How To Learn The Ropes

May 26, 2014 6 Min Read

Is mentoring important? Do I need to find a mentor? Will mentoring help me achieve my goals? How can I make the most of a mentor who is willing to help me?

I am utterly convinced that mentoring matters. Here is why:

In my current management trainee programme in a bank, I have moved to five different departments from back-end operations to middle management and frontline roles over two years and have had mentors who showed me how these departments work.

This allowed me to develop a big picture perspective with the view of transitioning into a management role upon completion of the programme.

From this, I have seen the many benefits of having a mentor, where a person invests time and expertise in imparting know-how and wisdom to another person.

I also worked on an initiative to provide mentoring opportunities; linking industry leaders who were founders, chief executive officers and partners to mentor Gen-Y men to impart the practice of healthy values in the workplace.

What resulted was the “Emerging Leaders Mentoring Programme” otherwise known as M2 (Mentor-Mentee) where about 30 mentees from 18 different organisations were grouped in threes to fives under one mentor.

Each group would meet monthly for three hours over six months and go through a well-developed guide which comprised topics like leading oneself, leading others to dealing with temptations, money and power with a section on A.M.A – “Ask Me Anything!”

I have also engaged with mentors in different areas of my life ranging from fitness, health, finances to even relationships. These mentors have provided invaluable guidance.

Why mentoring?

The story of “mentor” came about from Homer’s Odyssey. King Odysseus fought in the Trojan war and entrusted his son Telemachus to a man named Mentor, who served as a teacher, trusted adviser and wise person.

Ultimately, the King wandered vainly for over 10 years in his bid to recapture the throne. A grown-up Telemachus reunites with King Odysseus and they were victorious in their quest, owing much to the guidance of Mentor.

So I am convinced that mentoring benefits me, now does it benefit you? I shall present my case on the advantages of mentoring and how you can make the most of it.

DeLong, Gabarro and Lees in their article on Why Mentoring Matters in a Hypercompetitive World featured in the Harvard Business Review, conducted interviews with working professionals and summarised what makes a good mentor as someone who:

•Is someone absolutely credible whose integrity transcends the message, be it positive or negative

•Tells you things you may not want to hear but leaves you feeling you have been heard

•Interacts with you in a way that makes you want to become better

•Makes you feel secure enough to take risks

•Gives you the confidence to rise above your inner doubts and fears

•Supports your attempts to set stretch goals for yourself

•Presents opportunities and highlights challenges you might not have seen on your own

Before I begin, here is a quick list to begin your journey in mentoring (if you have not done so already):

1. Identify a mentor by finding something he or she has done which you admire.

2. Mentoring is a relationship where the mentor knows what you want to achieve and guides you to achieve it.

3. Have many mentors for different aspects of your life.

4. Mentoring does not need to be a long-term formal relationship.

5. You don’t need to meet a mentor face-to-face to be mentored.

Listed are a number of benefits of mentoring and how one can make the most out of finding and developing a relationship with a mentor:

Benefit No. 1: Clarity

A mentor allows you to see things from a different angle, an independent voice. I studied law in university and was quite sure I would pursue a legal career, having done a legal internship every year of my student life.

I decided to take up a Masters degree and my strategic management lecturer had a conversation which changed my career trajectory by simply asking, “have you considered management or consulting?”

That opened the door to a journey of self-discovery which led to my passion in management and talent development to grow an organisation which adds value to the economy.

Make the most of mentoring by seeking your mentor’s perspective on your direction in life. If you are still in this path of self-discovery, I would recommend the book Masteryby Robert Greene who says that “you can learn a masterful way of thinking (developing a perspective) that takes a lifetime to develop in a fraction of the time”, with a mentor.

“A man’s pride can be his downfall, and he needs to learn when to turn to others for support and guidance.” – Bear Grylls

Benefit No. 2: Accountability

Accountability provides a string of benefits especially when the mentee needs to be goal-driven in his or her approach. With the help of a mentor, you will be able to:

1. Set clear goals.

2. Measure progress.

3. Monitor results.

4. Solicit feedback.

5. Use feedback to improve further

It does not mean that your mentor will develop a roadmap of success for you, but by having a “go to” person, you will be able to understand quickly, be more productive and take the path traversed by your mentor.

It may be argued that you should keep your goals to yourself, which is the title of Derek Sivers’s TEDTalk. It sounds contradictory to share your goals with your mentor but do note that the key thing is to ensure that you are accountable to your mentor when he or she does a follow-up on your plans, which is where the benefit of mentoring lies.

Make the most of mentoring by developing a habit of being accountable to your mentor, providing updates and being proactive about it.

“Accountability breeds response-ability.” – Stephen R. Covey

Benefit No. 3: Opportunity

In the workplace, there are two opportunities from a mentoring relationship you can benefit from:

Job opportunity: A mentor can be invaluable to open doors to a new path in life. Recently, someone I was mentoring found his ideal job based on an acquaintance I introduced him to, because I knew that both my mentee and the acquaintance had similar objectives in their careers.

Career opportunity: If you absolutely love your job and you have a mentor at your workplace, your mentor may be able to link you to the right opportunities in the form of special projects, building a connection with someone you may otherwise think is inaccessible or a promising promotion one day!

Sun Microsystems compared the career progress of approximately 1,000 employees over a five-year period and here’s what it found:

•Both mentors and mentees were approximately 20% more likely to get a raise than people who did not participate in the mentoring programme.

•25% of mentees and 28% of mentors received a raise – versus only 5% of managers who were not mentors.

•Employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often than people who didn’t have mentors.

•Mentors were six times more likely to have been promoted to a bigger job.

If you are looking for opportunities, remember to express it to your mentor. It may benefit both you and your mentor.

“To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.” – Benjamin Franklin

In conclusion, build and surround yourself with a group of mentors whom you can turn to for advice when needed. It can be long-term or one-off but it is important that your mentors know where you want to go and help you achieve that particular goal.

Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek which made best seller list for seven years consecutively between 2007 to 2013 mentioned that he has been asked many times, “How do I find a mentor?” His answer was simple but profound. Change the question and ask “How do I become an ideal apprentice (mentee)?”

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Besides being a part of Standard Chartered Bank’s graduate programme, Jason Lee is co-founder of LIFEschool, a social business aimed to impact lives through education.

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