The directors speak: Advice on choosing a mentor and where to find one

The recent MBA panel discussion, hosted by the Management Division, featured three key industry leaders: Pauline Hogg, Paul Grace, and Jamie Thompson.

The panel was an opportunity for current MBA students to meet three key industry leaders within the Leaders in Residence network to learn about topics such as technology trends, lifelong learning and mentorship. Here, we share their insights into mentoring, both within and outside of the workplace.

Homer’s Odyssey, written almost three millennia ago, begins with prince Telemachus embarking on a journey to find his long lost father, Odysseus, who vanished after the Trojan War. Telemachus is approached by Mentor (the disguised goddess Athena), an old friend of his father. Mentor coaches Telemachus through the trials and tribulations of his quest, encouraging and guiding him through his own personal journey until he succeeds.

Although the etymology of the word mentorship spans to 800 BC, the core tenets of mentorship remain unchanged: a mentor is a trusted advisor, who provides support and guidance to another, to help them manage their own learning and development. While we may be lacking in goddesses in disguise to help us on our personal quests, that doesn’t mean we should stop looking for a mentor in everyday life, to offer advice and direction in navigating our career-related and personal goals. 

You have to pick a mentor yourself, rather than it being set up

Paul Grace, Head of Customer Banking, Leeds City Region at Yorkshire Bank

Paul has always looked outside of his network and organisation to find mentors during his career. This method, Paul explains, helps to establish a confidential relationship and brings the added bonus of outside exposure. He also suggests finding a reverse mentor – someone in a less senior role to you, who can provide a fresh perspective on career development. 

Pauline Hogg, Senior HR Director at Arla Foods UK, surrounds herself with various strong leaders, of many disciplines, instead of just one. Pauline explains how this approach to mentoring can provide a wider framework of expertise, advice and perspective; providing an opportunity to take advantage of the best advice available, while being able to tailor needs to the specific strengths of individuals.

She describes the more formal mentoring programme at Arla UK, where mentor relationships are established through a partnering process. While in a few cases the mentor relationships can struggle to gather momentum and connections can fade, people can then naturally look for council amongst their peers.

The panel address a key issue: what if there is no appropriate mentor for you within an organisation, and you’re struggling to find one outside of it? Jamie Thompson, Managing Director of MTa Learning, advises people in need of a mentor to approach a coaching federation, for example the International Coaching Federation (ICF). The ICF have experienced mentors who are in need of mentees to help complete their accreditation. These mentors offer career and development guidance free of charge for a set number of coaching hours, and can even be senior members of well-established organisations: Athenas in disguise, perhaps?

So if you, like Telemachus, are just embarking on your epic journey, don’t do it alone. Mentoring remains to this day a great way to aid personal development and navigate difficult choices, and the panel’s experiences ultimately demonstrate that successful mentor relationships can be established and exist in various forms.