Two Heads are Better than One / by helen cowan

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Are you new to your job or your company? Have you just been promoted or given a major new project? If so then I bet you are secretly waiting to be “found out”, convinced that whoever gave you this opportunity has a false sense of your abilities and it’s only a matter of time before everyone realises that you aren’t up to it. If this self-doubt sounds familiar then you are not alone. You would be surprised how many people – even the highest fliers – have these thoughts. Women are more prone to them than men, but we can all suffer from self-limiting beliefs. So rather than sit in petrified silence consumed by inner doubt, where can we go for help?

Professionals of all levels are increasingly turning to mentoring as a source of advice and wise-counsel from someone who has been through the same things and can offer the benefit of their own experience.  Even CEOs need mentors as my organisation – Chairman Mentors International – knows well from the over 250 senior executives we have mentored.

What is mentoring? Mentoring is about gaining advice and feedback in a totally safe space from someone who has experienced the same challenges as you. Its power comes from sharing real life experiences – good and bad – in a way that helps the mentee to realise they are not alone. It offers new ways to think about challenges and gives mentees the self-confidence to tackle issues. The goal is to speed up the learning curve and help the mentee achieve whatever their definition of success looks like more quickly.

A mentor is different from a coach. A mentor is a role model who has ‘made it’; whose experience is relevant to the mentee’s personal situation. A coach is often formally trained or qualified and provides feedback and advice to maximise effectiveness, but has not necessarily been in the same professional role or situation themselves.  A mentor is different from a coach. A mentor is a role model who has ‘made it’; whose experience is relevant to the mentee’s personal situation. A good coach is formally trained or qualified and provides challenge and structure to your thinking to maximise effectiveness, but has not necessarily been in the same professional role or situation themselves. The roles of a mentor and a coach are not mutually exclusive, many successful executives have both. But it is critical to understand the difference and to seek out a coach and/or mentor with the right goal in mind.

A mentor is also different from a sponsor. A sponsor can help you navigate your way through your company and open doors for you. But we all know it can be career-limiting to reveal weaknesses or fears to one’s boss or senior. An external mentor has only the interests of the individual at heart with no conflict of interest or loyalty.

So what makes a mentoring relationship work?

CMi’s research with IMD business school into successful mentoring pin-points the following factors behind successful mentoring:

  • Above all strong personal chemistry between mentor and mentee is the crucial factor. Mentoring will only be really successful if there is a bond of trust that allows openness, disclosure and a willingness to be vulnerable (on both sides) enabling the mentee to maximise learning and self-awareness
  • Structured sessions, set meeting times that don’t get rescheduled, planned agendas and dedicated time with no interruptions
  • Time to delve deep into issues – sessions of at least 90mins
  • A gap of 6 weeks or so between sessions to allow the mentee to develop and put learning into practice between sessions
  • Total confidentiality

So mentoring is valuable because you don’t have all of the answers – nobody does not even your mentor. In fact our best mentors say they learn as much from their mentees as their mentees learn from them! But whatever stage we are at and whatever we are facing we can all learn from others. As Steve Jobs said “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves”

Sara Parker, March 2017

About the author

Sara Parker is the UK Partner for Chairman Mentors International, a mentoring organisation with a network of 52 leading international chairmen that provide mentoring for CEOs, CFO and ExCo executives and Non Executives. 

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