Leadership from a practical lens with Irene Asare : Mentorship as a career development and leadership tool

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‘We owe it to those that mentored us, to mentor the next generation’ – Irene Asare

Sarah, an entry-level accountant is interested in taking up higher leadership role in the long-term and her first step is to become a chartered accountant. She has done some research but still seeks further guidance, so she reaches out to Simon, an older and more experienced career professional in the workplace. Simon chooses to share his experiences and resources with her in hopes of guiding her along the journey.

As she continues to progress professionally their relationship grows and he becomes her accountability partner and a sounding board. She shares her successes and setbacks and he advise her and asks challenging questions that help her become better suited for the role of a chartered accountant. Simon even helps expand her network by bringing her into some of his own networks.

Eventually, she reaches her goal and easily acclimatizes to the role because Simon has helped her prepare. Simon became her mentor and in turn, Sarah became his mentee.

Mentorship creates more confident and knowledgeable professionals and turns them into great leaders. Who better understands how to achieve their career goals? As an industry professional looking to climb the career ladder, how can you ensure a successful relationship like that of Sarah and Simon?

Mentoring builds trust and creates a safe environment for honest feedback and unbiased career development advice.  As David Clutterbuck and David Megginson put it in their book Techniques for Coaching and Mentoring: Mentoring relates primarily to the identification and nurturing of potential for the whole person. It often is a long-term relationship, where goals may change but are always set by the mentee.

The mentee owns both the goals and the process. Feedback comes from within the mentee – the mentor helps them to develop insight and understanding through intrinsic observation, that is, becoming more aware of their own experiences.

In the example above Simon and Sarah formed a long-term relationship geared at aiding Sarah achieve her professional goals. Simon became a sounding board for advice and granted her opportunities to network by taking her to events she would not normally have access to. Although Sarah was growing and developing, Simon grew also through his support to Sarah.  I am certain that Simon was gaining valuable leadership skills.

As a mentor, Simon was a valuable resource. How can you do same and ensure that you provide your mentees the best experience?

Focus on identifying and building on character rather than competency.

Steven Covey once said, “Character is what we are; competence is what we can do.” As a mentor, you do not want to focus on your mentee’s capabilities and promise alone. It is equally important to focus on who the individual is. Are they affable, diligent, persistent, genuine, inquisitive, reflective, a person of integrity? Character and mindset help build a strong professional.

This is particularly important as the need to adopt a growth mindset, an all-compassing attitude of constant learning and progression, means that if Sarah was in a position where she may lack experience or an essential skill then she will have the character to become competent.

Realise that mentorship is no easy task

When you are preparing your mentee, and you greatly invest your time, attention and sometimes emotions such as compassion, there will be conflict along the way. Being a mentor is about helping your mentee find their path, helping them create their own journey and legacy.

Knowing this, the temptation to enforce our way of doing things, may trump the fact that the mentor has a responsibility to guide. Although you may share some key values to be a relatable mentor, you may differ in approaches. As a mentor, remember that you are still learning and growing. Just like everybody else, you have your weaknesses and you must be mindful not to pass these to your mentee. When placing someone under your wing, the notion is never for the mentee to become a direct copy of the mentor.

This may mean exercising emotional intelligence to react in a way that encourages and uplifts when your mentee encounters and share with you, their disappointment or rejection. That emotional stability is vital.

Food for thought: As a mentor, how would you react if your mentee informed you of disappointing news that they received concerning a promotion? As a mentee, how would you want your mentor to react to you if you informed them about a job rejection you received?

Put the relationship before the mentorship.

Be loyal to your mentee, this relationship should stand through good and bad times, the highs and lows. It is like having a treasured friend, it takes time to mature and develop, but when it does you can understand and better aid them, you will be able to pre-empt difficulties and strategize to deliver solutions. Your capabilities as a mentor will increase as your personal relationship grows.

Sarah certainly had a goal. Like Sarah, how can you maximise your mentorship journey and serve?

Before seeking help, clearly define your goals.

Outline your desires and the steps you think it will take to get there. Take time out to reflect and identify your strengths and weaknesses, your unique skills and your future goals. Once you have these defined, you can enlist your mentors help in prioritising your goals and refining your ideas.

Stay accountable and put in the work.

Whether you are working towards long term goals or building your skills in an area, you will not succeed without perseverance, persistence and continuous learning. Your resolve will be tested, but your determination should not falter. Having a mentor does not automatically make the work easier, things will still not happen if you do not utilise guidance from your mentor. Remember, your mentor’s goal is to guide you to a place of self-awareness where you can identify and solve your problems.

Choose a mentor for the right reasons.

Do not choose mentors based on fame, riches or physical looks. Allow your personal goals and vision to be a guide for making this decision. Before settling on a mentor, consult other trusted friends, colleagues or family if need be. Some important factors to consider in your choice of a mentor: Trust, Compatibility, Contrast, and Expertise.

In my HR mentoring programme, we pair people by looking at their professional backgrounds, career, accomplishments and aspirations before making final decisions. Even with that, sometimes the chemistry is not there, and we have to re-pair, getting that aspect right plays an incredible role in the success of the relationship and therefore the benefit of mentoring.

I employ these techniques in the HR Mentoring programme and as a result, I have seen the transformation in the quality of both the personal and professional lives of participants. Now more than ever, I am driven to empower, engage, and transform lives. My goal is to help create the next generation of thought leaders and critical thinkers.

When I reflect on my career to date, I can testify to the difference mentorship has made in my career development and in transforming me into a global leader. Whoever you are, seek mentorship, mentor those around you, and help transform the professional landscape.

>>>the author is a dynamic highly effective global business executive with a strong desire for business transformation, organisational change and effectiveness. She has over 20 years’ experience in transforming performance, leadership and culture, costs and operational excellence. She is founder of the CarvinClay People Development Limited, a leadership development company that moulds professionals for the future of work. She has also founded a HR Mentorship programme, where HR professionals get rigorous mentorship to enhance their understanding of the field. Her industry knowledge spans across Oil & Gas, Telecoms, Banking, Services, Transport and Retail, in both matured and emerging markets. You can find Irene Asare on: LinkedIn @IreneAsare; Instagram @IAmIreneAsare; Twitter @IreneAsare.

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