Learning can be a tricky thing no matter what stage we’re at in our career, especially when we have to do this by ourselves. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that people can access the support and guidance they need as professionals. As a mentor herself, Ewelina Kruk  the value and benefit mentoring programmes bring to organisations and individuals. For those contemplating mentoring as a means of progressing their careers, or for those considering becoming a mentor as a way to give back to their profession, there are some key considerations.

Mentoring VS coaching

Coaching and mentoring exist for the same purpose: helping others grow, develop and reach their full potential. Through both methods, individuals are encouraged to take charge of their career and personal development. When it comes to people development, the two often get grouped together, which makes it seem like a binary decision for organisations. However, while coaching and mentoring differ in a number of ways, they are in fact complementary.

Due to their informal nature, mentoring relationships often result in friendship and have the potential to last a lifetime. Coaching, on the other hand, resembles more of a short-term partnership due to being generally objective-driven and aimed at developing specific skills. One of the greatest misconceptions about mentors is that they will tell you what to do and shape you into a more successful individual. However, unlike coaching, mentees are entirely responsible for their own development and for driving sessions with their mentor.

Mentors are encouraged to draw on their personal experiences by sharing stories about challenges they faced in their careers and the valuable lessons they learned along the way. Coaches do not necessarily touch upon these topics., In fact, they may not even have any relevant experience in the industry concerned. Ultimately, mentoring is a bidirectional relationship with the aim to build confidence.

Why mentoring matters

As a Chartered Project Professional, I have been a mentor for the past five years, I have found that there are countless benefits to mentoring, for all parties involved. Of course, there are the more obvious perks such as the opportunity to broaden one’s network by acquiring professional connections and long-lasting friendships. As today’s job market is still very animated, networking has never played a greater role in advancing careers. More importantly, mentoring provides a safe, non-judgemental space to learn. When entering a new industry or advancing to a more senior role, it helps us translate technical knowledge into real-life, contextual situations.

It is a common misconception that mentees are the only ones to reap the benefits of a mentoring relationship. However, mentors stand to gain great satisfaction from watching someone else succeed as a result of their support, and it can be an invaluable opportunity to develop leadership and communication skills, gain confidence and discover their own leadership potential. Many studies show that mentoring enhances satisfaction at work and makes a job feel more meaningful to those involved. For many senior employees, it is a way to pay it forward and give back to the professional community that supported their growth.

It’s no secret that women often face a number of challenges in the workplace, particularly relating to work-life balance and proximity bias. These issues are even more prominent in male-dominated industries, which is the case for many female project professionals. Mentoring encourages women to better recognise their skills and advocate for themselves, helping them to advance into leadership positions. The wider organisation then also benefits, as gender diversity within the leadership team is often linked with employee retention and engagement.

Eliane Pony, a community development facilitator, and mentored by Ewelina Kruk says: “My experience as a mentee has been rewarding as I needed to get some insight into project management being a student. I wanted to change career and with no prior experience, it was the best option to talk to a seasoned professional. Ewelina was resourceful and motivating, and we really bonded during our first meeting. It was also a reverse mentoring relationship as I was brought to share my experience of working full-time and doing my master’s part-time as she was also doing the same. Mentoring helped me to come out of my comfort zone and, as a result, I secured my current role.

I will wholeheartedly recommend mentoring to anyone. It has also motivated me to mentor someone and to help them achieve their career goals using my personal experience.”

Reverse mentoring

With the great resignation still in full swing, many organisations struggle to retain young talent. To face this challenge, leadership teams across the world are implementing reverse-mentoring programmes. Reverse mentoring pairs younger employees with senior executives for mentoring on a variety of topics relevant to strategy and culture.

These programmes are highly beneficial in the way that they contribute to closing generational gaps and allow both parties to share their different approach to work and its various issues related to leadership and strategy. Contrary to popular belief, younger workers have much more to offer to their senior peers than digital skills (although these are essential too in this day and age!). Reverse mentoring also tends to open up communication within an organisation, providing young workers with the recognition and transparency they seek from management. Therefore, mentored senior employees will be more inclined to solicit feedback and discuss important issues before making decisions and younger staff will be more engaged in the workplace.

Embracing diversity

As mentioned previously, mentoring is not inherently related to age or seniority. It’s about sharing different lived experiences and seeing things through another lens. Including team members of neurodiverse, LGBTQ+ and ethnic minorities in your company’s mentorship programme is one of the most efficient ways to promote diversity and inclusion. As mentors, these employees can educate others about their unique experiences and the barriers faced throughout their personal and professional life. Providing staff with these opportunities to share and connect will increase empathy, self-awareness and cultural competency.

Mentoring can help individuals achieve any range of career goals they may have. Whether that be to get into project management, progress into a senior role or even manoeuvre sideways. A benevolent, supportive mentor can make all the difference to an individual in a dynamic and fast-moving environment such as the project profession. Everyone has goals and aspirations, and no matter the level the mentee has reached, everyone finds themselves needing some external words of wisdom to help them navigate their way through from time to time.

__

Ewelina Kruk is a Chartered Project Professional, mentor and member of the Association for Project Management (APM)