The Joy of Mentoring

David Shindler
 Learning to Leap


This e-book is a collection of six articles on modern mentoring practices. It will appeal to lifelong learners and employers interested in improving their understanding and enhancing their professionalism. It is also for anyone keen to discover the joys of being mentored. Mentoring others and being mentored can be deeply satisfying and transformative experiences! 

  1. Why Everyone Should Have a Mentor
  2. 10 Business Benefits of Mentoring
  3. What makes a Brilliant Mentoring Relationship?
  4. New Mentor? How to Go From Fears to Cheers
  5. How to Find a Mentor in Your 20s
  6. Apprentices: How to Boost Quality Mentoring Support

Why Everyone Should Have a Mentor

My experiences of being mentored occurred during my toughest yet best times. Who doesn't want a wise and trusted supporter to inspire you with unconditional belief in your capability and potential in your moment of need?

The handful of significant mentors in my working life appeared at distinct life stages and professional transition points. In each case, they were pivotal to my development and career direction. It's why I believe everyone should have a mentor.

What is the personal impact of mentoring and why is it critical for businesses today?

My Significant Mentors

A mentor is someone who knows what you are going through, may have been in your role, shares their experiences without dictating, and helps you read the unspoken language and behaviours of a workplace culture. They are not your manager and are likely to be from elsewhere in the organisation or external, so can be more objective. Mentors listen, encourage and guide where necessary. Brilliant mentoring depends on the quality of the relationship between the two people involved.

Why Everyone Should Have a Mentor

My first real mentor was Stan, who was nearing retirement when we met. He took me under his wing in my early 20s working at a professional institution. He had a wealth of experience working with committees, running events and looking after the membership. He helped me develop an ability to write in a professional environment, political nous and the power of networks (he knew everybody!), and gave me the confidence to speak in public. We remained in contact by letter and postcards for over 30 years until his passing aged 90.

Another informal mentor was Gill, a more senior manager than me when I worked within the police service. I'd hit a ceiling with opportunities to progress and she could sense my frustration. Gill always had my best interests at heart. She spotted my emerging strengths in training and facilitating. She encouraged me to explore a role in consultancy in the private sector once I got a Masters degree. Despite initial reluctance, I'll always be thankful to her for nudging me to take action. It changed the course of my career for the good.

Doug was a Principal Consultant at the company I joined from the police. He was formally assigned as my mentor to share his experience and help me overcome my fears of taking over as programme manager for a high-value, complex organisational development with multiple projects and teams. His wisdom still informs how I do things and how I handle myself today. He believed in me when I doubted myself.

When the consultancy I worked for went bust during the last financial crash, I decided to go solo as a coach with a focus on employability development and careers. Moving from being an employee after 30 years to self-employed was scary. Full of self-doubt and lacking experience of setting up in business, I paid for coaching and mentoring support. Patrick had taken the same path two years previously and had a growing business. He gave me the confidence and reassurance when I needed it and insider knowledge about what was helping him succeed as well as the pitfalls to avoid.

Why Everyone Should Have a Mentor

The Personal Impact of Mentoring

How did their mentoring make me feel, think, and act differently? What was the impact on me and the choices I made?

Why Everyone Should Have a Mentor

Mentoring today

The stereotype mentor of the last century is an older, more experienced, father figure dispensing advice to a younger person. He passes down stone tablets to an empty vessel eager to follow in their footsteps to the letter. Do as I say, do as I do. In tune with the hierarchical times and with good intent. Done badly, it was arrogance personified. Female mentors were thin on the ground.

In today's world, deference is weaker. Society is more open, questioning, and individualistic. People want greater value. People are less afraid to challenge authority. Some people treat experts with disdain and suspicion.

Those people who start from the old paradigm will struggle to mentor today without adjusting to the new realities. That awareness can result in fears or anxieties about being an effective mentor. If you're a new mentor, check out these ways of overcoming common fears.

Mentoring today takes many forms. Many of them emphasise a greater equality in the mentoring relationship. They are being applied in a wide variety of contexts. For example, business growth, start-ups, apprenticeships, the transition from education to work, within schools, colleges, and universities, career development inside and outside organisations, and many more.

Formal mentoring schemes are a conscious effort to provide employees support in a turbulent world where wellbeing initiatives align with personal and professional development. It's also to prevent business critical knowledge and wisdom disappearing when people leave. Informal mentoring continues without the label and has done since the ancient Greeks.

Modern mentoring is no longer a one-size fit all approach and includes:

Why Everyone Should Have a Mentor

The Business Benefits

Recognition of the business benefits of mentoring is increasing. Unsurprising, given the perfect storm of disruption-as-normal and demographic shifts leading to a multi-generational workplace. For employers, mentoring brings business benefits in an age of growing automation where investment in people has never been more urgent and necessary. Here are three main benefits:

Why Everyone Should Have a Mentor

At a personal level, mentoring has a significant role to play in healthy job and career transitions. As a mentee, it supports you to cope with disruption and ignite personal eruption, so you grab hold of the future before the future grabs hold of you. I also believe that my positive experiences as a mentee have helped me to be a better mentor.  So it's a virtuous cycle. And it's rewarding as a mentor both for the personal satisfaction of helping someone thrive and for your own learning. A win-win.

10 Business Benefits of Mentoring

Here are some comments I received on the joy of mentoring following discussions in various LinkedIn groups about how business undervalues mentoring. 

I strongly believe that to be an excellent mentor one has to experience how it feels to be a mentee. I think that by being a mentee makes me a much better mentor.  The more business owners have access to mentoring the more they will see the benefits hence will be more motivated to do the same themselves.  Simply just raising the profile of mentoring is absolutely key.” Agnes Cserhati, award-winning professional entrepreneur coach and business mentor
All businesses need mentors I believe and everyone in life needs a mentor/s as well. We all have people in our lives that have been like a mentor to us but often people do not notice it. I am grateful to all the mentors throughout my life!”  Katrina Calvin, social entrepreneur
The need for business mentoring is particularly needed in the current economic situation, especially among recent graduates looking for entry-level positions. There is a clear need for career progression and development, i.e. moving beyond securing a job placement role.  Honestly, I don’t think employers value the importance of business mentoring due to the high turn-over of employees and staggering rate of unemployment. An emphasis on graduate development programs by employers is not enough to nurture new talents especially when too much focus is placed on educational qualifications and less on equipping graduates with the required skill sets to excel in a given work environment or industry. Although it might be argued that one leads to another, business productivity will definitely benefit from mentoring.                                                Augustus Chinedu Emenogu, Young Leaders and International Student mentor                                         

10 Business Benefits of Mentoring

The Personal Benefits of Mentoring

So, how can mentoring help your business?  Undoubtedly, the personal benefits are numerous. I ran a workshop to develop the mentoring skills of people at all levels of an organisation. They exchanged stories about how they had benefited at different life and career stages. Here are some of their descriptions of the positive behaviours and impact that had left a lifetime impression upon them:

10 Business Benefits of Mentoring

The Business Benefits of Mentoring

  1. A low-cost/high-value investment and contribution to economic growth (for your biz and the nation).
  2. Promotes a focus on people and the value of lifelong learning.
  3. Uses people more effectively to realise real potential.
  4. Saves money from less staff turnover.
  5. Improves employee engagement and retention.
  6. Helps with succession planning and growing talent.
  7. Identifies risks and averts potential crises.
  8. Reduces the burden on busy line managers and other support roles.
  9. Provides personal and professional development for mentors, adds to their skill-set and enhances job satisfaction.
  10. Mentoring is a business success factor as it improves individual performance.

Do you mentor people in your business?  If you do, what difference has it made?  If not, what stops you?

What Makes a Brilliant Mentoring Relationship?

Check out this lovely poem by Portia Nelson that captures the essence of what mentoring is about. Watch this short video to see the benefits for students at a local university. They are pairing up with alumni mentors to help make the transition from degree to work.

Here are some of the things that I believe make brilliant mentors and mentees:

Brilliant Mentors…

Brilliant Mentees…

  • Are motivated for change and development
  • Are respectful
  • Are open and trusting
  • Are curious and ask questions
  • Listen to understand
  • What Makes a Brilliant Mentoring Relationship?

    What are your brilliant experiences of a mentoring relationship?

    New Mentor? How to Go From Fears to Cheers

    14 common mentoring fears

      1. I’m not up to the job. Will I be credible in their eyes? Share your relevant experience. Build rapport. Instill confidence through how you mentor them in practice.
      2. I’ll fail them. What if I don’t live up to their expectations? Discuss their expectations. Negotiate. Be clear about what you expect from them, what they can expect from you, and what they can’t expect.
      3. I’ll get found out. What if I don’t have the answers? Encourage them to fact-find, explore, and take ownership and responsibility. Point them to other people and resources.
      4. I’m used to directing people. What if I know the answers? Encourage them to think for themselves first and come up with their own answers. However, then share your knowledge and wisdom if something is not within their experience or know-how. Share what works for you, the pitfalls, and how you deal with them. Don’t tell them what to do. Be a sounding board not a surrogate for their decision-making.
      5. I’ve not been in their position for some time. What if I don’t have recent experience of being in their shoes? It is less important than your ability to relate and empathize with them.
      6. I’m unclear what to do. Whose responsibility is it to…? ​Agree on responsibilities up front. Your job is to facilitate and lead if they are stuck. However, remember it's the mentee's agenda and you are not their manager or parent.
      7. Getting going. How do I get off to a good start in the relationship? Get to know each other, share interests, and be curious. Build a rapport and create trust in the relationship by making it a safe space for them to think, talk, and plan. Your basic tools are listening and questioning.
      8.  What if we don’t get on? Agree at the start for both of you to be open and honest if the relationship isn’t working. Review against your shared mutual expectations.

      New Mentor? How to Go From Fears to Cheers

      1. What if they don’t know what they want from the mentoring? Explore their current situation and ideas for the future. Be pragmatic and focus on their next step if the longer-term picture is unclear. Open their eyes to new possibilities and perspectives. A different issue may emerge than the one they present initially, so, be flexible.
      2. I don’t want to fail them. Will I fail if they don’t succeed?  Be honest with yourself. Ask for feedback. Humility is your friend because the best mentoring involves two-way learning. Differentiate the success of the mentoring from the wider or longer-term goal of your mentee. That may take a lot longer and it’s down to them.
      3. I feel ill at ease. How do I deal with personal issues, diversity, mental health, learning difficulties? Get a basic understanding and establish the boundaries. Be open about where you can or can’t help. Signpost to relevant professionals where appropriate.
      4. I’m alone. Where do I get support from? From the organiser or supervisor if it’s a formal scheme. Remember, a mentor can have a mentor too!
      5. It’s going to eat up my time. What if they want more time than I can give? Negotiate and set boundaries. Agree what makes sense for you and them.
      6. It will go on too long. How do I end the relationship? Avoid dependency, foster independence. Set up expectations of the timescale at the start and assess as you go along. Weigh up the mentee’s progress, whether it’s a natural endpoint, and the opportunity cost if you continue.

      Ironically, your mentee is likely to have similar fears and anxieties about mentoring. So, put yourself in their shoes and think through how you will address their concerns. It will help you as much as them!

      Mentoring is one of life’s best experiences. Who doesn’t want a wise and trusted supporter to inspire you with unconditional belief in your capability and potential? And it’s rewarding as a mentor. Most mentors say the top benefits are the personal satisfaction they get from helping their mentee thrive and their own self-development. It’s a win-win. What fears or concerns do you have as a new mentor?

      How to Find a Mentor in Your 20s

      In my research with graduates, mentoring is high on their list of support while job searching in their 20s. Young professionals often ask me ‘how do I find a mentor?’ Part of the challenge in responding is to test their understanding of what a mentor does. Also, probing why they want a mentor. A significant mentoring experience can be life-changing (check out the Mentoring Summit). Wise counsel can help you at key points to navigate the unchartered waters of your working life. This chapter is about knowing what you’re looking for, where to look, and how to make it happen.

      Why do you want a mentor?

      At its best, mentoring is a two-way relationship of trust and learning. If you just want to be told what to do or seek a magic answer for getting a job, then think again. Together, you make sense of your situation and the mentor’s advice, guidance and experiences and consider what is relevant. But it’s you who decides what actions to take.

      A mentor can help if you do not know what works to get a job or career in a specific field or sector. They can introduce you to people or signpost to resources. You can talk through opportunities and explore the pros and cons. Mentoring helps during a transition for knowledge, awareness, and motivation. Be clear why you want a mentor. Reflect on your readiness for mentoring.

      Below are some sources of potential mentors. They may lead to formal or informal relationships. You don’t have to use the labels ‘mentor’ or ‘mentoring’. Sometimes, the people you are looking for are hiding in plain sight.

      How to Find a Mentor in Your 20s

      People in your desired roles and sectors

      Most people genuinely want to help you find your way and are very forthcoming with advice and introductions. I was lucky to meet a number of people quite senior in their industry who were incredibly generous with their time, expertise, and networks and I wouldn’t have experienced the interesting and fulfilling career path I’ve had so far if it weren’t for their support. Graduate

      Research the roles and sectors that interest you. Then identify a couple of people in those areas that you can approach. Get clues from their LinkedIn profiles and discussion groups as to how much they enjoy their jobs and their particular personal and professional interests. Become a LinkedIn connection (here’s how to do it well). Start contributing to online debates and share helpful material. Get noticed.

      Professional Coach/Mentor

      I found a mentor who supported me throughout. Having guidance of a mentor was hugely beneficial for me. She asked the questions that I was possibly to scared to ask myself. I was able to write my own story and internalise it, which gave me the confidence to reach out to the right people at the right time. Graduate

      How to Find a Mentor in Your 20s

      Yes, it costs money. However, the right professional that adds significant value to you is an investment in your job and career journey and saves you the time and stress of working it out alone. When I set up in business for myself, I invested in someone who had done the same a few years before me. The combination of his wisdom about pitfalls to avoid, tips to try out, signposting, and boosting my confidence was invaluable.

      Current and Past Work Colleagues

      I have kept in touch with old bosses who have helped with introducing me to potential employment. Graduate

      At some point during your work experiences you meet someone with whom you click. They always have your best interests at heart, get the right balance between supporting and challenging you. Just the right amount of stretch for healthy learning. Do you still keep in contact? Is this someone you could approach for advice and guidance? It might be a lecturer or tutor from your former university? What about the person you admire elsewhere in your organisation who is removed from your day-to-day role?


      Finding someone who is a couple of years out of the graduate scene and getting their advice is great. Graduate

      How to Find a Mentor in Your 20s

      The advantage of approaching recent graduates now in the workplace is they have recent experience of getting a job or finding a career choice. They know what you are going through and what it takes to succeed. That can be less daunting that someone a lot older or more senior. Generational similarities can break down barriers. If you don’t know anyone, your former university can introduce you to relevant alumni. Many have alumni mentoring schemes. Also, you can research alumni on dedicated university pages on LinkedIn to identify who to approach. Here’s how.

      Family and Friends

      I have found that advice from my parents has been very useful, as they both are in two very different job sectors and therefore have a range of advice to give. Graduate
      Getting advice (helps) from friends who have been successful in getting jobs such as writing CVs. Speaking to those who had been through it before, older siblings and friends who had had similar experiences. Graduate

      Sometimes, mentors are the ones closest to you. Just be aware that their objectivity may be compromised. Telling you what to do is not mentoring.

      Online and Offline Networks

      Ask your peers and mentors to evaluate the opportunity for you. If you know someone that works there, learn about their culture, values and reflect on whether it is for you. If you have friends or colleagues who have made the switch, talk to them about they made the transition, the ups and downs they faced. The more you invest, the more your network will pay you back. Allen Blue, Co-founder of LinkedIn

      How to Find a Mentor in Your 20s

       How to approach a potential mentor

      People want to help you, you just have to find the right way to ask. Graduate

      You might assume that potential mentors are too busy. However, you won’t know until you ask. In my experience, people are more likely to be flattered than to reject a mentoring approach. It depends on a good match between you and them and how you approach them. So, how do you do that?

      1. Here are some great questions to ask if you meet a potential mentor at an event or as part of networking activities.
      2. Use the CrystalKnows app to get clues to your potential mentor’s personality and communication preferences. Then adapt your approach for writing or speaking with them directly.
      3. Have informal conversations to learn and share mutually beneficial information. They help you test out if this person is potential mentor material.
      4. Here are some tips for overcoming your fears about connecting with strangers on LinkedIn.
      5. Join a professional institution to extend your network of experts in your field.
      6. Dealing with rejection: stay in touch and on their radar – it might not be the right time, or the fit is not right. Move on quickly.

      If you’re lucky, a mentor finds you. However, you increase your chances through personal initiative and responsibility and being alert to mentoring opportunities. That’s what a wise person would do and also prepares you for being a mentor to others.

      If you have a mentor, how did you get together?

      Apprentices: How to Boost Support With Quality Mentoring

      I was once an apprentice cameraman for a small film company immediately after leaving full-time education. My manager was an experienced cameraman and my learning was mainly through observing him, asking questions, and his supervision. The professional and personal development was haphazard. He was task-focused and not open to discussing emotional issues. I lacked an outlet for my anxieties about the work and the role. Looking back, mentoring from someone else in the company would have helped me settle in and grow. Fortunately, I received the benefits of mentoring later on in my career.

      Things came to a head when my boss went on leave and left me in charge. My inexperience was soon exposed when I made a costly client mistake. I still remember with a shudder the owner of the business intervening to rescue me while angrily barking "why have a dog when you can bark yourself!" He let me go a month later.

      Apprenticeships today 

      Today, the picture is hugely different as Government and business get serious about professionalising the vocational landscape. Employers are heavily involved in establishing standards for a wide range of formal apprenticeships. The Government is committed to reaching a target of 3 million apprenticeships by 2020. Employers with a wage bill of more than £3 million contribute 0.5% to a Levy. Employers can then use this fund to spend on apprenticeship training (with a 10% Government top-up in England). Non-Levy payers with smaller wage bills get a helping hand from Government, although they still contribute 10% towards costs for those 19+. The government will pay all the costs for new apprentices aged 16 to 18 for smaller companies with under 50 employees.

      Apprentices: How to Boost Support With Quality Mentoring

      This radical move to greater vocational opportunities is complex and evolving. Policy and practice remain uneasy bedfellows. Different employers of all sizes are at differing stages of transition to this new world. Awareness varies as to the existence of the Levy, what is possible and what is working. Commitment to investing in apprenticeships varies because of questions about the quality of provision and objections to the way the Levy scheme is being implemented. In the Leeds City Region, where I'm based, only 20% of 120,000 businesses (of which 1800 are Levy-paying) currently offer apprenticeships.

      Another raging debate is about the type and level of apprenticeships that are needed to close the skills gap. In Leeds, higher-level skills have been imported to date and the Brexit implications remain unclear. In 2018, 400 Degree Apprenticeships will be on offer. Yet, others argue that Level 2 apprenticeships are critical for building progression on solid ground and for social mobility.

      The missing gap

      Given all the above, it benefits all those involved in making apprenticeships a success to work collaboratively, learning and sharing good practices as they go along. This is paramount if apprentices are to complete their apprenticeships and make the transition to being fully-fledged employees. The same applies to employees who support them. Attraction, retention, and engagement are critical success factors for making apprenticeships work.

      Apprentices: How to Boost Support With Quality Mentoring

      However, research by the Mentoring School reveals that nearly half of apprentices (46%) feel they do not receive enough support from their employers and 84% feel employers would benefit from more training on supporting apprentices. Almost 1 in 2 employees do not feel confident in supporting apprentices. Overwhelmingly, people at all levels in the organisations surveyed support the need for training.

      In response to this missing gap, the Mentoring School developed the National Apprentice Mentoring Qualification to train work-based mentors how to understand the psychology and theory underpinning the structure, engagement and pastoral support that apprentices often need.

      Developing Mentors

      Making apprenticeships work within an organisation has cultural change implications. Many employees not involved with apprentices may have outdated perceptions or little idea what they entail or be unclear about an employer's responsibilities. Mentors have an opportunity to engage with others internally to build awareness of what a modern apprenticeship means and how colleagues can support them. They can act as champions. Equipping employees with the professional skills to mentor apprentices sends a message that their employer is serious about investing in people.

      What difference would you expect to see resulting from professional mentoring training for the various stakeholders involved in delivering apprenticeships?

    1. The employer recognises the importance of having a trained mentor and shows commitment to a professional standard. They appoint mentors for the apprentice who are not their managers.
    2. Apprentices: How to Boost Support With Quality Mentoring

      Other issues include whether young people are attracted to apprenticeships, whether the current minimum apprenticeship wage is sufficient while they work and study, exploitation by some employers (135,000 underpaid according to TUC research), and generational fairness.

      Millennials often get a bad press for perceived inadequacies compared with previous generations. I don't subscribe to that view. I have seen from my clients and working with Youth Employment UK how the power of believing in young people can release their enormous potential. Mentoring is a powerful approach to supporting apprentices.

      In an era of increasing automation investing in people development is both a business imperative and the right thing to do. Apprentices deserve quality mentoring and the employees who mentor them need investment in their professional skills and confidence to help them succeed.

      Apprentices: How to Boost Support With Quality Mentoring

      Apprentices: How to Boost Support With Quality Mentoring

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