I don’t know why, but when I've been asked over the years about becoming a mentor to someone outside my firm, I was always a little reluctant.
I told myself all the usual excuses: I didn't have enough time, I should focus on peer mentoring and helping my own staff grow and succeed, plus all my other commitments that take up time and effort.
But recently something changed, and having finally taken the plunge I really wish I had done it sooner. I have been assigned my first formal 'mentee' (I didn't know that word existed before getting involved) by a London university associated with an organisation I belong to in the City.
It's easy to forget sometimes we are just not financial planners, we are also business people and entrepreneurs. We have accumulated many years of experience of dealing with clients, staff, suppliers, and other businesses, as well as coping with regulatory, policy and legal change.
We have, by necessity, built our communication and problem solving skills, honed our sales and presentation abilities and generally continued to develop and grow to be as good as we can be.
It is these skills that mentees are so desperate to tap into. Having now become a mentor it is something I would wholeheartedly endorse.
Being able to help a young person who is either thinking about joining the business world or just starting out in their career is both a privilege and incredibly rewarding. I've found I often learn as much as I share in the mentoring sessions. It may be obvious, but younger people think very differently, often with different aspirations and social norms and are not afraid to express them and challenge our views.
Professor Art Markman of the University of Texas has written extensively on learning and teaching and its positive impact for those on both sides of the equation. In his book Smart Thinking, he talks about the illusion of explanatory depth, which is the natural tendency for people to believe they understand their social and work environment better than they actually do.
He argues the cure for this is teaching or mentoring. He says when we engage in a teaching process, we also discover more of what we don’t completely understand. This in turn helps us improve our knowledge at the same time as the student or mentee. In simple terms, he believes it makes the mentors themselves smarter in the process of helping their mentees. Hard to argue against that.
So what have I learned, and how am I interacting with my mentee? I adopt some basic principles which seem to be working very well for both sides. I don’t think there's a right or wrong way to go about this - it's just about making a positive impact and growing the relationship based on trust and understanding.
I have applied the following personal guidelines for my mentoring activities and happily credit a fair bit of google time in reading up on how others approach it:
- Every mentorship will be different depending on the mentee's personality, skills and individual requirements. Treat them as such.
- Work out expectations, and agree them on both sides at the very beginning. Both sides have to commit to not let these slip.
- Let your mentee talk about and fully explore their requirements for themselves before offering advice.
- Question, probe and allow the mentee the latitude to do the same.
- Don’t assume anything. Ask, don’t tell and never impose.
- Be open and honest and admit past mistakes. It helps trust and encourages the same honesty in the mentee.
- Give more than you ask for. At the end of the day, mentors do have more knowledge and experience to impart, that's the main reason for your role.
- Be quick and very honest with any critique and feedback.
- Lead by example and aspire to be a positive role model.
- Celebrate and highlight successes of the mentee. There is real joy on both sides during this supportive process.
As no doubt is clear by now, I have found the whole process incredibly rewarding. I've always liked to explore self-improvement and have been genuinely surprised at how helping others has helped me personally.
More than that, mentoring has been a joy. I do hope that if you are not doing so already, you will give it a try. Someone with less experience will be very grateful, and you may just be surprised at how much you learn about yourself along the way.