Need a Different Perspective? A Mentor Could Be The Answer!
However focused and driven you are, keeping your motivation high and coming up with new ideas on how to progress can feel a little lonely at times, especially on your own. Friends, family, colleagues, social networks, and tutors can give advice and share thoughts. But they may not have the time, dedication or knowledge to really push you to take the next steps.
That’s why identifying a mentor could be a positive way of gaining that new perspective and getting some one-to-one guidance which helps you identify and reach your goals.
How does it work?
A mentor offers something different to a line manager, friend or colleague. Not only can they give you a new perspective, they can also introduce you to tools and information which could help you discover new ideas or make decisions.
My personal experience of mentoring has been extremely positive. Although I was enjoying my role as a Communications Manager, I felt I wasn’t making the most of the chance for development. Luckily I work in an organisation which has a formal mentoring scheme; I signed up and was paired up with a mentor working a couple of steps higher up the career ladder than me.
I began working with a mentor who introduced me to the GROW (Goal, Reality, Options, Will) model and timelines for each stage of my career journey, and I learned a lot.
A colleague who works in project management for the civil service, and has benefited from mentoring, told me: “My mentor was someone who didn’t have any direct influence on my career but who took an interest in helping me understand my development and career goals. It’s an obligation-free relationship, unlike how you may feel with line manager’s guidance.
“It doesn’t feel as invasive as discussing personal concerns with partners, friends or family. It’s not about advice, practice or instruction that coaches offer. Instead, it’s a chance for you to stand aside from work for, say, one hour a month and to review and plan your goals by talking to someone.”
He’d also seen benefits of mentoring, which has also been found to increase diversity from under-represented groups through supporting candidates in career progression and applications:
“I’d say to someone from an under-represented group to consider mentoring because, a) harnessing your career is a tough enough challenge on your own and b) things won’t always just fall in place as they may seem to do for other people. So it’s empowering to put the time aside to develop and focus on your goals and doing so with another person can be more insightful.”
How to identify a mentor
Of course, mentoring doesn’t have to be a formal process; you could find someone in any area of your life.
In her (in)famous book, Lean In, Cheryl Sandberg gives a word of warning, advising aspiring mentees not to go down the route of ‘asking a virtual stranger, “Will you be my mentor?” The strongest relationships spring out of a real and often earned connection felt by both sides.’
You might want to think about some questions when selecting a mentor:
1) Where are your experience and knowledge gaps? For example, if you’re currently studying or working towards a particular career path is there anyone who’s a few steps up from you who could offer you some pearls of wisdom?
2) Do you want the support of someone like you, who can empathise and help you learn from their own position, or someone totally different? Studies have shown that mentoring schemes really support increased diversity in organisations by enabling the progression of under-represented groups.
3) Would you prefer a formalised mentoring relationship, or more the opportunity to bounce ideas off someone whose world-view really inspires you? If the former you may prefer to sign up for a formal mentoring scheme, but the latter just keep your eyes open for people who you aspire to be more like.
Once you’ve found someone who you think could be suitable, don’t be shy to approach them. They’re likely to be flattered. Don’t be disheartened if they say that they have too little time or are already committed in other areas. It’s worth persevering or seeing whether they’d be willing to meet as a one-off to chat about their experiences.
Set up some ‘ground rules’ on how often you’ll get in touch, what you both expect from the relationship and how long you intend to work together, and you’re off!
What mentoring is NOT…
As anyone who’s a mentor will tell you, mentoring isn’t an opportunity to have a receptive ear whilst you moan about the annoyances of your boss. On a more serious note, it isn’t counseling or mental health support. It’s a formal career development method, and you’ll only get out what you put in in terms of research and taking up the advice your mentor shares with you.
Find out more!
Here are some of the many resources out there which could help you in your journey of finding a mentor – good luck!
· Career Shifters (http://www.careershifters.org/)
· Lean In (https://leanin.org/)
· WISE Campaign (https://www.wisecampaign.org.uk/)
· Fawcett Society (https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/)