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Choosing to challenge yourself – mentoring

A few years ago, I accepted a challenge and set up a women’s network called Women in Asset Servicing (WiAS).  I have enjoyed the experience and have been honoured to support women and men to discover what it means for them to be personally brave, how to properly assess skills and importantly to network. 

WiAS’s work is now entering it’s next stage, as we partner with Embark over the next two. The partnership will result in Embark providing practical support, resources and expertise to WiAS to further increase the reach and impact of the group. At the same time WiAS will support Embark’s graduate programme in which members will play a mentoring role. This will help to ensure that Embark’s graduates are exposed to a diverse range of mentors, ideas, and best practice from as wide a pool of people as possible.

International Women’s Day this year is encouraging us to #choosetochallenge, to be part of the movement towards a gender equal world and to celebrate women’s achievements.  These are great challenges and we can all accept them as part of a greater movement and also personally.  In particular, I am passionate about helping people challenge themselves to meet bigger and better goals and outcomes through mentoring and, crucially, sponsorship.

Working with a mentor can be a stimulating experience, opening up possibilities for the mentee  and for the mentor. Good mentoring is an active experience, whether on an individual or group level.  The best outcomes come from a starting point of personal bravery; being brave enough to reach out and start, to develop self-awareness and perception and to accept personal behavioural changes that will adjust the perceptions of others.  It can be both mentally challenging and exceptionally rewarding.

Mentoring is a personal relationship between two parties, it is about seeking the best outcomes for the mentee, not an information gathering exercise for the firm that they work for.  It works best when a mirror is held up to the mentee.  This requires the confidence of both parties and that necessitates information being kept confidential.  Good mentoring sessions facilitate bravery and can address both strengths and areas for development in a positive way.

But where can mentoring go wrong?  I’ve talked to many people who have had unsatisfactory mentoring experiences and often it is because the mentoring has not progressed past opening discussions, it therefore has not surfaced individual objectives for the mentee or there is insufficient challenge from the mentor.  Mentoring isn’t just a nice chat, it has to have an objective and a purpose.

Before starting, there are three aspects for the mentee to consider:

  1. The mentor; avoid choosing someone who is like you. Choose someone with a different set of skills, different experiences and a different mindset.  Mentors and mentees who are too similar often fail to challenge each other sufficiently. They also see the world in the same way
  2. Choose quality time over quantity; mentoring is a commitment for both parties. It should be a bigger commitment for the mentee and it can take time to prepare for and reflect after the sessions.  Not all mentoring needs to be one hour every month.  Some of the most successful mentoring I’ve ever received was a few short 10 minute slots or were focused on a specific challenge.  As a result, they changed my perception of an issue and made me approach something in a different way
  3. Choose a few mentors, each of them having their own skills and contribution. It’s not necessary to meet everyone each month, even a couple of times per year can make a big difference.

The important divergence between mentoring and sponsorship often gets lost.  Women, in particular, often don’t recognise or exploit sponsorship opportunities.  This is a shame because careers can be transformed through a combination of both.

Sponsorship is about getting your name and your skills and talents recognised in senior circles, a sponsor can be a great advocate in conversations that you are blissfully unaware of.  Cultivating sponsors should be an active part of your day job, identifying senior leaders and influencers with whom to discuss your longer-term career goals.  Sponsors can advise, can mentor, but they will also want to see tangible outcomes bringing benefit to the business and examples of the difference that you personally made.  Good sponsors are not philanthropists; they also benefit from your success either directly for their teams or from the kudos of sponsorship.  This is not a bad thing; in fact through recognition, you can contemplate how you create win/win working relationships.

Putting yourself forward for both mentoring and sponsorship takes personal bravery.  To be curious enough to understand how others perceive you and to try something new takes personal bravery.  But the benefits from true bravery can be the difference between a mediocre career and a personally rewarding one where you find your work life stimulating and exciting.

Finally, in the past year of working from home, the culture of individual firms is more important than ever.  Organisations can actively encourage great mentoring and sponsorship through the culture of their firms.  I believe that effective “in the moment” feedback has a real place in today’s world, moving away from annual reviews and towards regular updates and guidance on key areas for improvement.  The new generation of workers are actively looking for such feedback and it can have a very impactful outcome for the individual and eventually for the bottom line.  Creating a culture where “in the moment” feedback is valued and well-intentioned should be a driving force for our future ways of working across the industry.  This coupled with effective mentoring and sponsorship should enable talent to thrive and benefit us all.

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