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Mentors: Who are they? What do they do?


In keeping with our monthly theme, here's an overview of mentoring from Joanna Bloxham.
Mentors. We see them in our workplace, hear them at school, but who are they? What do they do? To keep it simple, mentors help us learn based on their experience, exposure and connections. Consider learning anything new - we start from a zero base, we then become aware of the gaps, we overcome these to realise competency and finally, we master our art or science. Research shows that arriving at the 'doing it without thinking' stage impacts us in one of two ways: either we lose focus and become complacent or we strive to consider other ways (ie innovation).

Trusted advisors

Mentors are invaluable at each stage of the learning. They have been there in the real world in that same position, felt the pain, setbacks, and have gathered the empathy to help others. They have found ways to succeed through people and processes, along with sound business acumen acquired along the way. How many times do we procrastinate before signing up to 'not knowing what we don't know'. Our trusted advisors can help us take that first step and help us to turn off that inner chatter that inhibits our learning path by encouraging and inspiring self belief.
The next milestone is becoming aware of our gaps. 'I didn't think it was going to be this demanding, can I really do it? Is this really for me?' This is where mentors shed light on similar scenarios they have met and that the gap stage is a natural part of the knowledge process that leads to competency. This is where the mentor will add real world value by highlighting that healthy cultures embrace ongoing development or impede it – and will offer recommendations to work around the adversity.
Once the learner sees an early win he is encouraged to continue, and motivation increases. And finally, doing it without thinking: remember the graduation after party? That moment of triumph when we see, hear and feel the victory vibe? (though it's not lasting and we either move into complacency or continue looking at what we do with fresh perspective). The mentor, in their role as resource investigator, may well signpost other connections or social communities to promote onward development.

Getting started: That first meeting

This is a guide to help ensure that the first meeting goes well: creating a firm foundation and encouraging clarity. An ideal climate for the meetings is professional, relaxed, open and purposeful.
  1. Where shall we meet and for how long?
  2. What do we want/need to know about each other? This may include a little about career history and general background. It will certainly include: career ambition eg
  • How are you finding working in this industry
  • What is your picture of success
  • What do you imagine you will be doing in five years' time
  • Development goals: What do you want to improve on in your current job
  • In preparation for future jobs: In what areas would you most value guidance/advice/a sounding board
  1. What will make this a satisfying and useful partnership for both of us?
  2. What expectations do we have of each other (ground rules/verbal 'contact')
  3. What are our priorities?
  4. After today, how often and where shall we meet?
  5. Do we want to set an agenda for our next meeting
  6. Is there anything we should get to work on now?

Grow your experiences now

If you're looking to mentor, I encourage you to grow your knowledge, resource and self esteem bank now. Commendations, positive feedback, recognition, keep it in your shared folder for fast access. This endorses you, and your personal brand identity. And when your motivation levels flag, remember other people validate you, so give yourself permission to believe in you. Review your folder frequently to remind you of your talent and achievements.
Make connections, and follow through when you network. Relationships are built on two-way respect and communication. All good mentors have reminders of who they are, what they know and how they help others grow.

Mentors are trusted advisors and effective communicators who help us plan, learn, and achieve goals based on their experience, exposure and connections.

Joanna Bloxham is managing director of Training Talks. Joanna is an experienced training consultant with a proven track record in delivering high energy training and development. Whether it's 1:1 or group sessions, Joanna has the ability to get the best out of people.

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