"Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction" - John C. Crosby
I used to enjoy a podcast called Masters in Business by Barry Ritholtz. He used to interview some of the biggest names in the investment business. Without fail each standout performer had been mentored by a celebrated investor from the generation before. These stories highlighted to me the huge impact that mentorship can bring. This is the first blog in the mentor series, a subject close to my heart.
I think the benefits to the mentee are clear, but today I outline why being a mentor is such a rewarding role.
What is mentoring?
When you mentor someone, you help them develop professionally. This can take many forms. Informal and formal, frequent or whenever needed, individual or group. Some people personally seek out a particular mentor whereas others apply to programs where the organisers work out the best matches. There are truly many types of mentorship and in some cases they might not use the term mentorship because it feels more organic and social.
What is the aim?
In an environment where we often live far away from our families, do not belong to many groups, for example local or religious, mentorship is one of the only ways people have access to voices from an older generation outside of their immediate family unit. I think we are seeing a greater need for counsellors, coaches and mentors to fill the gap left by people having fewer social ties with older generations.
In relationships with people from an older generation, there is less fear of peer comparison and often more patience. The mere act of talking through something is hugely beneficial. It takes a seemingly unsolvable and infinitely complex problem and helps clarify it, with a clear next step. Writing things down further solidifies this, as it requires more precise thinking.
Why do so few people mentor?
Whilst many people would like to mentor in theory, very few do in practice. I have come across a number of barriers that people have explained to me:
1) They cannot find mentees: There are precious few programmes where people can actually mentor. I list some examples below to help those who are searching.
2) It takes a lot of work: After a hard day’s work the idea of talking through someone else’s problems might not be appealing.
3) People feel inadequate: Despite many people having experienced significant career success they feel they have been fortunate given a limited skillset and do not feel they can offer much
4) They prefer to give in other ways: They would rather donate money to a good cause than sacrifice their scarce time.
5) They feel nervous to start: There isn’t a "How to mentor" guide book that tells you how to do it and feeling your way through it feels inefficient.
These can be easily related to. However, mentoring, like networking, exercising or meditating can easily be squeezed out of a schedule, but at what cost? With mentoring, there really is no substitute for starting small and then figuring your style out.
What are the benefits of mentoring?
I feel the language around mentoring is quite unrelatable. It is talked about as a selfless task and that ignores the huge benefits of mentoring. I think mentoring has a number of very tangible rewards:
It's a fun experience. We feel we have learnt a lot during our lives and careers and get to have someone being keen to access that.
We often feel a sense of not having done enough in their local community and this very real service makes people feel more socially useful and less guilty. Lighting the fire for the next generation is hugely rewarding.
It helps you practice so many important leadership skills. Listening, practicing empathy, asking the right questions and speaking in an encouraging and supportive way.
For those approaching retirement, it is a great way to stay involved in your industry and get to relive the highs and lows.
You get to know people who you would never otherwise meet. We rarely have opportunities to develop a relationship with people of a different generation or company. It helps us understand what people earlier in their career are going through. That has huge benefits to your understanding of younger people in your life and at your firm.
Much of what you learn in mentoring is training for parenting. Parenting is another subject for which there is no "how to" book on.
Your time invested today will help create success for someone tomorrow which you will be a part of.
What skills help being a mentor
I often have the image of a good mentor in my head. A good mentor:
Lets their mentee know that they are happy to be there and this is not a chore or a favour.
Treats the mentee as important, worthwhile and full of potential.
Holds their mentee accountable for follow-up.
Is encouraging. I have found that mentees have often quite negative self talk. Being encouraging is a way to help them challenge some of their limiting beliefs. Lend people your faith when they have lost theirs.
Understands someone first, and only then tries to suggest next moves.
Connects their mentee to other relevant people, helping expand their perspectives and network.
Finds strengths, which when spelt out create real confidence for the mentee.
Works with their mentee to build a roadmap from here to somewhere they are motivated to get to.
Shares interesting articles, books and clips that might be relevant
Shows the benefits of mentoring so that their mentee might one day mentor someone else.
Shares their own dreams and concerns, strengths and weaknesses. I am far more at ease with someone who feels human and relatable than someone who appears perfect.
Nudges mentees to reach goals only achievable at a stretch.
The drawbacks of mentoring
It's not all plain sailing. There are more challenging parts of mentoring:
Mentees are sometimes just not bought into the process. With some mentees they had a bad day and signed up for mentoring but they did not really want the hard work and consistency bit. It is fine in these cases, to defer to when they have the motivation to do it justice.
Unless you manage your time really well, spending that time is a commitment that requires real trade-offs
It requires huge patience. Many mentoring conversations are not clear cut. Part of the early stages is to help clarify what your mentee is working towards.
Whilst it often is about the professional, people are people and are often impacted by health, relationship and financial issues. I am happy for the conversations to go in that direction, but some feel it is too personal and that they are being taken into areas where they are no expert.
Where can I mentor?
I have found that mentorship opportunities tend to be focused in under-represented communities. I think this is due to that gap between trying to make workplaces more diverse and having a pipeline of talent by helping diverse candidates chart a path to the top of their field. Each week I will try and grow the list of mentoring programmes. Some examples below.
Women in Banking and Finance, helping women rise in the banking field.
Toastmasters, providing peer mentoring on public speaking.
City Sikhs mentoring programme. Mentoring within the Sikh community.
I hope you have found this useful and look forward to writing the next two installments:
Next week: How to be a model mentee
Week after: Step-by-step mentoring.