Getting the most out of mentoring
Mentoring is great. Especially for people who work in digital.
People working in digital roles are sometimes viewed as technical specialists, responsible for day to day implementation, rather than leaders with a broader strategic role. Mentoring helps digital people at all levels to develop the skills they need to position themselves, and digital, within their organisation. It can help them to manage their heavy workload and to navigate a world that’s transitioning to digital ways of thinking and working.
Building confidence and skills
I’ve been a mentor for over five years, and what I often hear is: "I'm so glad that I can check in with you on this, because I sometimes feel as if I'm just talking to myself. I lose faith in my own judgement.” It’s good to have access to someone else’s brain and experience, especially if you’re not part of a big digital team.
Mentoring is protected time to think about your personal development. If you don’t have that kind of appointment in your diary it’s just not going to happen. Digital leads, whether they're junior or senior, are so rushed off their feet trying to manage the day to day, sitting in meetings, trying to implement a strategy. They have very little time to think about their development and how their skills are developing. Mentoring is like a regular health check - it ensures that you spend the time needed to work on yourself.
Benefits all round
There’s lots in it for the mentor too. It’s great to be able to share my experience and to support someone. It's such a pleasure seeing how some of the people that I've worked with have developed and matured, not just because they were working with me, but at least in part because they knew how to use me.
I also get an understanding of what's going on in the sector, of how digital roles are changing, and of the challenges digital leads are dealing with.
Mentoring is also good for organisations and especially worth investing in for digital staff. They often find themselves in situations when they are asked to operate at all levels of the organisation but are not offered any support in how to influence and work within the complexity of internal politics. Because digital penetrates all areas of an organisation, it is becoming very political - everyone wants a piece of it, everyone wants to control it. It makes a lot of sense for organisations to develop and support their staff to cope with this. Otherwise digital leads get disappointed and leave which is a loss of digital expertise combined with an intimate understanding of the organisation.
Picking the right person
The best way to choose a mentor is to meet with them, have a coffee, have a chat about your objectives and see if there’s a rapport. They need to understand what you’re trying to achieve, but mostly it’s about how you feel with them. Do you feel comfortable with them? Do you feel you can talk to them? Are you irritated by them? It’s important that you like each other and that you can talk to each other.
No time like the present
People often look for a mentor when it’s too late - they're disheartened about their role and unhappy. They've lost confidence. They feel ground down by the organisation and they're looking for a mentor because they want to feel better about themselves so they can go off and do something else.
People often feel that mentoring is an indulgence, because their main responsibility is towards the organisation. And they only allow time for themselves when they’re not that motivated by the organisation anymore, when they become disappointed and disheartened.
Mentoring helps with managing stakeholders up, down and sideways and hopefully not reach a point where you feel frustrated. You should find a mentor as soon as you become a manager, as soon as you start working on a strategy. The best time to start a mentoring programme is - right now.
Thanks to Julius and Laura at Contentious for their help with this article.