Mentoring is a powerful form of self-development.
As the calendar clicks further into 2018, we’re moving farther away from that time we set our goals and aspirations for the year ahead. The level of motivation and inspiration that surrounded us on the first week of January is starting to diminish as the routine and demands of our daily lives get in the way.
Let mentoring help you achieve your goals in 2018.
Experience is one of the most effective forms of learning and growth. Through our actions we see and feel the reality of our ideas. As our thoughts translate to doing, we understand the impact, consequences and reality of our experience.
Mentoring allows us to learn from the experience of others. So, while we may not yet have tried the new activity or action that we are considering, we can learn from someone else who has been there, done that. Their successes, their failures, and their reflections on what they have been through can help us work out how to approach the challenges facing us.
Story-telling is ingrained in us as a trusted, reliable and accepted way of learning and developing ourselves. Story-telling is a way our ancestors passed on wisdom and knowledge from their experiences, and the experiences of their ancestors, and so on. However, in the digital age we rely less on the stories of those we have relationships with, and more on the advice and (possible) wisdom of others who we may not know or ever meet.
I appreciate the irony of these statements, as you may not know me personally, and I am describing what has worked for me as a story that you may be able to apply in your life. However, what I am suggesting is for you to find someone you do know to start a mentoring relationship with. Learn from their stories and experiences.
What is mentoring anyway?
Mentoring can be formal or informal.
A formal mentoring relationship is usually set up for a pre-determined period of time, for example 6 to 12 months. There is often a framework in place that guides how often the pair will meet and how they will conduct themselves during the partnership. Many workplaces, professional associations and industry bodies offer formal mentoring programs for employees and members.
Or mentoring can be informal, where the mentoring relationship occurs organically and continues for as long as it serves a purpose, coming to a natural conclusion whenever the pair feel the time is right.
I have learned from both formal and informal mentoring relationships. Neither is better than the other, they’re just different approaches to achieve the same goal – self-development, whether that is personal or professional development.
Mentoring, formal or informal, involves the same premise – one person sharing their stories and experiences to help support the development of another.
Sometimes the mentor may be older than the mentee (the person being mentored), sometimes they may be younger. Sometimes the mentor may come from a different industry or background. There is no rule about this.
It is about the quality of the conversation and what is shared and discussed that makes the difference.
As with any form of growth, doing is the most effective way of developing.
Mentoring creates the benefit of both learning from someone else’s experience, then practicing in between catch-ups to try out the new idea or assumption, which can then be debriefed in the next catch-up. It follows the pattern of discuss/share, do/act, repeat.
How has mentoring helped me?
In my early career I had colleagues I looked up to and admired. I aspired to be like them – confident, smart and ready to handle anything that came their way. We had coffee catch-ups to discuss my development and priorities.
Looking back, I wish I had taken more care to learn from them. This was a perfect opportunity to create an informal mentoring relationship, but I did not recognise it at the time.
Yes, they helped me, but looking back I feel there was a missed opportunity to get even more out of these connections if only I showed more interest in learning about them, rather than just discussing me.
A few years into my career I participated in a formal mentoring program run by my professional association. This was during a time I was transitioning from one employer to another, and moving into a more senior role. I was nervous about the change. I was going into an environment where I was not proven, to myself or others.
Mentoring came along at the right time for me. I was able to discuss my hopes and fears with my mentor and work out a plan for how I would approach this change to be successful.
At the start of our partnership I described the areas I wanted to focus on during our mentoring program. Confidence was one of those areas. I felt I needed to be more confident, given my nerves and hesitation at doing this new role, even though I wanted the role and had been selected as the most suitable and qualified person for the job.
During our partnership my mentor helped me learn about myself, and my capability, through sharing how he learned about himself. My mentor helped me realise that I was more confident than I gave myself credit for.
I expected challenges in transitioning to this new role, but I went ahead and did it anyway, overcoming the challenges I had anticipated, while getting positive feedback from my new boss along the way.
Through the support and encouragement from my mentor, and our debriefs, this helped me really stop and appreciate my progress, not just take it for granted. It transformed my efforts from simply being ‘what I did’ into lessons I could learn from and achievements I could be proud of.
Where to next?
We are at the start of a new year. While essentially nothing has changed, everything has changed.
I am taking the symbolism of a new year to be a fresh start for me. This blog is one of the big focuses for me this year. I also have some health and learning goals I want to work on.
So, I have sought out a mentor to help me on my way. I’m excited about the ability to learn from someone else, and the opportunity to share my progress and help keep me accountable to see it through.
I’m using mentoring to help me achieve my goals in 2018.
Could mentoring help you?