I've had the privilege of always having a mentor of some sort – different personalities fitting different stages of my career.
As I've become more senior, I've had the equal privilege of being able to act as mentor to others and feel pride at seeing their paths and successes unfold.
It was an honour to be named Mentor of the Year at Law.com’s Women, Influence and Power in Law UK Awards 2021.
The importance of mentoring
There is not only one path to climb a cliff, so everyone’s experience climbing it - and their view back down to the ground post - will differ and may or may not seem relatable to those in the midst of the journey.
That said, lessons learned in having climbed it – or for peer mentors, being in the process of climbing it – can still offer others a valuable new lens to help others on their own path.
For me, that’s the key to mentoring.
It’s not using your own experience to tell other people what to do.
It’s about using your experience to ask the right questions and help others get perspective on their own position and make informed decisions about what they should do to pursue their goals.
The proudest moment as a mentor for me, is always the same – when I’ve been speaking to a mentee about a number of thoughts/concerns for a while, and there’s that moment where you can see they've gained objective clarity.
They know what it is that a third party (such as an employer) wants from them. They know what it is that they want for themselves. And they are able to clearly analyse if these two channels align. That unlocks a whole new level of discussion – and action points.
If the channels do align, it’s highly motivating and tends to strengthen a mentees commitment to an organisation and allows them to consider – what actual steps need to be taken to realise that path that they are on track for.
If not, then there needs to be consideration about whether it ‘can’ ever align, and what steps are needed to create that alignment. That tends to give mentees a sense of ownership and control.
They can “get back on track” or if they don’t want to – then what alternative short-term steps should they be taking to realise their long-term goals.
The benefits for mentors
It makes me a better, more diverse, manager. My lens is based on my own path. By default, it's easier to manage people “like me”, in part, because it’s easier/more certain to know how they might react to me or my style.
The more people I mentor, the more knowledge I have about people who are not “like me”, how they interpret certain situations and feel able to perform in response to various management styles.
With that knowledge, I am able to better assess those reporting to me, to try to ascertain their needs and the type of style that can best help them to thrive - which is, ultimately, my main goal as a manager, to support others to perform at their best for the benefit of the team.
How to approach a mentor
Be authentic and organic.
Considering the purpose of mentoring: to find someone who an individual can speak with candidly and receive input from about their organisation or situation to help steer their own thinking.
The best approaches are not forced, wooden or out of the blue.
Ask your target mentor if you can book in 15-20 minutes just for (an intro) coffee. Ask if it’s ok to circle back for a follow up coffee in a few months’ time. Go from there, on a fairly regular (such as quarterly) basis.
Tips for mentees
Your discussion should not become a whinge-fest!
Your mentor is there to help give you objectivity and help you unravel how you feel about certain situations and what you need in order to get what you want.
So be open, be fulsome with context (especially your own perception of your needs and wants, which you should be ready to stress test).
If you see your path as a decision tree, use your mentor to bounce the various options and play the decision tree through a couple of extra steps.
Mentors can help you challenge your own assumptions, especially about the longer term realities of your short term choices.
Tips for mentors
Listen. Ask multiple open questions.
Stress test and challenge where necessary – especially if you feel mentees need to acknowledge their own role/actions in the situation.
Help mentees develop clear focused next steps, including a sense of what communications they need to be having with other stakeholders to their careers.
Overall, the benefits of mentoring for all – mentors and mentees alike – are ample. The more we can instil these practices as common place across the profession, the better for us all.