Four Roles Played By My Ideal Mentor
Earlier this year I was invited to meet with the HSBC BAME Network at their headquarters in Canary Wharf, London to share my perspective on mentoring and how it had shaped my career to date. The presentation I gave was inspired by some good friends of ours who came over to lunch with our family and mentioned during the meal that they’d bought an amazing gadget called a Nutri Bullet.
For those of you who don’t know what a Nutri Bullet is, perhaps you can imagine an ingenious re-working of a food processor, with removable blades sitting on top of the jug instead of fixed to the motor on the base of the unit. The gadget itself is specifically designed to blend fruit and vegetables into a wholesome, nutritious drink and the jug can be used as a cup for drinking the juice immediately after blending. I can tell you that it wasn’t too long after their visit ended that we had purchased our very own device which now takes pride of place in our kitchen at home. However I mention the Nutri Bullet in the context of mentoring because it’s my belief that we each have in mind a wholesome blend of roles we look for in our mentors, ideally available within a single person but most often found individually within one or more mentors. The roles I look for in my mentors are counsellor, coach, advocate and role model.
A mentor who is a skilled counsellor will be good at listening. The counsellors in my life have been particularly good at active listening, reflecting back what they’ve heard using their own words and reinforcing what I’ve said using my own words. Sometimes simply listening to my concerns was all I needed from my mentor to get me through the day.
A mentor who is a skilled coach will be good at motivating to achieve a desired outcome. The most impactful coaching I’ve received has focussed on improving the relationships I’ve held with individuals in the workplace. Mentors who’ve challenged my thinking when I’ve believed a relationship could not be improved and presented alternative ways of making things better, have shown me that it’s possible to make dramatic changes in the way I relate to colleagues if I’m willing to be bold and make the first move.
A mentor who is an advocate will be a vocal source of encouragement and support. The advocates in my life have been good at speaking up for me and focussing on the positives when I can’t see them. They’ve often picked me up after periods of disappointment in my career, when I’ve fallen short of my own expectations at work or when I’ve failed to secure a job I’d really set my heart on.
A mentor who is a role model will simply offer themselves as an inspiration to others, often without even realising they’re doing it. The role models in my life have inspired me to be a better person through the positions they’ve held in life, the obstacles they’ve overcome to get where they are or the way they’ve managed certain situations on their journey. My first role models were my parents and their example has had a profound impact on my life. In fact the impact was so great that I chose not to seek out a mentor for a significant part of my career, a decision that I would eventually come to regret.
In my view the first half of my career could be characterised by the expression working hard but aimlessly. My parents who were immigrants to the UK from Jamaica arrived in this country with a very strong work ethic, often speaking of the need to do twice as much as their white counterparts in order to succeed. They were my role models and I loved them, so it was no surprise that I took their words to heart and studied hard at school. Then again at university where I achieved a Bachelors with Honours in Mathematics with Physics. Then I went even further to study for a Masters and then a PhD in the mathematical sciences before continuing to work long, hard hours in some of the most demanding front-office trading environments the Banking & Finance sector could throw at me. It was only at this point, fairly late into my career that I paused to reflect on what working hard had achieved for me.
So began the second half of my career when I was working hard but also working smart. I was employed by a company where I was working a minimum of 12 hours a day during the week whilst also making myself available at home during the weekends. The company was providing me with little reward in recognition of my efforts and yet I was seeing others being promoted and given more responsibility ahead of me. It had become clear that simply demonstrating a strong work ethic in my job wasn’t enough to sustain my career progression over the long term. My parents had given me some valuable advice early on my life which had seen me safely through my childhood and academic life, but now I needed someone, a mentor who could share their experience of life in the modern-day corporate environment to guide me further.
Find A Mentor Soon
Finding a mentor has certainly proved to be a smart decision in my case. My career and outlook on life are light years away from where they were all those years ago. I’ve encouraged everyone I speak to about mentoring to find one for themselves as early as possible into their careers. They may not find all the qualities they’re looking for in a single person but there are many who are skilled in one or more roles that could play an important part in their lives.