Do you have access to someone who has experience in your field of work, and who is happy to give you some help to develop yourself and your career? In other words, do you have a mentor?
A mentor can support your career progression. A good mentor will see potential in you that you may not be able to recognise, and help you to make your ambitions a reality.
Research from the CIPD (1) demonstrated that mentoring can be very effective in helping us gain knowledge, increase skills and act more effectively. It can lead to better management of career goals, and helps with developing a wider network of influence. And being mentored can increase confidence and self-awareness which leads to better performance at work.
A mentor would normally be someone in the same line of work as you, so they can offer you guidance based on experience. They can also help you to access networks and opportunities. A good mentor may also coach you where needed, helping you to clarify your own ideas for a way forward.
There are various ways to find a mentor or mentors. Some employers can help set up formal mentoring arrangements, so it’s worth asking about opportunities. Sometimes a manager can also act as a mentor. By which I mean they can help us to grow professionally and often personally, beyond the demands of our current job. I experienced this from one of my managers. Janet was an expert at developing her staff. She was willing to delegate and trusted me to take on extra responsibilities and to represent her sometimes at events. She also encouraged me to work towards a qualification which proved invaluable in my later career.
Sometimes a mentor is someone outside the management structure. Someone we meet and connect with in the workplace, who teaches or inspires us. When I first met Maggie, she was a wonderful role model and helped me discover a career direction that finally felt right. Maggie was hugely encouraging, she could see potential in me and helped me develop it. And a few years down the line, we ended up working closely together.
Sometimes you might look for a mentor externally to your organisation, particularly if you want to change direction. You may be able to find a mentor by asking within your professional and social networks. There are also individuals who offer paid mentoring services.
We all need mentors, even if they are only informal ones. And we need different people at different times or in different areas of our lives. Sometimes a simple conversation over coffee can prompt a change, and that is all the support we need at the time. Sometimes we might need a lot more in the way of handholding and be willing to invest in a professional mentor or coach.
When you have established some success in your career or business, it might be time to look at giving something back and offering some of your own time as a mentor. This can be very rewarding. The CIPD research shows mentors also benefit from the satisfaction of developing their colleagues and from passing on their knowledge, skills and expertise. And it can help develop your skills too. Sometimes it’s only by sharing what we know that we can hold a mirror up to ourselves and recognise the depth of our own knowledge and skill. And mentors can also learn from mentees, from their questions and perspectives.
Have you been inspired by a mentor? Or are you a mentor? Please share your experiences in the comments box.
(1) CIPD Learning and development survey 2008.