A guiding hand: “If you had told me when I started this role 18 months ago, that I would be confidently doing what I am doing now in a year or so’s time, I wouldn’t have believed you. I did not think I had the necessary capability. Thank you for believing in me and supporting me, from the person I was then, to the one I am now”.
Why be a mentor — a personal story
I am fortunate (privileged) that my lived experience in the workplace was very successful (based on career progression and increasing responsibility). However that outstanding moment I shared above, which I still remember over 20 years later, occurred at the end of a formal performance review with a team member.
The right words at the right time
On reflection, I should have said very similar words to thank a lot of people whose guiding hand helped me to ‘keep on getting on’ with my own career progression. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, there were many managers (both in my direct line and outside it) who said the right thing, at the right time.
Even though it took 15 years and seven employers for me to ever be exposed to a formal performance appraisal system, those timely informal encounters helped me stay positive and focussed on the long-term. They averted the short-term catastrophes that threatened to promote self-doubt & imposter syndrome and destroy fragile levels of personal confidence.
Supporting others in their careers
Having changed my life priorities, I no longer have a supervisory responsibility component in my role. However, I still receive so much satisfaction from supporting colleagues to clearly define and to work towards their career goals.
I can’t help involving myself; it’s almost like breathing for me. I can’t help taking up time to talk things through with people whenever they happen to open up to me about a problem or situation they are unhappy/uncomfortable with. Together, we find out what it is that they really want to do in their work life/career and what they perceive are the blockers to that.
Commonality between good practice and the label, mentoring
I am still very lucky though. My employer runs an internal mentoring program, which has provided me with valuable formal training and academic research evidencing what ‘best practice’ looks like for mentors. This also introduced me to Lis Merrick’s free mentor CPD webinars. These are an invaluable resource, to reflect on mentoring experience, learn more about academic research in the field and learn from other practising mentors.
A formal employer mentoring program is also beneficial as both mentees and mentors complete similar training and have (or certainly should have) shared expectations of one another and a common language and mentoring administration tool-set. This was particularly beneficial to me when I first took the opportunity to formally mentor a colleague whom I had never met before and who was familiar with a part of the organisation that I was completely ignorant of.
The benefits of formal training of mentors and mentees
Reflecting back on just the last twelve months, I considered what brought the most satisfaction. It is not the project I was responsible for coordinating that has been shortlisted for one of the categories of the companies annual awards ceremony. No, it’s my formal mentee not only achieving their first promotion into management (which was their goal for the mentoring program), but confiding to me that six months into the role they are not only enjoying it, also believing that they actually can do it (we were aware of a serious self-confidence challenge) and will soon be ready for a more senior management role.
Thus, to me, this is why I want to be and very much enjoy being a mentor, whether formally recognised or merely informal conversations over time. It’s realising that asking the right question or saying the right words at just the right time can really impact other people.
Mentoring’s guiding hand can be unseen by both mentor and mentee
I’ve recently been introduced to a new starter (in a department I have never worked in) as:
‘…someone in this business who is worth knowing, they’ve provided wise advice & guidance which helped me a lot in my career so far’.
That was obviously very satisfying to hear. But the nicest part was I had no idea the person doing the introduction thought that way. I don’t even know what I might have said or done to make them think that; we’d never had any formal mentoring/coaching or even working relationship.
And it’s not just mentors who might be unaware of the contribution mentoring has played in their lives. As in the example I mentioned previously of my early career experiences, mentees might also not be overtly aware of the full benefit of the guiding hand of others throughout our careers. Both mentors and mentees might be unseen.
The amplifying power of mentoring
If you think about it, no matter how brilliant and hardworking you are as an individual, you can only do so much to improve the key results of your team, department, or organisation. Even if it is a lot more than any other colleague, it’s definitely finite. However, try investing time & energy in encouraging others to perform at levels they don’t (presently) believe themselves capable of. Now your capacity to enhance team, department, organisational and possibly home life too performance has no limit.
Finally, when you are a lot closer to retirement than the last promotion (as I am), knowing you’ve passed on some of the great mentoring you received and that those you’ve influenced are likely to pass it on again, is an immensely satisfying professional legacy.
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