Mentorship has far-reaching, proven advantages – often supercharging the career trajectory of all parties involved. Without relying on formalised mentoring programs, how can we empower more professionals to be proactive about mentorship, and reap the benefits?
Paula Kirwan, Brunel Australasia’s General Manager (East), discusses the impact of mentorship, the fact that we’re all mentors whether we know it or not, and how reverse mentorship adds new flavour to an old model of knowledge sharing.
The power of a mentor
When I first started in the workforce, I experienced firsthand the incredible benefits of a strong mentor. While nothing was formalised, my first manager was a very successful female leader who shared her knowledge, pushed me to grow and helped shape my career. I didn’t recognise at the time how much I respected her, leaned on her and learnt from her as I took those initial steps in my career. Her support provided opportunity for me to develop and become more competent in my role, inspired me to prepare for growth opportunities in the future and allowed me to see up close the day-to-day life of a successful leader.
In our modern workforce, where skill shortages wreak havoc across countless industries, mentorship has never been more crucial. In fact, mentorship is key for organisations wanting to attract, retain, engage and upskill their talent. Outside of formalised mentoring programs, I would argue that, given the established benefits, mentorship is a tool that is vastly underutilised in our workplace culture today. Studies show that while 76 per cent of people think mentors are important, only 37 per cent actually report having one. For those lucky enough to receive mentoring in their workplace, 90 per cent report being happy in their job – that’s an impressive statistic. This is reflected in retention rates: employees receiving mentorship have a 50 per cent higher retention rate than those not involved in mentorship. What can we do to encourage more mentorship in our workplaces?
How to spot a great mentorIf your workplace was a jungle, potential mentors would be the camouflaged critters – all around but hiding in plain sight. Anyone can be a mentor; finding the right one comes down to compatibility. It requires intention and attention to recognise mentoring potential in your colleagues – either for yourself or others. The more obvious attributes of an excellent mentor would be someone in a senior leadership position, who is successful in their own role, with a wealth of knowledge to share. When hunting for a mentor for yourself, consider who is inspiring yet accessible. Look for someone who is empathetic but also able to give honest feedback when necessary – a truth-teller is more useful than a flatterer. Consider their reputation, ensure they are a good listener and most of all, make sure you genuinely enjoy speaking and learning from them. Perhaps your ideal mentor is not your immediate manager, but someone else in your organisation who possesses these attributes and will be able to inspire, hold you accountable and connect you with opportunities to grow – both personally and professionally.
Step up and claim your role as a mentor
Often, we place the onus of finding a mentor on the young and inexperienced, which can be an intimidating process for those just starting out. Instead of waiting to be approached, what if we stepped up and offered to be a mentor instead? The fact is, we are all mentors. We already mentor without realising it, so communicating the offer would be a powerful way to give back and provide a framework of support to someone who is perhaps intimidated to ask for help. It’s not about creating any formalised process but instead observing ways in which we can support another…and have a powerful effect on their career.
Besides the obvious factor of giving back and serving others, there are countless personal benefits to stepping into the role of a mentor. Studies show that mentors are six times more likely to get a promotion. People who serve as mentors report experiencing lower levels of anxiety and describe their job as more meaningful than those who don’t mentor anyone. Mentoring someone in your workplace can help re-energise your career, allow you to further develop your leadership abilities, hone your communication skills, give you a fresh perspective on your work and often build an enduring professional connection that will outlast the actual mentoring.
Create a new paradigm with reverse mentoring
When seeking out a mentor or considering being one yourself, don’t overlook reverse mentoring. A new and increasingly popular form of workplace mentoring, this model flips the script on traditional mentorship, allowing junior employees to mentor someone more senior than them. This type of mentorship allows junior employees to share their expertise in areas that might be less familiar to more senior employees, such as technology or digital media. It offers a brilliant opportunity for senior leaders to take on the role of the student again and for junior employees to build their confidence and showcase their knowledge, at the same time bridging generational – and hierarchical – gaps within an organisation. What’s refreshing about this model is that it really drives home the concept that anyone can be a mentor – you don’t have to wait until you’re the most senior person in your organisation to offer your services as a mentor. And as a leader, it encourages the realisation that there’s always more to learn – even from the newest person on your team.
Professionals at every level – from the most junior to most senior – are significantly happier, more satisfied in their roles and less likely to quit if they have a mentor or are a mentor themselves. If you find yourself mentor or mentee free, I encourage you to look around your workplace and seek out mentorship opportunities wherever you can…your career will thank you for it.
About the author
With nearly 30 years of experience operating and managing Recruitment Business’ in the UK and Australia, Brunel’s GM (East) Paula Kirwan’s expertise spans across many industries from board to graduate-level recruitment, and specialises in developing methodologies which incorporate cost minimisation, IR negotiations, talent planning and mobilisation.