From a cynic to a mentor a personal reflection on mentoring

From a cynic to a mentor a personal reflection on mentoring

17 Sep 2015 - By Bill Osborne

Some personal thoughts and experiences of mentoring

When I first started my working life in the mid-seventies I was for many years somewhat sceptical of the concept of formal external mentoring and perhaps viewed the need for a mentor as sign of insecurity or worse a lack of confidence in one’s own ability. To be honest I was a cynic and my cynicism was somewhat aided by my aversion to the trite inspirational and what I believed to be clichéd Americanism associated with mentoring,

“Mentors help you go farther faster”

“Mentors impart wisdom”

“Mentors help you find your unique voice”

or, as the quote below defines the mentor,

“The quintessential mentor is one who shares wisdom and knowledge with the mentee to help improve the mentee”

So what happened to change my outlook and involvement with mentoring? In hindsight, I was fortunate in my early career to work in organisations that valued learning and reflection and had older experienced staff willing to share both success and failure. Although not formally designated as mentoring such support was invaluable in helping me to review progress; deal with failure; reflect on personal skills gained and needed; opened windows of new possibilities and developed my contribution to the success and reputation of the organisations. As I gained more experience and my career developed I utilised more and more external individuals to provide a free from organisational garbage and uncluttered space for, a chat, a sounding board, a vent for frustration, a critical assessment and sometimes for reinforcement of my own worth and skills. I have had over the lifetime of my career a few formal mentor relationships and these have always brought a new perspective and indeed challenge. The mentor – mentee relationship is not just a cosy self-indulgent chat for personal reinforcement, both parties need to be clear on the purpose, expectations and parameters of the mentoring relationship. The successful mentoring relationships require trust, time, openness, commitment and an end point.

When CO3 was seeking mentors I was delighted to be accepted and have now completed a couple of the programmes. Oscar Wilde said that “experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes” and this more than “the quintessential mentor” has been a central tenet of my mentoring style. Within my mentoring relationships I have attempted to build a safe space for an open and confidential rapport in a location of informality which focuses upon the challenges and choices that the mentee might be facing. The sessions whilst informal are about using ones experience to aid and develop perspective and alternatives and not to be the fixer with the solution.

I have learnt much from the role about myself, the sector, people’s passion and motivation, human relations, organisations, responsibility and leadership. The aspects however that stand out for me are about creating the space for the mentee to feel that it is their time and  that this requires learning when to be silent  and listen, how and when to make comments or suggestions and perhaps the most difficult is knowing when to be that critical voice of challenge.

Taking the wisdom of William Shakespeare and a little literary licence - ‘Mentors of few words are the best mentors’

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