Advice for Some Age Old Challenges

17/05/2016 13:42 | Updated 17 May 2016

Last night I had the pleasure of 'speed mentoring' eight female high performers from companies within our group - all of whom were fantastic.

However, a conversation with the other mentors confirmed what I had begun to see - a series of familiar themes emerged from the issues that the mentees had brought to the table.

Of course, the first rule of mentoring is not to impose your views on people, and rather than give advice, you should help them find their own answers. However, some of the mentees said to us afterwards that they just wanted to hear what we specifically would do, say or think.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share some of the themes that came up, and the 'what I would do?' answers; in case it's of use to other young women (or men) as they develop their careers.

Theme 1: I'm down in the weeds

Several of the women we spoke to felt that they were drowning in the 'doing', without any time to do the 'thinking'. In order to get round to doing some of the higher level work that might help them grow and move up the ladder, many of them felt that their day to day work, wasn't leaving them any space to step back and think outside it.

My advice to them - as it would be to anyone - is to empower the teams below you. To move on yourself, you have to develop the teams you work with, and enable them to confidently cover some of your work. It's hard to let go of certain things, but this frees up valuable time and headspace to do what you need to do.

Simply put, in order to grow yourself, you have to grow those below you.

Theme 2: I am afraid of being seen as unkind

Many we spoke to had issues with the performance of their colleagues but were struggling to give negative feedback for fear of being seen as unkind, hurting the other person's feelings, or not been liked.

Here, one has to recognise the consequences of not giving the feedback. If you are in a position to be able to develop these people's careers, then it would be a disservice not to. By not giving them feedback you are effectively holding them back - allowing them to continue in blissful ignorance of the issues could easily prevent them from not getting their next promotion.

Feedback of course needs to cover the positive and the negative. It needs to acknowledge a job brilliantly done, a particular strength or skill, as well as highlighting areas for improvement. Helping an individual find a different approach or develop requisite skills, not only gives you a better colleague to work with, but one that has the potential to progress.

Reframe the notion that giving negative feedback is 'unkind' and recognise that not giving fair and appropriate feedback is much worse.

Theme 3: I'm not clever enough

I've heard this a thousand times before. It was my personal gremlin for years, and even now it pops up from time to time - I'm just better at shooting it down these days. A fear of not being strategic, of not adding value, of not being able to ask the provocative questions can hold us back.

The diary gets filled with the stuff that is well within one's competencies. That becomes an excuse for not doing the other stuff, because that is a frightening blank page.

Whenever I hear this I try to get people to recognise that no one has to do this stuff alone. It's okay to be an ideas builder, to work with other members of the team to develop and craft ideas and it's okay to work with other people as stimulus. I encourage everyone to dedicate time to reading interesting 'stuff'.

I use my train journey to stay abreast of broader client issues via Google Alerts, and to keep an eye on trade press and interesting thought pieces. If I didn't do it then it wouldn't get done. It helps me build my own ideas, and often provides interesting content to share with clients and the team.

Don't be afraid to carve out time during the day to build your knowledge - general and work related. You never know when inspiration for a project might strike.


Theme 4: I'm having a baby. HELP!

Two women at last night's event were heading towards motherhood; delighted, excited and terrified in equal proportions. I also spoke to others with aspirations to be a mother. The common question was, how do you do it all?

This one is hard because every woman will approach the juggle of family and work life differently and in that lies its strength - there isn't a right way or a wrong way, only your way.

So here my advice is very practical. For those with aspirations I said make sure you choose the right partner! And what I mean by that is a partner who buys into a proper 50/ 50 share of responsibilities approach, as famously advocated by Sheryl Sandberg.

Another key piece of advice is to get the best childcare you can afford. Preferably a solution that allows you some flex, definitely one that allows you to switch off from worrying about your baby - temporarily compartmentalise that part of your life - and focus on the task in hand. Switch off your guilt and everyone will be happier for it.

My advice might not work for everyone, but it's what I have tried. The women I spoke to were resourceful and came up with tons of other ideas to solve their own challenges, but ultimately, the point was to give these women the opportunity to talk about them.

These are age old challenges that we all recognise. I remember facing them twenty years ago, and I still face some of them from time to time now. The power in events like this is having the opportunity to talk to each other and share ideas in what we can do next; and I have no doubt that all of the women we spoke to will face them head on, and succeed.