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A moment for mentoring: How it contributes to our learning


The Adult Learning Hub is pleased to have guest contributor, Ruth Sacks in this week's edition. She is a leadership consultant, based in London in the UK and deeply passionate about supporting career development and progression. She works with individuals and teams, whatever their role, encouraging self-awareness and confidence to think differently about challenges and turn them into opportunities. In her piece here, she speaks of mentoring and how it can contribute to our learning in our careers, and tips for how to get started in a mentoring relationship in or out of your organisation. Thank you to Ruth for your insights in this weeks blog!

Have any of these been on your mind the last few weeks?

  • Addressing a specific career based challenge.
  • Reviewing, refining or setting short, medium or long term goals.
  • Stepping back from the day-to-day pressures.
  • Getting beyond 'stuck-ness'.
  • Taking different perspectives at work.

Getting a mentor might be one way to explore these!

Lets get clear on what a mentor is exactly...

According to the University of Reading, 'Mentoring has evolved to embrace a wide range of activities in recent years: from being allocated individuals who respond to queries that an individual has and give moral support...A sound working definition was offered by Eric Parsloe:

'Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be.'

So, why have one?

A mentoring relationship is two-way and has a strong foundation of trust, confidentiality and being constructive. You need to be able to share your hopes, fears, ambitions, concerns, doubts and importantly successes. Your mentors will share their experiences, advice, successes and challenges safely too.

It's also about being challenged, getting support from outside your immediate professional circle, hearing a different perspective on what you are doing that may change the way you see things.

It's a professional relationship for the duration of a coffee or longer.

Mentoring is about learning too.

Through your mentor you are likely to learn how they manage and have managed their careers. Your reflections on the successes and challenges faced by others will also add to your confidence.

Who are mentors?

A mentor may be someone you admire, someone you believe to be successful, someone who has overcome business challenges, someone at a career distance from you, someone who you feel is quite opposite to you and you would like to know more about what makes them tick....

A mentor doesn't usually directly manage or work with you. They are not your 'new best friend'. Nor are they your 'coach', your personal problem solver or your personal shoulder to cry on.

Mentors share with you the benefit of their experiences

Who do I choose as a mentor?

A mentor at your company or organisation can give you the benefit of their experience along their career journey in the organisation, sharing and reflecting on challenges they've faced and opportunities they've seized.

They could be your champion as they get to know you better than most and have an understanding of your career ambitions. Their network will be different to yours.

Having mentor outside of work is a different experience. They may well be more challenging of you, your assertions and assumptions. They will have different experiences to you and, through your conversations, you could 'benchmark' yourself differently. Their network will be outside of your organisational context - different, not necessarily better or worse.

Where can I find a mentor?

There may be a mentoring scheme at work or via the professional membership group you belong to. You may have been introduced to someone at an event or read their posts online who you'd like to meet.

Ask around. Colleagues may have contacts you'd like to meet, talk to and learn from. Then ask the individual. Being asked to be a mentor or to have a mentoring conversation is flattering and high validating. Be prepared to answer their question - 'Why me?'

Set expectations clearly

Be clear about what sort of mentoring relationship you want: a 30 minute coffee conversation to find out about their career journey or regular meetings to support you in your new role, their time to offer encouragement and support during a career transition or role change.

A one off meeting may turn into something more. Equally a planned longer term mentoring may only need one or 2 sessions.

Try reverse mentoring

Discovering the outlook from someone who is younger than you, from a different professional or educational background or has much less life experience will shift your world view. It will definitely give you perspectives and views you would otherwise not hear. You may have many mentors over the span of your career. Always try to stay in touch with them - however irregularly.

And please: Lift as you climb: mentor others. The experience will be rewarding in itself.

Thank you Ruth for your fresh perspectives and insights! To get in touch with her, send her an email here, or check her out on LinkedIn.

Did you want to go deeper on topics like this? Or connect with like-minded professionals who are mentors, educators, or facilitators of learning for adults, all navigating a new world of work together? 

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