I saw a lovely comment on LinkedIn recently from American HR professional Christopher Demers in which he stated that it is such a privilege to be asked to help someone.
I’ve always felt that and have seen quite a few articles and posts recently about mentoring. That got me thinking again about my own motives for doing it and what I get out of it.
Earlier in my career I was in that space between Senior Advisor and HR Manager. I knew I wanted my next role to be an HR Manager position and knew it was going to be a step up. I had heard of mentoring of course, but didn’t know much about it. It wasn’t a widespread practice back then.
The Human Resources Institute started a fledgling mentoring programme so I applied for one and was matched to a wonderful and experienced HR practitioner. He took me first through a self audit of my skills and where my gaps were, and then got me access to some very senior HR leaders to go and have one to one time with and pick their brains.
Within a year I had secured the step up I was looking for, and my mentor continued to work with me for the next five or six years. All the while introducing me to new thinking, challenging my own and generally being a sounding board. He had a great way of bringing perfect clarity to any situation I was over thinking or complicating. And when it came time to move on to a new role, his advice was invaluable again. Torn between a role I had already accepted and an offer for a role I desperately wanted, he nailed my predicament in one sentence which both made sure I took the right role, and didn’t take a role he thought would take me nowhere!
But the one thing he taught me more than anything without even trying was a desire to put something back myself. After a year or two of having a mentor, I put my own name forward to be one and soon found myself on the other side of the coffee divide.
Over the last ten or so years I have worked with perhaps a dozen HR mentees – some for a few years, some for just a few months depending on their needs and what they wanted to achieve. I’m often juggling 3 or 4 at a time as I am currently, but I never see it as a chore. Some have been truly amazing to work with and some I’ve been able to help far more effectively than others. But I have enjoyed working with all of them.
In 2015 I also became a First Foundation mentor guiding a high school student through his last year at school and into a degree course at university. The First Foundation is a wonderful organisation, giving talented kids from socially disadvantaged backgrounds a hand up into tertiary education. Each scholar gets a mentor as part of the support programme and it has been a humbling experience being part of it.
So what have I learned over the years? I think you really have to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve if you are looking for a mentor and what role the mentor is going to play in your development. I love mentees who have a clear purpose or goal in mind, rather than just want to catch up once a month for a chat without any real purpose. I’m a lot more fussy about that these days.
As a mentor you need to be personally committed, respectful, non-judgemental, a good listener, a facilitator of problem solving and a positive role model. And you need judgement – when to step in or step back.
I am a firm believer that once you reach a certain level of experience, expertise, whatever you want to call it, you have a duty and an obligation to give back and help those who are starting out or developing their careers. Not enough people do that in my opinion, either in HR or other industries.
There are lots of ways you can get involved in mentoring. Either within your industry/profession, inside your own organisation, with youth schemes like the First Foundation or Project K, or with new businesses/start ups. I’m sure there are others depending on your interests and industry experience.
If you aren’t giving back then why not start the year by thinking about how and where you can get involved. It really will make you a better person so long as you remember it’s a real privilege to be asked for help. Don’t take the responsibility lightly. Make it count.