A few months ago, I was talking to a line manager who was seeking a mentor for their employee through our organisation’s Mentorship Scheme. “Kelly, what is the role of a mentor?” they asked. I responded with a link to F. John Reh’s article which I read when I had the same question after someone offered to mentor me almost three years ago – prior to this I had not even heard of mentoring.
Looking back through the article, this pretty much mirrors my experience so far; “The mentor might not exactly instruct her or provide on-the-spot coaching or training. Instead, he will challenge her and encourage her to think through issues and approaches by asking difficult-to-answer questions and serve as a source of wisdom when needed.”
I explained to the line manager that I had found the experience intense at times, but I feel this is a good thing as it starts to get to the heart of things. The experience has helped me on a more personal level, to achieve on a professional level; making me think more like an engineer, be more confident, open to new opportunities, and get used to the way of recording things for CPD. I feel there may be other things gained which will come to me with time, probably providing strength in times of need. I also said that sometimes it is good just to have a sounding board, or just confirm that “no, I’m not mad, that is what happens here” sometimes! (During COVID it has just been good to have a scheduled time on Teams to just have a chat if we do not have anything else as we miss the casual exchanges in the office).
I advised the line manager that my mentor says they often learn more from the sessions than the mentee, so it can be of benefit to the mentor too; and most importantly, what is discussed during the meetings is in confidence for both parties.
I believe I sufficiently explained the mentor role enough to convince them that a mentor was suitable for their employee; I am pleased to see that the employee has been sufficiently challenged so far as they are asking about training opportunities to help them with where they want to go in their career.
Some things I need to keep in mind for the mentoring relationship are outlined in Pat Mitchell’s blog on TED Ideas; I have to remember that the mentor will suggest and ask the smart questions – not provide the answers; and that the mentor sessions are not therapy sessions! I can see these are traps I can end up falling into myself as an “unofficial mentor” to inexperienced colleagues. With the employee above, I was able to suggest exploring various funding streams for their course; what they are exploring could help them further than just the course – all from their own exploration with a small nudge initially from me without getting too involved in the day-to-day.
Finally, one can have more than one mentor; and the relationship does not need to last the entire career or be scheduled. I have had support from others who were able to help me outline my next career steps in a single meeting; I appreciated their straight-forwardness and knowledge of Eng-Spec that helped me say loudly and clearly what I needed to do next. I am indebted to my long-term mentor and the casual mentors who have helped me see around problems, and challenged my status-quo; all unofficially and not as part of any scheme or Chartership route.