Helping someone solve a specific problem is very rewarding and usually involves very targeted coaching, but it is mentoring that I personally find the most valuable. That long-term relationship with someone who’s further along the career path and has therefore banked a bit more experience, becomes a real stimulus for rounded personal development.
I’ve always been the kind of person happy to ask for help and throughout my career have sought out and somewhat latched on to a number of people who have become incredibly valuable mentors and also good friends along the way. (If they are reading this, I'm so grateful for the support you’ve given and continue to give).
I was quite surprised, a few years ago, when a colleague approached me and asked if I would mentor a member of their team. I wondered what on earth I could offer, but was told that I had valuable experience that I could share in a confidential way which would help this individual to grasp the opportunities and navigate the challenges as they developed. My reaction was 'can I really do this?'
My reaction was ‘can I really do this?’
I agreed to give it a go and, to make sure that I could give of my best, I read up on the subject of coaching and mentoring (learning the difference), went on some training to learn what mentoring was all about and reflected on the support I'd received from my mentors, before setting up our first meeting.
Although I knew my new mentee, the first meeting was a bit of an intro chat during which we got to know each other a bit better and explored each other’s expectations (yes I had expectations too.) We followed this up quickly with our first proper session which seemed to fly over, but out of which I left feeling like I'd really been able to offer some value. To my delight, my mentee seemed to agree and there began a great relationship. We have been catching up regularly now for quite a few years as both of us moved through different roles in different businesses. Throughout this time, I’ve seen a very talented junior manager grow through the ranks to become an experienced senior manager leading teams of people, accountable for multi-million pound programmes of work. A leader who is emotionally aware and who gets results by providing a leadership “service,” striving to create the best environment and support which enables their team and colleagues to perform at their best.
To my delight, my mentee seemed to feel the session was worthwhile too
As a mentor, I have shared the highs and lows, the triumphs and challenges as my guys (I mentor a number of people now) have developed, and there is nothing quite like the feeling you get when you sit and smile to yourself when you get a good news text in the middle of a meeting saying, “I got the job” or “thanks, that hard conversation went well” etc..
But it’s not all been about the folks I support, I’ve also continued to learn and, in many ways, I get to be a mentee as well. I always take something valuable from each session which helps me to be better in my day job too. Sometimes my guys just find something new and creative which I haven't spotted or experienced and which I can then pinch and stick in my own tool box! So it really is a win-win. But, most of all, I like to think that I'm paying back my debt of gratitude to those who've supported my journey and helped me to develop over the years.
Mentoring is a win-win: sometimes my guys find something new and creative which I can then pinch and stick in my own tool box too!
You can’t really train experience. Experience is something that happens to you. But you can help a person reflect on an experience or on new found knowledge, to contextualise and develop a clearer understanding of it, offering ideas and guidance and things to try next time; Helping them ‘join the dots,’ so that in the future it can be applied as a proactive behaviour becoming a new ‘competence’ or 'skill'.
Mentoring is powerful, valuable and very rewarding.
If you've not got a mentor, get one or better still, become one!
Harvey Neve is head of digital products and transformation at Public Health England and a specialist in leadership and change management having held transformational leadership roles in both the private and public sectors, more recently leading the application of new technologies and adoption of the behavioural change required to realise the benefits of digital transformation. Harvey is also director of Inglefield Consulting who specialises in leadership and culture development.
Harvey is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute and a regular blogger/speaker and lives with his wife and family in County Durham, England.