, so is a useful reminder when drafting your CV as well as adding to it. 

You gain a great deal of personal satisfaction by helping someone else and also gain a better understanding of how people perceive you when you see yourself through the eyes of your mentee.   

What is needed to get the most value from mentoring?

Both parties need to set their own goals and communicate these at the start to ensure the objectives and possible end game are known and understood by both parties. This will make it easier to make the most of the time you have together. 

The mentor has to be prepared to challenge the mentee and the mentee has to be prepared to listen and take on board what the mentor says. If the mentee is defensive or is not open to hearing sometimes difficult messages, they are not going to achieve anything. 

Both the mentor and mentee need to dedicate time and effort to the process. This won’t work if one or both sides does not prepare or give their attention to relationship. Both parties need to be open, honest and enthusiastic. If you are not able to have candid conversations and you’re not addressing the real issues, the process is a waste of time. 

Furthermore, the relationship needs to be built on confidentiality. Both parties need to ensure they are both comfortable to speak the truth and provide examples of similar experiences or issues faced to bring them to life. 

Both parties need to feel comfortable with each other and be able to discuss if either party feels the ‘fit’ is not right.  If you don’t think you can work with the other party, don’t be afraid to say something as it is important you gel and feel that you can work together to achieve the best outcome. 

Both parties should continuously review how the relationship is working. It is important that the mentee does not become dependent on the mentor and maintains autonomy of their decisions.

"We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give." — Winston Churchill

I think mentoring another person is one of the greatest achievements you can experience...that of helping someone who is a little lost to flourish and achieve their own dreams, some of which they may never have thought to be possible! 

The principles of mentoring

It is important to clarify and agree on the basic principles that will underpin any mentoring scheme. These may include the following:

  • a shared understanding of, and agreement with, the purposes of any mentoring scheme
  • the process needs to be clearly understood by all concerned
  • mentoring is designed to be a constructive, developmental form of support – of mutual benefit to mentor and mentee
  • there should be access to adequate preparation – including training – for those involved in a mentoring scheme
  • there should be clear understanding of and agreement on the level of confidentiality required within the mentoring relationship
  • the purpose and destiny of any information collected or produced needs to be clearly understood by all parties involved. Any written record produced should be appropriate to the needs of the mentor and mentee. Records should be agreed by and be accessible to the mentee
  • any mentoring scheme should reflect and promote a commitment to equal opportunities
  • the mentoring scheme should be actively supported and valued by the organisation or service and its management
  • open communication and adequate consultation should occur at all times during the implementation and management of the scheme
  • any scheme should receive adequate resources to achieve its desired objectives.

(IIA South & East - Mentor Guidance) 

Samantha Brown FCCA