At its core, mentoring fosters talent in a climate designed to facilitate a mentee’s growth, self-awareness and ambitions.
Good mentors can identify a mentee’s strengths, even when he or she can’t, and help to navigate roadblocks and challenges.
Although we tend to think of mentoring as a modern phenomenon, it has roots in pre-history and Greek mythology, and we can read the tale of Odysseus having asked his friend Mentor to support and nurture his son while he went away to fight in the Trojan wars. So at its heart, this was an ancient relationship built on trust, transferring wisdom, protecting emerging leadership talent and succession planning.
Mentoring in 2023 is still about connecting people to successful leaders who can provide wise counsel and confidential, practical support. A good mentor is a sounding board, an advocate, a critic and a confidante. It’s a personal, practical and self-directed process that can help mentees find and trust their own voices.
A favourite saying amongst mentors is that a good mentor can provide the unwritten guidebook to executive life, though the sharing of firsthand highs and lows, case studies, tips, hacks and decision-making skills that have proved their value under pressure.
Over the course of 20 years McCarthy Mentoring has collated extensive evidence which mirrors global statistics to substantially demonstrate that good mentoring greatly positively impacts performance, accelerates promotions and enhances both parties’ overall enjoyment of their careers.
Overwhelmingly, participants of a mentoring program report emerging with an increased personal sense of engagement and motivation. Candidates can better clarify career goals and progression pathways, they develop self-awareness, become better at navigating professional challenges, expand their networks and synthesise the many lessons to enhance their work performances.
Tips: Ensuring mentoring sessions cover these key themes will enhance outcomes:
Set clear, achievable goals to establish a long-term vision and short-term motivation. Questions might include the basics like ‘what do you need to feel happy and successful in your career and life?’, ‘what is the specific outcome you want?’ and ‘what is holding you back?’ Writing goals down increases the chances of bringing them to fruition by 40% and sharing them with someone keeping them accountable, such as a mentor, takes it to 70%.
Articulate the mentee’s strengths and abilities alongside creating a sense of self-awareness of his or her strengths, values and purpose. Can all strengths be identified? Who can help them do this? And what about blind spots or biases that we all have but find hard to recognise ourselves. Often a key to effective performance and productive relationships is for people to understand how to lean into their strengths and identify and manage their blindspots.
Career planning is a universal challenge for talent approaching a work transition or a new opportunity. Mentees often have concerns or lack confidence about career progression, or express feelings of being stuck. Mid and senior level executives often feel torn between pursing their professional and personal enjoyment of being a subject matter expert with the need to lead and manage teams outside of their core skills. Many don’t know how to navigate the choices that these career forks present so ensure that your mentoring catch ups cover this important subject.
The power of a network. For many the idea of networking is fraught with fear and may not go further than their immediate team. But ultimately networking is about building and strengthening trusted relationships across industry, organisation and expertise and is a key common denominator for successful senior professionals. The network becomes one of many assets that a mentee can use to achieve their goals and perform better in their role thanks to the advice, influence, resources and connections of key relationships. It’s also vital when considering career progression, as referees can open doors or contacts provide valuable insights at critical points in the process. Networks can also answer questions about what competitors are doing, market responses, previous case studies and government responses. Good mentors encourage their candidates to build and invest in their networks for all of these reasons and more, and can provide great ideas on how to develop them without hitting the golf course!
Wellbeing – Good mentoring will involve wider conversations than just career progression and performance. This can be challenging to discuss but essential to a robust examination of workplace wellbeing. Ensure that discussions include where to look for motivation and energy, and how to protect it. Managing wellbeing and strengthening resilience is a critical professional skill and involves mastery of life elements like stress management, sleep, nutrition, exercise, getting away from screens and taking regular holidays. Mentees should be encouraged to learn this early as an investment in their careers and their happiness.
Effective leadership. Drawing on established, trustworthy tools like the Hogan Leadership Assessment or a 360 (LINK) offers a useful framework to reflect on effective leadership and what aspects are working well and what needs to shift. The focus may be on communication, relationships, managing others, managing self and decision making. Good mentoring for good leadership depends on skilled listening, powerful questioning, fresh perspectives, a generous sharing of life experiences, discretion and careful reflection.
Strong mentoring relationships can be in person or virtual but will rely on
- The right match. Arguably the most critical element for the strongest outcome. Virtual can broaden the pool of options without the restrictions of geography.
- Setting purpose, expectations and goals. Agreeing these with all parties from the start.
- Trust and confidentiality. Building trust and rapport to allow for open and meaningful discussions – in the questions asked, stories shared, support provided, feedback given. With deliberate focus and a new level of comfort online, remote doesn’t have to be a barrier.
- Investment and commitment. Leaning in and embracing the experience.
- Mentee responsibility. The mentee needs to drive the relationship and take ownership for their growth and development.
- Regular engagement. Maintain the momentum. Virtual may allow for more moments to catch up.