Career Clinic: the importance of mentorship

Marie-Claire Chappet
·4-min read
Photo credit: Glossier
Photo credit: Glossier

From Harper's BAZAAR

Margaret Heffernan is one of Britain’s foremost business experts. She has previously headed up countless companies and is now Professor of Practice at the University of Bath and Lead Faculty for the Forward Institute’s Responsible Leadership Programme. She is a keynote speaker, author of six books on business and leadership and mentors the CEOs and senior executives of many major global organisations.

Her latest book 'Unchartered' looks at the ways at which businesses need to adapt to new practices. Here, she explains why mentorship may be the key to radical restructuring of the way we work.

Don’t let talent hide

“One of the great advantages of having, particularly an internal mentor is that they can often champion you, which carries more weight than you singing your own praises. Mentorship is a great way of rooting out talent in a company that will often go unnoticed. So it’s actually of great benefit to a business to implement mentorship.”

Mentorship goes both ways

“Something that I really recommend is ‘reverse mentoring’, where the junior people in the organisation work with the more senior person in the organisation. They can feedback to them on how management comes across, how the language plays out or maybe get a chance to say – this is the digital opportunity that you're missing. This is especially important when it comes to tackling unconscious bias or senior people not understanding the specific struggles and challenges facing employees from different backgrounds, for example.”

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Networking is vital

“When you're looking for somebody to help you, it's often quite useful to think about, who do I already know, who has a very broad network? It may not be in your company, it may not even be in your industry or- if you’re trying to break into one- it may be someone tangentially connected to that career who you know has connections themselves. You need to really broaden your scope.”

Be clear about boundaries as a mentee

“When approaching someone to be your mentor, I do think it's really crucial to be very clear about the boundaries in terms of how much time it's going to take and what expectations are. And I think it's helpful to be able to articulate that there's a reciprocity about it, yes. In other words; ‘I would really benefit from your mentorship. I'd like to think that I'll be able to bring you some insight into what the organisation is thinking, and worried about at the level where I work. That seems to me a useful and productive thing to do.”

Be humble as a mentor

“You have to have a certain amount of humility to be a mentor. I think it's important not to think you have all the answers, or that what worked for you will necessarily work for your mentee- they're different people and times may have changed. I always say you should give advice on the understanding that the mentee is perfectly at liberty to reject it and there'll be no hard feelings. You also need to have a certain amount of generosity. Yeah, you have to want to help people. You have to want to see other people flourish.”

Champion mentorship

“For mentorship to work in a company, it needs to be championed from the top- that classic trickle-down approach. If CEOs and managers are mentoring, being mentored or at least having open and company-wide discussions about mentoring, it will happen. The more it is out there, the more it is normalised.”

Re-think the hierarchy- and now is the time

“Too many businesses place too much emphasis on hierarchy and that can squash talent and innovation. These sorts of hierarchies are very archaic. During the pandemic; a lot of hierarchy has broken down and a lot of decision making was pushed down to a much more local level. This can be a great thing, because a lot of the best fresh ideas in an organisation are more at the bottom of the pyramid than the top. Because these are people who are interacting with customers much more, they may be digitally, much savvier. They're less constrained by politics and hierarchy. But they didn't know quite how to surface the ideas that they knew were down there somewhere. Mentorship unlocks this and goes some way to flattening hierarchy and rejuvenating a company. We are seeing this now more than ever- hopefully we can radically rethink the way we work.”

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