Knowledge Management and Personal Development are hot topics for most organisations and mentoring is a great way to combine the two. Through external mentoring schemes, such as the one run by LexisNexis, you can share knowledge and gain new ideas and perspectives from different industries.
This year we will be publishing a series of newsletters designed to help and support those involved in the mentoring process – be that as a mentor or mentee an experienced practitioner or a new recruit. Each quarter we’ll look at a range of different topics and offer practical and pragmatic tips for success.
In this issue we cover:
- Mentoring goals – setting long and short term goals
- Understanding different learning styles
- For mentors – what skills and experience do you need
- For mentees – do I really need a mentor
Long and short term mentoring goals
We may enter the mentoring relationship with the idea that one day we want to make it to Senior Counsel, but that goal is a long way off, so how do we break it down into manageable chunks? Simple – start at the end and work backwards, identifying each step along the way and the skills you’ll need at each level. Keep working back until you reach where you are now, then flip the “map” around and start working forwards – using the “map” to set your goals for each stage of the journey.
Be sure to celebrate smaller milestones along the way – don’t just wait until you’ve achieved something big before your celebrate. If one of your goals was to improve your negotiating skills you don’t need to wait until you’ve completed a multi-million pound deal to celebrate – celebrate the small wins – that time you negotiated with your boss to get your point of view across or the time you persuaded a difficult client to follow your advice.
For some of us the goals we have may be difficult to quantify, for example: “I want to be more confident”. By crystallising these into something more tangible will help enormously when trying to achieve them. You can do this by answering the following questions:
- In what situation do you want to be more confident?
- What would “confident” look like and how would it be different to what happens now?
- In what situations do you currently behave confidently?
- What are the triggers for your change in confidence levels?
These questions will help you identify what your triggers are (and if you’re a mentor they’re great questions to ask) and clarify more clearly what your goal is – “I want to deliver a presentation to the senior management team without falling over my words and shaking from head to foot.”
Understand different learning styles
This is important for both mentors and mentees. How do you learn best? Imagine the scenario – a large flat pack bookcase is delivered to your house – how do you go about assembling it? Some of us will rip of the packaging and get stuck in, others may prefer to find an online video walking them through the process, whereas others will pour themselves a cup of tea and settle down with the instruction book. If you understand your own style you can play to your strengths – if you’re an active learner then find situations where you can get stuck in. If you’re more reflective then track down some webinars or try work shadowing. For the more theoretical types, there are plenty of books on the market and websites to peruse.
Mentors – you need to be particularly aware of pushing your own learning style onto your mentee – just because it works for you it doesn’t mean it will work for them. At your next session ask questions about how they prefer to learn so you’re better able to guide them to appropriate resources and solutions.
There are several excellent online resources to guide you through this – you can look at our Practice Note: Approaches to learning and development for in-house lawyers or look further at the work by Honey and Mumford and Kolb’s Learning Cycle.
Mentors – skills and experience that you can pass on
As you rise through the ranks it’s easy to wonder what we have that someone else could benefit from but your knowledge, skills and experience can be invaluable to someone starting out. How many things have you learned the hard way where you could have benefitted from some expert input?
Being a mentor isn’t about being perfect, it’s about being human. Great mentors will have made mistakes (and learned from them!), faced and overcome difficulties, had great successes, dealt with setbacks, worked with a variety of different people in different situations and, perhaps most importantly, great mentors also realise that they don’t know it all and that there is still much to learn.
Your personal qualities as well as your technical expertise will enable you to build and maintain a positive relationship with your mentee:
- Enthusiasm – contagious enthusiasm for your role in the organisation, for the mentee and for life in general
- Motivation – a desire to succeed that goes beyond the “9-5” and the “need to pay the mortgage”
- Open minded – someone who is comfortable with the difference between being different and wrong and will enable the mentee to find their own route
- Creative – able to see issues from different directions and help the mentee to change their perspective
- A good listener – an ability to tune in and really hear what the mentee is saying (the ability to read between the lines is useful too)
- Challenging – this isn’t about a nice cosy chat – sometimes it’s about challenging your mentee and encouraging them (or giving them a friendly shove) to get out of their comfort zones
- Honest – giving good, honest feedback isn’t always easy, but it is often necessary
- Empathy – remembering what it was like to be in their shoes…
For Mentees – do I really need a mentor?
What can mentees hope to gain from the mentoring relationship? Aside from a valuable ally within the business and an insight into what it means to operate at the most senior levels, you should also be able to get the following from a mentoring relationship:
- Expert guidance
- Sound advice
- A critical friend who’ll tell you the things you need to hear
- A chance to talk through professional concerns
- Increased self-awareness
- Career development
It will be up to the two of you to agree the structure and format for the mentoring sessions (and we’ll give more guidance in future newsletters) but the focus should always remain professional.
Areas you could cover include:
- Your work related issues
- Learning from your mentors work related issues
- Career development
- Dealing with change
- Time management
- Working with “difficult” colleagues or clients
- Managing underperformance
The more open and honest you can be within the mentoring relationship the more you will benefit from it – be prepared to listen as well as to talk and, most importantly, be prepared to act.