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Mixed feelings about mentoring

Posted by: Debbie Griffiths on
Mixed feelings about mentoring

I seem to be wearing so many hats at the moment – business writer, coach, mentor, blogger, student - it’s hard to know who’s writing this down. My instinct is to be the professional blogger, making sure that every word is perfectly crafted and the structure is logical, leading to some irresistible call to action. But that’s not what it says on my ‘to do’ list. It actually says: mentoring reflection. So, should I write this as a mentor? Or a student desperately trying to finish off my CIPD course?

As with most things I do in business, I find it hard to separate things out. One always influences the other. So, I’m starting this from the viewpoint of the student learning something, but it will inevitably mix in other elements too. But I won’t craft it.

Mentoring dilemma

Last night, I went up to Aston University to start my third year of the Professional Mentoring Scheme. Although I’ve done it before, I’d booked the event in and this year they seemed to have listened and included a meet and greet session alongside the training. The trainer was someone new, so I thought it would be worth listening to see if I could pick up something new.

My dilemma was that my other mentoring programme – for ICRS – was taking place in London on the same day at the same time. I was part of their pilot last year and this year they were formalising it a bit and brining in someone to train the mentors. Bummer. I couldn’t be in two places at once, and Aston was (a) more convenient and (b) I would meet my new mentee at the same time. Options weighed up, my mind was made up.

Mentoring delight

As I was going up to Brum, I thought I’d try and catch up with my first mentee, who had just returned from her year out and was now studying for her finals.

It was absolutely wonderful to see her and to see how she’d grown as a person. She was always confident, but now she is self-assured with real-world experience under her belt. We had a great discussion about the difference between academic learning and practical business life. As I’m struggling to get over the finish line with my CIPD diploma with ICS Learn, we debated the need for formal qualifications, but decided we wanted them anyway, for our own self-esteem. And because we’ve invested so much financially, emotionally and physically.

‘First date’ disappointment

We could have stayed chatting for hours, but I scooted off to get to this year’s mentoring meet and greet on time. I worked out who my mentee was and waited. And chatted to a couple of mentors. And waited. And chatted to a mentee who was waiting for her mentor. It wasn’t me – she’d looked her up on Linked In so knew what she looked like. Aha! Maybe I should do the same. Good student – lots of initiative shown (plus a bit of reverse mentoring!) No picture on Linked In. Mmmm. Ask the organisers if she’s coming. Yes. We’ll bring her to you. No show.

The guy next to me was in the same boat. But it seemed worse for him – from my point of view. This was his first year on this scheme, so he wasn’t impressed. My mentee decided to withdraw from the scheme last year before we’d even met, so I knew this happened. But, we both still felt stood up on our first date and I felt a bit gutted (a) that she hadn’t shown and (b) that I hadn’t gone to London afterall.

We chatted away until the training event. But that disappointed me too. I was expecting the speaker to share the “right tools and techniques to support mentoring relationships”. That’s what it said on the invite. But it turned out this guy had never mentored anyone nor been mentored. So, the session became a crowdsourcing of everyone’s ideas in the room. Social and collective learning. The new frontier in L&D. The subject of my last module for the diploma. The one I’m struggling with!

Silver lining

Today, on reflection, it worked out well for me overall. The other volunteer who’d been stood up had loads of experience of mentoring business owners and was on the scheme my partner’s just applied for. So, I got great insights into that programme to share with him. We’ve been buzzing with ideas based on his clever questioning all morning. Disruption was my key takeaway. Definitely disrupted our current thinking! And that could make the big difference.

And the social and collective learning experience? Well, reflecting out loud on it has taught me something, which links back to mentoring and my CIPD studies. My mum says that my problem is that I always give too much to others. Is that possible? I’m also a CSR practitioner – it’s my corporate responsibility to give! However, altruism isn’t enough – when you give, you’re supposed to gain. I like sharing my knowledge and experience but I also like learning from people with more or different knowledge/experience. When I mentor voluntarily, I give, but I gain the opportunity to practise skills that I use in my business for paying clients. I gain the insights and ideas of a younger generation that I’m not otherwise exposed to.

My problem with the ‘training’ session was that I expected to be trained. If they’d called it a crowd-learning session, my expectation would have been different. As it was, I felt I had more to give than the person leading the session and gained nothing new. Except … that confidence and clever questioning techniques enable you to run a session when you aren’t a subject specialist.

Talking of which, I got home in time for the BBC 4 programme on Socrates. It brought my recent academic reading for the diploma to life. Play the fool, use the Socratic method of questioning and learn more.

Author: Debbie Griffiths
Debbie Griffiths

I blog here about words, language and grammar. As well as coaching, training and mentoring.

I blog about CSR and sustainability on our sister site: Ideal Worldsmiths.