None of us are born with experience and wisdom. We have to acquire them, and increasingly companies are turning to mentoring programmes to fill the gaps in knowhow and nous or that even their most talented hires will have. According to the AlgoMe Career Satisfaction Benchmark Report 2017, 86% of us believe mentoring is important to our careers, so it is not surprising that the CIPDreports that mentoring is becoming more in demand.
World class talent and business leaders use mentors
Many of the people who we may think have the greatest instinctive or natural talents credit mentors. Prince thanked Miles Davis for bringing out his creativity. Steve Jobs acknowledged many mentors for different sides of his business, even Kobun Chino Otagowa, a Zen master who influenced the way he thought about design. Jobs in turn went on to act as mentor to Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook, and Larry Page at Google. Even Winston Churchill acknowledged the influence of an Irish-American politician called Bourke Cockran, who taught him about public speaking.
Nevertheless, many of us hold back from asking management or HR for a mentor, or approaching a colleague to ask for mentoring help. Why do we avoid this conversation? Partly because mentoring relationships have traditionally been hard to define: what is it precisely you are asking for? It’s easier to describe training or coaching programmes, for example, which are used to develop specific skills over a set period, with a formal test at the end. Mentoring usually covers a much wider range of abilities, may carry on for many months or even years, be delivered informally and privately, and may not have a defined measurement of success.
Barriers to mentoring
Our work environments are increasingly goal-driven, and more of our performance can be measured. This may also discourage managers from prioritising mentorship as a key process for staff development and retention. But it’s often in those places that the input from the one-to-one mentoring relationship can achieve the most by filling the gaps in our abilities. Identify these gaps yourself and ask for help and you will eliminate these very hurdles.
How to make mentoring a success
If you are looking for a mentor, here are some important factors that can make the relationship a success:
What can your mentor help you achieve?
Every mentoring relationship should have some purpose that helps you do a better job, even if that is very broadly defined (if you are approaching HR or management to help you find a mentor, stating this clearly will help you make your case). Understanding the purpose can also help decide who is the best type of mentor to work with. If your goal is to learn how to manage your team better, that’s a different mentoring process to learning how to be more effective with clients, or improving soft skills. Before committing to the mentoring relationship, be honest about where you feel you need help.
A mentor’s attitude is more important than status
Being the protegé of a high-flier sounds great, but isn’t always the best outcome. You might find that, when you need advice, that person has other priorities, finds it hard to relate to your challenges, or even has a conflict of interests. It becomes hard to be open about failure, too. It is more important that your chosen mentor understands and empathises with your needs, and has time to give when you need it.
How do you want to be mentored?
You might prioritise a series of regular meetings, or prefer someone on the end of a phone when you need to speak who you meet only occasionally. What matters most is that both sides understand how the relationship will work, that it is a learning relationship.
But is it working?
Mentoring is broader, less goal-driven and more open-ended than skills training, but you can still measure your progress. This might be a regular meeting to discuss long-term progress, or it might be a session to share a line manager’s independent short-term assessment of your development.
Don’t rush it
There are many services (often delivered online) which claim to offer “speed mentoring”. As David Clutterbuck, and expert who has written more than 50 books on mentoring and coaching dismisses them as “a simplistic solution that carries little cost or responsibility”. These methods may (sometimes) solve a short-term problem for you, but they don’t give you the ability to learn, and there’s no follow-up.
Your mentor’s advice may show you how to open doors, but it is up to you to walk through them. The relationship will help you understand how to solve problems, but it is up to you to solve them. Your role is to listen to advice, thank your mentor, and act on it — even if sometimes it is hard to hear.
You can start your search for a mentor by creating your profile on AlgoMe.com today.