“The problem is great mentors are hard to find”

It is our great privilege to introduce Victor Udoewa as our guest blogger today. Victor who is a great mentor and works as a Science & Technology Policy Advisor in the States writes for Urbane on how to find a great mentor – his insight is eye opening!  

Most of the time I hear people talk about mentoring as if it is only about finding the right person who can give you pearls of wisdom. The problem is great mentors are hard to find, not because they are invisible, but because they are too visible. In other words, great mentors tend to be highly impacting people: their work is visible, their impact is visible. Many eyes are drawn to them, many people want to be like them. Because of this, they receive many requests for mentoring. Since they are already busy people, they can only mentor a certain number of people. So there is competition due to limited resources. In short, excellent mentors are hard to find.

As a mentor, myself, I know you can view the situation from a different lens. Instead of trying to find the right mentor, ask yourself “Am I attracting the right mentor?” I can tell you from first hand experience, excellent mentors (and some poor ones) will often reach out to people in whom they see promise and initiative and potential. These mentors are not asked or solicited; they voluntarily contact people whose potential attracts mentors and these mentors offer to mentor, start relationships, and help guide. You want to be the type of person who attracts a mentor, rather than competing for a mentor.

That means you need to have a vision. You need to feel a call to do something, serve someone, improve life for others, or some type of call that agitates and burdens you and keeps you awake at night. Many people feel it but they stop there. Secondly, you need to take initiative. You need to try to create something, build something, change something for the better, innovate something, improve something. It’s ok if you fail, but you need to be experimenting and exploring. Lastly, you need to reflecting on how it went and learning from your mistakes in order to improve your product or service for the next experiment. When you are doing those things, mentors have something in you they can mold and guide. It’s very difficult for a mentor to mentor you when you don’t have any aims or directions or vocation. If you simply want more money, you don’t necessarily need a mentor (though a mentor can help). Again, what are you doing that naturally attracts mentors who admire your work ethic, initiative, drive, perseverance, vision, results, learnings, etc.? What are you doing?

Lastly remember, if the only reason you want a mentor is for pearls of wisdom, there are less time-intensive ways to learn pearls of wisdom rather than mentoring. Mentoring is a relationship that can offer deeper benefits.

  • Feedback – This has nothing to do with your analytical skills. It has everything to do with an objective, outside voice. You need someone who is not involved in your project to give their opinion. This can be through listening, mirroring, reflecting, advising, counseling, troubleshooting, analysis, evaluation, etc.

  • Network – Sometimes mentors connect you to a broader community of people who can help you with various parts of your life or work. The best mentors know their limits and readily introduce you to others who can help in particular area.
  • Learnings – This is deeper than a pearl of wisdom. This can be directly communicating things learned, but usually much deeper. Deeper versions can be in the form of shadowing period where a mentee can follow a mentor around and learn about things that are not articulated or even when a mentor introduces a mentee to team members so that the mentee learns not just individual learnings but team or organisational learnings from those around the mentor.

I could say a lot more about mentoring. But let me say in my last company both of my mentors approached me. As for me, I mentored many people; some approached me and some I approached. And in those situations, I was able to take part in the development of my mentees as they moved into roles that aligned with their passions and vocation. I wrote references and letters of support, and I have been told by hiring managers that it was my referral, reference, or letter that made the candidate the first choice of the hiring team. That was all because we had a mentoring relationship that was vulnerable, goal-oriented, and honest.

Victor Udoewa
Design Innovation & Education Specialist
Science & Technology Policy Advisor

It is with great pleasure that we introduce today’s guest blogger, Anna Thomlinson. Anna boasts excellent credentials in all things mentoring; she is currently the Mentor Manager at Mass Challenge, and previously was the Mentor Manager at Start Up Loans Company.  Today, she writes for Urbane on the appeal of mentoring:

In big cities you can now find mentoring programmes for most age groups and across a wide variety of topics, from sports teams, to recovery from an illness, to career advancement. The appeal for mentoring programmes is ever increasing. Why? Because individuals and organisations are recognising the value of what we have to learn from those that have trodden a path before us. Mentoring is also cost effective, bespoke and covers niche topics, upskills both parties taking part in it, is easy to understand and therefore set up, and often utilises learning patterns in a very natural and unforced form.

For many decades, it was thought that upskilling a workforce required paying coaches or trainers to deliver workshops, or structured programmes where much more senior staff support the younger staff, or giving people training material such as videos. However, the process can be much more simple and tailored to someone’s needs, and mentoring does not assume in a highly tech focused age that the younger audience must be the mentee.

If I wanted to go about starting something new, the reasonable step that I would expect to take is to ask the person that has been there before me, who is also available and amenable. I would do this in some free time, in a format that works for me absorbing information, which is informal so that I am less stressed and more capable of taking in information, asking questions whenever they arise, and getting tailored responses using real life examples. Within reason I could also stop and start this when needed. This is mentoring. And the value is truly starting to be felt, widely.

A mentor offers a bespoke solution, without even asking this of the mentor, it is just the nature of meeting one-to-one. And to be a good mentor, you do not need to be highly skilled in training and coaching (although some training in good mentoring techniques can be very beneficial), so mentoring is an activity that many more people can get involved in. Mentoring is leveraging and sharing the knowledge from the specialities within an organisation in a way that a paid external could not.

Mentoring can be attractive to all types of employees. For the high flyers who want to keep moving up the company, they can stay motivated through having someone to consult on whether there is more that they could be doing or different things that they should focus on. Those taking on a new project can learn and get to grips with it faster through being given a space in which to ask questions. For the mentor, they not only gain satisfaction through their mentee’s achievements but they learn from the mentee; it is not a one way process. They can practice their leadership skills, hear about areas that they do not work on, and show their success of their role as a mentor on their CV.

All of the benefits that individuals receive can lead to retaining and better development of good talent, reducing recruitment and training costs. This is now being better understood now than ever because as results from previous generations of mentoring programmes come through, they are starting to provide the anecdotal evidence that mentoring works. However, with few options in the market to measure the effectiveness of programmes, statistical evidence of workplace mentoring programmes is hard to find.

Finally, setting up a mentoring programme is easy; the barriers for establishing one are low in terms of cost and management. Organisations are really starting to see that staff who are able to access learning support from their peers can be more happy and engaged in the company, more innovative through accessing knowledge from niche areas, and more empowered through enabling them to access support at any time.

Anna Thomlinson
Co-Founder & Mentor Manager at Mass Challenge.
Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Is mentoring vital to succession planning?

Succession planning is vital for any organisation to survive. It works as an insurance for human capital ensuring the continuity of the business without interruption, but also helps organisations navigate through a VUCA world by having key young leaders ready to step in when top management ceases to be available.

Organisations never fail to have an annual succession planning in place, but do all succession planning instances deliver results when mentoring is not part of it? Here, we are reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s quote which says that learning only happens when the individual is involved in whatever they want to learn:

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Young leaders have to be involved with top management in order to be ready for leadership positions when the time comes for these young leaders to be the new drivers of the business.

Involving the right young leaders to be mentored by top management is not straightforward. On top of having a successful mentoring programme in the organisation, both the young leader and the leader at the top need to have the right chemistry before they can start working together. Thus it should not be the sole decision of the HR/L&D practitioner to connect staff in an organisation for a mentoring role, instead they should select staff for the mentoring programme and allow themselves to choose their role models and the right mentees to form such a mentoring relationship. This may be so even where the mentee and mentors are from totally different disciplines, but are keen to work together.

The L&D practitioner needs only to identify a pool of young leaders and some of their top leaders who want to get involved in the programme, allowing those involved to connect with whomever they would like. Once these mentoring relationships are forged then making sure that the mentoring is done in line with the business strategy is key to reap the full benefits of successful succession planning.

As Benjamin Franklin said, young leaders have to be involved in order to learn, and we know that in organisations this is best achieved through mentoring. When a leader mentors a younger aspiring leader and shows them the ‘ways’ of the business (by involving their mentees in key meetings and 1-2-1 mentoring), the younger leader becomes truly prepared for key leadership roles in their organisation. Additionally, combining mentoring with coaching and more training can bring the very best in young leaders shaping them to be the best leaders that any organisation would desire to have on standby for when leadership positions need to be filled to achieve the goals of the organisation.

Therefore having the right talent available to step in for key positions can be achieved through mentoring. Any succession planning strategy should take mentoring as their most important tool to develop the next generation of leaders and continue to propel the business forward.

Teodor R. Hlihor
Co-Founder & Partnerships Director at Urbane.
Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.