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April 2, 2020

Mentorship as a career development and leadership tool

Sarah, an entry-level accountant is interested in assuming a more leadership role in the long-term and her first step is to become a chartered accountant. She has done some research on her own but is still seeking further guidance, so she reaches out to Simon, an older and more experienced career professional in the workplace. Simon chooses to share his own experiences and resources with her in hopes of guiding her along the journey. 

As she continues to progress professionally their relationship grows and he becomes her accountability partner and a sounding board. She shares her successes as well as her failures and setbacks and he advises her and asks challenging questions that help her become better suited for the role of a chartered accountant. Simon even helps expand her network by bringing her into valuable spaces.

Eventually, she reaches her goal and easily acclimatizes to the role because Simon has helped her prepare. Simon became her mentor and in turn, Sarah became his mentee.

Mentorship creates more confident and knowledgeable professionals and turns them into great leaders. who better understand how to achieve their career goals. As an industry professional looking to climb the career ladder, how can you ensure a successful relationship like that of Sarah and Simon?
Mentoring builds trust and creates a safe environment for honest feedback and unbiased career development advice. As David Clutterbuck and David Megginson put it in their book Techniques for Coaching and Mentoring:

Mentoring relates primarily to the identification and nurturing of potential for the whole person. It often is a long-term relationship, where goals may change but are always set by the mentee. The mentee owns both the goals and the process. Feedback comes from within the mentee – the mentor helps them to develop insight and understanding through intrinsic observation, that is, becoming more aware of their own experiences.

In the example above Simon and Sarah formed a long term relationship geared at aiding Sarah to achieve professional goals that she had set for herself. Simon became a sounding board for advice, and granted her opportunities to network by taking her to events she wouldn’t normally have access to.

It is clear that, as a mentor, Simon was a valuable resource. How can you do the same and ensure that you provide your mentees with the best experience?:

  • Focus on identifying and building on character rather than competency. 
    Steven Covey once said, “Character is what we are; competence is what we can do.” As a mentor, you don’t want to focus on your mentee’s capabilities and promise alone. It is equally important to focus on who the individual is. Are they affable, diligent, persistent, genuine, inquisitive, reflective, a person of integrity? Character and mindset help build a strong professional.
  • Put the relationship before the mentorship.
    Be loyal to your mentee, this relationship should stand through good and bad times, the highs and lows. It’s like having a treasured friend, it takes time to mature and develop, but when it does you can understand and better aid them, you will be able to pre-empt difficulties and strategise on solutions. Your capabilities as a mentor will increase as your personal relationship grows.
    Like Sarah, how can you maximise your mentorship journey and serve?
  • Before seeking help, clearly define your goals.
    Outline your desires and the steps you think it will take to get there. Take time out to reflect and identify your strengths and weaknesses, your unique skills and your future goals. Once you have these defined, you can enlist your mentors help in prioritising your goals and refining your ideas. This article outlines 5 Steps Career Savvy Professionals Take to Define Their Goals.
  • Stay accountable and put in the work. 
    Whether you’re working towards long term goals or building your skills in a particular area, you won’t succeed without perseverance, persistence and continuous learning. Your resolve will be tested, but your determination should not falter. Having a mentor does not automatically make the work easier, things still will not happen if you are not utilising the guidance from your mentor. Remember, your mentor’s goal is to guide you to a place of self-awareness where you can identify and solve your problems.
  • Choose a mentor for the right reasons.
    Don’t choose mentors based on fame, riches or physical looks. Allow your personal goals and vision to be a guide for making this decision. Before settling on a mentor, consult other trusted friends, colleagues or family if need be. Yale university expounds a bit on the issue of choosing a mentor: How to Choose a Mentor. Forbes also provides some important factors to consider: Trust, Compatibility, Contrast, and Expertise. Their article provides more details: 4 Things to Look For in A Mentor. In my own HR mentoring programme, we pair people by looking at their professional backgrounds, career, accomplishments and aspirations before making final decisions. Even with all this, sometimes the chemistry isn't there and we have to re-pair, getting that aspect right plays an incredible role in the success of the relationship and therefore the benefit of mentoring.

In my HR Mentoring programme, I employ all of these techniques and as a result, I have witnessed the transformation in the quality of both the personal and professional lives of the cohorts. Now more than ever, I am driven to empower, engage, and transform lives. My goal is to help create the next generation of thought leaders and critical thinkers.
When I reflect on my career to date, I can testify to the difference that mentorship has played in my career development and in transforming me into a global leader. Whoever you are, seek mentorship, mentor those around you, and help transform the professional landscape.

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