When I started out in business I was very lucky to work with someone who listened to me, shared their knowledge and skills, and basically helped my working experience become an enjoyable one. In short, this colleague was my mentor. A mentor can be anyone who helps you grow by sharing their knowledge with you, offering advice, and being genuinely concerned about you and your success.
Mentoring can come in many forms, and doesn't always have to come from someone you work with; it could be an individual who you find influential and inspiring and is very much in the public domain. For example, I learned some interesting lessons about being a woman in the top tier of business from watching Sheryl Sandberg's Ted Talk on why we have too few women leaders; I picked up tips on being creative and never giving up from reading Steve Job's biography; but I also know that some of the most effective mentoring happens in the workplace when both parties bring certain skills to the table.
I have been impressed recently by a number of companies who now match parents returning to the work place with a mentor who has relevant experience in this field. The parent can discuss with ease any worries or concerns they have about returning to work, whilst the mentor, having gone through this process themselves, can be clearly supportive.
Mentoring is an essential leadership skill. At our agency we have set up a new executive board to support the management team and inspire the wider teams, as well as a "mirror board" to engage junior staff in the way the agency is run. The key to motivating people is to help others learn, grow and become more effective in their jobs and the Mirror Board highlights that mentorship doesn't necessarily have to come from someone more senior than you. A good mentor listens; leads by example; gives advice based on experience; shares their network of contacts; provides guidance and constructive feedback and ultimately helps you on your career path. Here are some of my top tips for mentoring successfully:
Draw on your own experience
If you're running a business mentoring can definitely help, as personal relationships developed through employee mentoring can often give mentees a new-found interest in the company's success. A colleague that I mentored found that our regular sessions helped him to rethink his career development and come up with a career path within the company that he had never considered before - and we therefore kept his talent within the agency.
Actively listening is another key skill. For instance, let your colleague explain what they feel is stopping them from taking the next step to progress in their chosen career and try not to interrupt when they are speaking. All the best mentors are the people who actually have the ability to listen and take on board what is being said to them. Remember, communication is always a two way process!
Give constructive feedback
When offering feedback make sure it's as objective as possible. If there is a problem that you need to discuss, explain very clearly what you believe it is, and talk frankly about the best way to solve it - and always offer solutions. Also ensure the feedback process is positive and both parties are fully involved.
Building a close network with other professionals in your businesses is extremely important and also rewarding. It can be quite daunting for someone new to the business to build up a good network of contacts as these relationships take time to cultivate - but are definitely worth the effort. Introduce your mentee to a number of your contacts to help them build up a rapport and relationship with them - this could pay dividends in the long term.
The open door policy
In my role as Managing Director, I like to think that I operate an 'open door' policy, where our managers can come and discuss their ideas and thoughts, and pass on what we have discussed to their team, ensuring that they too are mentored. By passing on this knowledge and wisdom, it means their colleagues can grow and succeed - and may one day be heading up a business of their own.