I owe a lot to my mentors. So far, i’ve had a career that i’m proud of and I am convinced that this is in no small part due to the mentoring that i’ve been fortunate enough to receive.
It’s very clear to those who have known me throughout my career that I have changed over the years and that my management style has developed. I think this is down to a number of factors;-
The industries in which I have worked
I think it’s natural to adopt some characteristics that are cultural within your industry and to take some of that with you to the next industry, where you’ll adopt some more.
The experiences i’ve gained
We all change through life in accordance with how life changes us. It’s no different with the experiences we gain in work. A major behaviour change programme that occurred in one of my past employers taught me the importance of a vertically integrated business strategy, and a closure programme in another employer taught me the importance of clear communication and partnership working for example.
The leaders that have influenced me.
I’ve taken some skills from all of my previous managers, of which i’ve had a couple. Their style, technique and the experiences they shared with me, all helped me learn key areas of leadership and management.
Some of my line managers and previous colleagues influenced me so much, that I continued to seek their support on various occasions even after I left their teams. It is these managers who became my mentors.
Mentoring has given me someone I could call upon in difficult times to seek advice, reassurance, expertise and probably most importantly to use as a sounding board. My mentors know me exceptionally well. The key to our relationship has been me knowing when it’s ok to ask for help and knowing that I should give suggestions to resolve my issue, and my mentors knowing that its not right to simply give me the answer, but guide me to reaching the correct conclusion, with the thought process being just as important as the result.
I’ve often thought ‘what would my mentor do?’ in certain situations and that has helped me considerably.
But this is where this relationship has really proven fruitful – i’ve mentored other professionals too and given advice to those who once worked for me, in the same way I have sought support from my mentors. It’s extremely refreshing, and fully embraces what we know to be the correct way forward in HR. This cycle helps continuously develop both my mentors, me, and those I mentor.
The HR support circle of life I suppose.
To anyone who is considering working with a mentor I have some advice.
1.Know what you want to get out of it
You should decide why you want to be mentored and what you hope to get out of it. If you are looking for someone to make decisions for you, think again as this is not a supportive and empowering mentor relationship but actually a damaging one.
2. Choosing the right mentor is vital
In order for mentoring to work, the relationship between you and your mentor has to be effective, and as such, I would suggest, it should be a relaxed relationship. It needs to be someone you are comfortable talking to and whose opinion you respect. I’d suggest it’s best not being your line manager as that could blur the lines between the employer/employee relationship that also exists. Don’t be upset if your mentor can’t commit to helping you – it’s usually not personal and there can be a wide variety of reasons why they are unable to do so. Better to have someone who can and wants to support you.
3. Knowing when to seek support is key
What will you learn if you rely on your mentor for everything? Very little, and what will you gain out of a mentoring relationship where you are spoon fed answers instead of logically discussing the route to the correct relationship? Again, very little. Effective mentoring for me has been knowing when I shouldn’t seek help from someone else but think about whether I can reach the correct decisions on my own. However key to mentoring is knowing when its perfectly fine to seek support and advice, after all, what good is having a mentor if you aren’t going to use them.
Realise that this is a process primarily for you , and not your mentor.
Hopefully from what you have read so far you will have determined that the type of mentoring i’m encouraging here is a form of self-directed learning and is a self-managed process. Don’t expect anyone else to be more invested in your development, than you.
You own this, its for your own good. You should manage the process.
Mentoring has been really important for me and I’ve used it sparingly and informally for many years. Perhaps I will for many years to come. Its something that i’ve had the benefit of reaping the rewards from and so when others who need my support come to me for help, I feel a responsibility to support them.
I recommend this to everyone, and go in with your eyes wide open.