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Exploring career mentoring and coaching
Exploring career mentoring and coaching

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2 What can mentoring do?

A photograph of Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey.
Figure 2 A strong mentoring relationship can change your life.

As you started to explore in Activity 1, there are many famous examples of mentoring between two individuals, such as the relationship between talk show host Oprah Winfrey and celebrated poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou. In Oprah’s words ‘She’s the woman who can share my triumphs, chide me with hard truth and soothe me with words of comfort when I call her in my deepest pain’ (Winfrey, 2000).

Although that mentoring relationship went deeper than just work-related issues, a more work-orientated bond was formed between Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg during the early years of Facebook’s development.

Zuckerberg explains:

Early on in our history when things weren’t really going well – we had hit a tough patch and a lot of people wanted to buy Facebook – I went and I met with Steve Jobs, and he said that to reconnect with what I believed was the mission of the company, I should go visit this temple in India that he had gone to early in the evolution of Apple, when he was thinking about what he wanted his vision of the future to be.

(D’Onfro, 2015)

Zuckerberg went to India, and his vision for Facebook was reinvigorated by witnessing the way that people connected with each other. The two men went on to form a strong relationship.

Many famous mentoring relationships that have developed over a long period of time are successful because both parties gain some benefit. Watch this video to hear leadership expert Simon Sinek’s opinion about truly effective mentoring relationships.

Simon Sinek: Why reciprocity improves mentor-mentee relationships [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Activity 2 What did these mentors do?

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Read the following case studies.

Case study 1 Mentoring a new trainee

When Loretta became a trainee, she had limited self-confidence. This was particularly evident when she was giving presentations, which she hated doing and had always avoided in the past.

Her manager suggested she find a mentor who was more experienced in giving presentations and could help her. Over a period of six months, Fiona regularly spent time with Loretta, talking about her anxieties, suggesting useful tools and techniques and offering feedback on the structure and content of her presentations.

Gradually, Loretta’s confidence grew, and she began to enjoy the process. At this point the mentoring relationship came to a natural end, although Fiona was always at the end of a phone if Loretta needed to run any ideas past her.

Case study 2 Mentoring an experienced staff member

Simon had been in his role for several years when his relationship with his line manager suddenly broke down. They disagreed on several issues and stopped communicating effectively. Simon didn’t know what he had done wrong.

He eventually spoke to Joseph, a colleague who shared the same manager. He wasn’t experiencing the same issues, but could see there was a growing problem between Simon and his boss.

After several informal conversations over lunch, Joseph offered to take on a more structured mentoring role, which Simon subsequently found extremely useful. He sometimes used their meetings to vent his frustration, and this allowed him to approach interactions with his boss more calmly. On other occasions, they discussed tactics to facilitate more effective interactions. Joseph was also able to mediate between Simon and his manager during heated discussions in team meetings.

Compare and contrast the two scenarios.

How did each mentor approach the issue presented to them?

What did both individuals gain from the experience of being mentored? Did it make a difference that Joseph wasn’t a senior colleague?

Use the box below to record your thoughts.

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Despite the mentees’ different levels of experience and seniority, the fundamental role of the mentor in both scenarios was to listen, offer advice and support based on their own experience, and review progress.

Both mentees had issues with self-confidence, driven by different problems – for Loretta it was a lack of experience and for Simon, a difficult relationship.

The mentoring relationship allowed them to build (or re-build) that self-confidence through feeling supported and receiving feedback and suggestions for action.

Simon’s mentor needed to really use his listening skills in a sensitive situation. By offering to become a mentor to Simon, Joseph gave the relationship a formality that allowed him to set aside their friendship during those interactions, enabling a more productive conversation.

Now you have a better idea of the impact mentoring can have, in the next section you’ll start to look at the process involved.