I’ve been fortunate to have had so many mentors, coaches, supporters and champions throughout my career. Both in an official and unofficial capacity. They’ve been incredible in lending a listening ear, offering sound advice and challenging my thinking. As a young professional, they helped me to grow my knowledge, develop my skills and build confidence in my abilities and I feel absolutely indebted to them all.
Recently, I was approached by a colleague, who asked if I would consider being her mentor. Slightly taken aback (and flattered) by the request, I explained that I would be happy to have an initial conversation to understand whether I could indeed be of help and to figure out if we were compatible.
Since quite early on in my career, I’ve understood the value in sharing my experiences particularly with engineering graduates trying to figure out the next step of their careers. My main motivation was always to help others who may be having the same doubts, facing the same challenges or trying to overcome the same barriers that I had. Mentoring, although different, felt akin to that, but given my mentee was not in the engineering or sustainability field, I felt a bit more pressure to draw on experience that would be relevant and relatable.
I entered the relationship with some reservations as to whether I would indeed add any value. I wondered if I would be able to help address the specific challenges my mentee had shared, if it would make sense to open up my network to her and if she would end up feeling it was a waste of her time!
But it’s been an incredible journey and here are some of my reflections to help anyone who’s on the fence as to whether they have what it takes to be a mentor.
You don’t have to have to be at the peak of your career to offer another perspective.
Many people mistakenly think they need to be at the top of their game to make a credible mentor or feel they need to be in a senior position to offer meaningful advice. But, no matter what stage of your professional career you are at, you can be a valuable mentor to another by offering them a different perspective and by drawing on your unique set of experiences to help your mentee navigate their challenges.
You don’t need have all the answers, but you do need to ask lots of questions
Mentoring conversations can frequently be very exploratory. Often the most rewarding conversations are not those where a question has simply been answered, but instead one where the question has been explored together and has stimulated conversation. Through asking questions you can help to spark reflection within the mentee and help them to evaluate different approaches to their challenges.
You too will learn, grow and develop your leadership skills
Spending time with my mentee who specialises in a completely different subject area has helped me to expand my skill set and has even allowed me to take some additional learnings into my role. Mentoring has helped me to become a better listener, a better supporter and a better leader. It’s taught me that there’s nothing more satisfying than encouraging others to be the best that they can be.
There’s power in paying it forward
When I think back to all those who took the time to guide me through various stages of my career, I’m reminded of the kindness they displayed, the time they invested and effort they displayed. Having the opportunity to pay this forward with my mentee is more rewarding than I imagined and the real bonus is that it’s really enjoyable too!
So if you’re offered the opportunity to be a mentor, my advice would be to grab it with both hands, it’ll have a profound effect on those you are able to help and on you too!