New Regent's mentor, Paul O'Donnell shares his early encounters with mentoring, as well as some of the motivations and advice on how to master the art of mentoring.
When I was living in the US I was approached by a senior Australian government official in New York who asked me to consider mentoring the new chair of a start-up charity. At that point any advice or ‘mentoring’ I had been involved with was very much adhoc and unstructured and was pretty much in the context of my profession.
I accepted with some trepidation; thoroughly enjoyed the experience over a two year period and since that time I have mentored a few people in quite diverse professions and circumstances.
While writing this article, it brought to mind the sad fact that mentoring in any meaningful and structured way really didn’t exist in the 1970’s when I started my career. The closest one could get would be to learn from the person assigned to you when you got a new job or started with a new company. If you were lucky you might try to get close to a person who seemed successful hoping that some of ‘it’ might rub off on you. It was very much activity based and not at all in any career or personal development context. Had it been in place it would have been a tremendous positive and perhaps, advantage in my personal and career development.
My motivation in being involved in mentoring is very simple. Firstly, I didn’t have the opportunity in my career and I recognise how valuable it would have been, Secondly, I believe it is not just of tremendous value but it is also a great privilege to be a mentee and it is my responsibility to share whatever relevant knowledge I have gained in my experiences and be prepared to be honest and vulnerable in my conversations. Being a mentor also gives you the chance to share in the enthusiasm of the mentee which I find very energising.
I was looking for an opportunity to continue with this work and a friend recommended me to Regent’s. She is an occasional guest lecturer and spoke very highly of the quality of the institution and its programs. The prospect of working with students who are soon to embark on the pointy end of their careers is the ideal time for both mentors and mentees and can make such a difference to both.
Being a mentor can be a bit tricky. Even though you think you have the answer, it’s up to the mentee to make decisions, NOT the mentor. A bit like coaching. Guidance only. I think it’s quite a personal thing. Sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there. This isn’t the fault of either but better to move on rather that push through for the sake of it
For anyone considering being a mentor the best advice I can offer is that being a mentor is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly. Thought and considered discussion is important. Suggestions are important and feedback to the mentee is important. You can’t ‘wing’ it. In addition it is essential to talk about and draw on your failures as it’s from these anecdotes that the mentee will learn more than you realise and you, the mentor, will have to have clarity through reflection.