Mentoring

by Helen Moulsley

Benefits for the mentee

Although mentoring can cover many areas, the most common benefits are in the areas of your own personal and career development. Your mentor can help you work through how to achieve your career goals or further develop your professional expertise.

A mentor, by virtue of their years of experience, will be able to help you steer your way through the organisation, giving you insights into formal processes, systems and structures. Perhaps more importantly, they will help you understand some of the more informal ways of getting things done, and some of the unwritten and un-stated ways of working (see also Political Intelligence).

Your mentor can help you identify what you want to do with your career, bringing a wider perspective to your thinking. You may be thinking about a specific path to achieve your goals, for example, but your mentor may challenge you to think through other options to achieve your goal.

Case studies

Do you feel stalled in your current career or job? If so, your mentor can help you work on that.

Case study 1

I was first introduced to H as a possible mentor seven years ago when I was stuck in a rut with my job. It was definitely a job, not a career, as I did not feel in control of it.

H helped me appreciate what I had to offer my company in the form of transferable skills, the wide experience gained over 15 years with the company and the opportunities available. She guided me through revamping my CV and planning a career looking several steps ahead, not just to the next move.

This new understanding gave me the much increased confidence to make some big changes, including moving to London and, a year later, gaining promotion.

H’s shared insight into the company and the requirements for success, together with her encouragement in increasing my confidence, has helped me to kick-start my career, taking opportunities that have arisen and continuing to seek challenges for the future.

Mentoring is often part of a graduate programme, and provides a way of enabling the graduate to make the transition from graduate/trainee to manager. See the case study of K-A, a recent graduate looking to taking the step to becoming a manager.

Case study 2

H has mentored me over the last year, during which I have been setting up a mentoring programme for young people as one of my ‘voluntary’ activities, while at the same time trying to make the jump from being viewed as a graduate to establishing myself as a respected manager.

One of the big things that sticks out about H as a mentor is her unwavering support and encouragement – she knows exactly how to pick me up and refocus me when things get tough! I know I can pick the phone up at any time and she’ll be more than happy to talk.

H has

  • Helped me deal with internal politics – for example, full-time employees who believed they could/should own the project rather than me and so resisted delivering on their milestones.
  • Opened up a world of senior contacts through which I and many other young people, particularly young females, graduates and modern apprentices have benefited.
  • She has helped me personally develop by giving me confidence in my own abilities.
  • She has given me an insight into senior management and has shown me how to deal professionally with senior managers.
  • She’s given me the confidence to be ‘me’ and to remain ‘me’. This is really important to me, as I was struggling with my ‘professional personality’ and what it should look like.
  • Given me advice on how to deal with the trade-off between my day job and my ‘voluntary’ work for another part of the organisation; it was a challenge getting my manager’s buy-in to the idea that doing this extra activity would also benefit my working life.

Since working with H, I have been selected for the Talent Pool and have just been moved to run a high-visibility change programme in my region.

H has been not only a mentor to me but an advocate.

Your mentor is someone with whom you can discuss and work through concerns or opportunities which you may not want to expose to your immediate line manager – or indeed it may be that your line manager is one of your concerns! Remember, your manager may well be under pressure to come up with short-term deliverables, and may therefore not be sympathetic to your longer-term career goals. The following case study illustrates how to operate at a higher level after being promoted, how to deal with a line manager focused on the short term and how to utilise an MBA to make a career.

Case study 3

When I started my mentoring with H, I had recently been promoted to middle management. I was looking specifically for a female senior manager who could give me advice on how to move forward and sort out the problems that I had at that time. I lacked confidence and was working for a very macho boss.

H gave me an insight into senior decisions that were going on, together with feedback on my perceptions about my line of business and the types of activity that could be undertaken to help improve those poor perceptions. We also discussed the benefits of studying for an MBA. I did investigate this, although I couldn’t get budgetary authorisation at that time. On H’s advice, I pursued my request again the following year...

As a result of successfully completing the MBA, I made a career switch into change management. This came about while I was researching for my dissertation.

Being mentored and following the MBA path has opened up a whole new world of opportunities within the company.

H has also maintained the mentoring relationship informally since, and has talked through some key aspects of change management, which has made things clearer for me. She has also re-enforced a confidence in me and my change management abilities, which has helped me to take on even more business change.

You may feel that you are working in an environment which does not fit with your preferred ways of working, or you may not even be aware of this, perhaps having an undefined feeling of things not being quite right. Talking with someone who can bring a wider perspective may help you recognise what is happening and identify the culture which is right for you; your mentor can play this role, helping you work through how to move to a culture or way of working which is more suited to you, as seen in the following case study.

Case study 4

H was introduced to me at a time when I was very dissatisfied with my career – can such introductions ever really bear fruit? Well, this one did!

H has proved to be a pragmatic, supportive coach and colleague. Did I really want to remain in my current job, what could I change, what needed to change? Further scrutiny and challenge made me realise that my day job wasn’t the issue – it was about the business I worked in, the culture and behaviours associated with that business and the recognition that many other women felt the same. For me it had been a time to ‘put up or shut up’. I realised I either had to get out of the business I was in or do something to help the business transform the behaviours and culture. In some ways, the company was already actively promoting both diversity and change programmes – but this wasn’t enough, and things certainly weren’t happening fast enough. I couldn’t really see how these corporate programmes would impact women like me...

[Throughout the mentoring relationship, L worked to set up a network for the most senior women in her company. She felt that the process to gain top level buy-in was lengthy, and at times questioned whether she should carry on.]

H continued to support me. She helped me believe that this new network was a great solution and, with the right support, would make a difference for many women. Finally, in October 2003, I formally launched the Executive Network, and H continued to be a support and guide through the early days.

Personally, the whole experience made me value the skills and capabilities I had, and the style and culture I wanted to work in. This proved to be a turning point. It’s not about the business you work for but the people you work with/for every day – I now have the confidence to move on, knowing that I can offer my skills and expertise elsewhere... and it’s great.