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Thanks to advancements in tech, science, medicine, transport and commerce – we’re able to be more independent and in control of our lives than any generation that has preceded ours.
And yet, despite all this innovation – no man is an island (still). Nobody can reach their fullest potential without others lifting them up—helping them to spot their blind spots, encouraging them to grow, and empowering them to bridge the gaps that exist between where they are now, and where they want to be in the future.
Below, is a collection of the top insights we gleaned from an internal webinar Analyze held in August, 2023. Hosted by Tumelo Sekopamotse, Cathy Banks, Jeremy Chetwin and Tendayi Kandengwa shared their thoughts on the topic of mentoring: what it is, why it’s important and how to get the most out of it.
What is Mentoring?
In Cathy’s words, “It’s a relationship established between two people–often in the workplace–where one is learning from the other.”
For many, it’s a dynamic partnership that transcends the boundaries of experience, age, and hierarchy in the professional world. This is how it can differ from Career Managers (who are typically assigned and focused on one’s career development in particular).
Why Does Mentoring Matter? Mentoring can offer a multitude of benefits that accelerate personal and professional development. First and foremost, it provides individuals with a safe space to explore their aspirations, strengths, and weaknesses. A mentor can help you identify (then bridge) gaps in your knowledge, skills, or experience and help you develop a roadmap for addressing these.
By tapping into the wisdom of someone more experienced than yourself, you can gain insights that might just save you from costly mistakes and expedite your progress. For mentors, there’s a lot of intrinsic rewards too… it’s an opportunity to give back, refine their leadership skills, and gain fresh perspectives from their mentees. As Jeremy says, “When you ask someone for something, you’re actually giving them a gift – the ability to give back – and that’s a great feeling!”
Keys To Getting The Most Out Of Mentoring:
– Check Yourself. Effective mentoring begins with self-awareness. If you’re looking to find a mentor, look for someone who you admire in a particular area you wish to grow in. Reflect on your goals, weaknesses, and areas where you could do with some guidance. It could be general leadership skills, presentation skills or communication skills. It could even be something a little more nuanced – like a general sense that this person is someone you look up to and would like to learn from. Honestly assess where the gaps in your skillset or character is, then look out for people who you admire and would like to learn from in these same areas. Whoever you approach, and whatever the case, come to the party willing and eager to grow and learn. Ask more questions, and leave any ego or defensiveness at the door.
– Just Ask! When you find a person that you would like to learn from, ask them to consider becoming a mentor. Ask them out loud, and specifically. While this is often hard for us to actually step out and do, as Cathy says, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” They might say no, but that’s not really then end of the world. And more often than not, they’ll say yes!
– Manage Expectations. While a mentor can play a significant role in your growth and personal development, they can’t grow for you. You’ll have to still do the work. They also might not have the same capacity or time you have to invest in this relationship, so make sure you set clear expectations upfront – ones you are both happy with.
“Be clear about what you hope to get out of the relationship,” reiterates Jeremy, adding, “Intentions and objectives must be aligned by both parties. Ideally, find a person where you already have a level of relationship with.”
“Keep in mind though that too much structure can hinder this relationship, and make it feel a bit onerous,” adds Tendayi. “I’ve found the more informal mentoring relationships in my life have been so much more beneficial and fulfilling – they’ve really helped me close the gaps.”
– Cultivate Trust And Respect. At the heart of every successful mentor/mentee relationship is mutual trust and respect, as well as a mutual commitment to grow. “A growth mindset in both parties is essential,” says Cathy. Be mindful of not breaching any confidentiality agreements with clients or talking about other people disparagingly either. To honour this value and keep the space healthy and safe, share stories/lessons without going into the actual specifics of naming names. Keep the focus on your growth and gaps – not on others not in the room.
– Go Slow. Real, sustainable progress tends to come slowly and in small increments. Particularly when it comes to learning and honing the softer skills in life, prepare to walk a journey that might take some time.
What’s more, real empowerment takes time. “Just like good parents, mentors shouldn’t protect mentees from making mistakes, but rather, should help people learn from their mistakes and only stop them from making really devastating ones,” says Cathy. “The focus should be on empowering individuals, on encouraging them that they can do it – not disempowering them by swooping in and doing it for them.”
Jeremy adds: “The idea is to set people free – not to get them more tethered and reliant to you or any other person.”
With this in mind Cathy has found a more hands-on approach works best for her – one that involves on-the-ground watching/doing/receiving feedback.
– Know When To Say Goodbye. These kinds of relationships don’t have to last a lifetime! Sometimes, the chemistry between two people just isn’t there, other times, somebody’s capacity might change – and that’s OK. If you’re clear from the outset on what you’re hoping to learn as a mentee, then you’ll know when you’ve mastered that skill, or when you’re no longer getting what you need from this time. Let your mentor then know that you’re grateful for what you’ve learned and happy to take it from here.
– Consider Tech! Living in an age of increasing AI, if the skills you want to attain are purely technical, it’s worth investigating whether an online bot or digital coach/mentor might be able to assist.
In conclusion, mentoring is often the cornerstone of personal and professional growth. It empowers individuals to navigate the complexities of their careers while forging meaningful connections that can last a lifetime.
Final words from the panel:
“When I look back, this has been such a rich area of growth in my life – on both sides of the mentor/mentee equation. People often think they’ll get around to these kinds of things one day – when they have more time,” says Cathy, “But you’ll never have enough time – you just have to set out to do it, then step out and ask!”
Tendayi concurs, “Leadership involves learning from others. So be proactive, find someone you respect, who you think you can learn from. Everyone struggles with something – but we needn’t struggle alone.”
“Go for it!” Jeremy adds. “There is such a rich pool of talented people in our team – pick one you can grow and learn from. Go in with a growth mindset – and everybody will benefit.”