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Using your life story to make you a better mentor

When you think about the people who’ve influenced you throughout your career, the person who gave you that encouraging push when you most needed it, that killer confidence boost, that gem-like piece of advice, that shoulder to cry on – doesn’t it make you want to give back and be that mentor to somebody else?

Mentoring is a hot topic in the business world right now, with more and more organisations launching successful formal mentoring programmes. The benefits are manifold – for companies and individuals alike –  because not only has mentoring been shown to significantly improve a business’s success, it also plays a huge part in helping individuals to shine, for the mentored and the mentor.

When you think of it in these terms, it’s tricky to see why all of us wouldn’t want to put ourselves forward as mentors.  Every single one of us has something unique and relevant to offer but we often hold ourselves back due to a lack of confidence.

According to our ‘Why Should Anyone Want to Be Mentored By Me?’ webinar speaker and everywoman expert Sara Parsons, this is common amongst female employees. ‘I was surprised by how few hands went up in a workshop I was leading recently when I asked “Who thinks they’d be a great mentor?”’ says Parsons. ‘It’s strange because I think most of the women I’ve worked with have loads to offer, they just don’t realise it.'

Perhaps some of our trepidation comes down to the broad and all-encompassing term mentor. It can, of course, mean teacher, sponsor, coach, advisor, role model, door opener, guide and motivator; and it covers support, guidance, encouragement, a brain to pick, sharing knowledge and special insight. Don’t let this huge list of qualities and attributes put you off, however. As Parsons advises, ‘You don’t have to do every one of those roles if you want to be a mentor. Being a mentor doesn’t mean being perfect; it’s about being good at one thing or a few things and being able to give back to those who look up to you.’

Perhaps you’re well connected in your company – then you could be somebody’s perfect door opener. Do you find yourself regularly putting people’s names forward for things? Then you have the foundations to be a great sponsor. You simply need to get into the mindset of a mentor and start believing in yourself. If you’re wondering where to start, the answer is simple and very close to home: it’s called your life story. According to Parsons, reflecting on the six key stages of your adult life will help you tell your story, the crucial ingredient to becoming a great mentor. Here’s how to nail down your story…

 

Go back to your teen years

Reflect on this time of your life and ask yourself: did you join groups and societies? If so, what did you learn and which skills did you acquire? Did you take lessons in something - driving, musical instruments for instance? Did these experiences boost your confidence? Did they help you overcome obstacles or draw you out of your comfort zone? Did you move around or change schools a lot, and if so, how did you manage with change? Did you have great teachers? What did you learn from them? What made them great?

Reflecting on this period in your life can help immeasurably when it comes to empathising with and reaching out to younger people within your organisation. With work experience, gap year students and interns coming up through the ranks all the time, reconnecting with your inner teen and remembering her accomplishments, is a great starting point when it comes to developing bonds that can lead to mentoring.

Reflect on your years in further education

Think about all the juggling you had to do during these formative years: studying vs. peer pressure; having to become organised and look after yourself for the first time.

It’s often during this period that many of us got our first taste of disappointment and struggle, too. Parsons recalls, ‘I remember my first real down moment and it happened while I was at university. I failed a course, I’d applied to be university vice president and found out I hadn’t been voted in; I went for a job and I didn’t get it. It all seemed to happen at once and I remember curling up in a ball thinking, ‘I don’t want to feel like this again, I’m so disappointed in myself’. It was such a great learning curve in hindsight.’

Look back to the first role in your career

Remember when your job suddenly wasn’t just your job anymore but your career? You suddenly realised this was the direction you were going in and that you wanted to start making milestones.

Reflect on other changes you were going through in your life back then, all the little achievements and setbacks. Now think about this moment from your present stage in your career - did you think you knew a lot but now realise, with hindsight, that you didn’t? Or maybe you had a lot to offer but weren’t confident enough to express your ideas?

This exercise can help you see how you can give back to young people progressing in their career that may be watching you. Whether you’re aware of it or not, there will be people observing what you do and learning from it. So why not be that person that’s more than just gloss and glitter but a great role model too?

Recall that first promotion

Think back to your first promotion. Did you really go for it or did you hold back? What or who helped you go for it? Did you and others think you deserved your promotion?

Now, pay it forward – this essentially means, giving back what you received. Many of us were helped and mentored, even if not formally, so reflect on those that played a role in your career and use it to help you help the next tier in your business.

Consider the time you changed industry

There comes a point in many of our working lives where we realise our career path is not the one we necessarily want to follow. Perhaps you started out in production but realised you actually wanted to be an editor? Or maybe you started life in a PR department but discovered your real passion was in sales?

Is this something you experienced? Was there someone who helped you open those gates and navigate you to pastures news? That someone who did was a valuable mentor. Take your cues from them.

Think back to the first time you stepped up to leadership

Perhaps you’ve gone through all these career moves and you’re now established in a successful leadership role. If so, consider the obstacles you’ve faced when you first started and the achievements you’ve racked up since then.

Stepping up to a leadership position encompasses many things; learning to take feedback, learning from your mistakes, learning to be a bit selfish when it comes to personal career development and discovering that not everyone will like you all of the time. Stepping up also requires that you learn, amongst other things, how to run and balance a team and express your vision. Give yourself credit for all the hard work you’ve done and realise that all these achievements make you perfect mentor material.

In conclusion

It’s easy to see how much you’ve grown as a person and leader when you do these exercises. It will see memories come flooding back and give you the tools to share your story – your experience and achievements – with others. So take the time out to reflect on your story, your journey and be confident.

Even if your workplace doesn’t offer formal mentoring, you can always informally approach an employee you’re interested in helping out – it’s as simple as suggesting a quick coffee. So, have a look around you right now and help someone reach their potential today – it’s guaranteed to help you feel your own potential all over again!