On International Mentoring Day, we are delighted to share blogs from three participants in our career mentoring scheme. Mentors, Thembe McInnes and David Bryson, share their thoughts, while Abbie McCreath explains how she benefited from being mentored.
Thembe McInnes, Legal Manager at Whyte and Mackay Ltd and co-vice convener of the Law Society’s In House Lawyer’s Committee, explains what she got out of mentoring.
When I volunteered for the Law Society’s mentoring programme, it was because I was drawn to the notion that I would be able to support an individual – whether through educational or career goals or personal development. I saw it as chance to give something of my experience back.
I confess that before I completed the mentoring training, a part of me worried what I might be able to offer as a mentor, as I did not understand the clear distinction between mentoring and coaching.
The dictionary definition of a mentor is ‘an experienced and trusted advisor’. Thrown into the mix was the popular belief that mentoring can only be carried out by the best in the field. We’ve all seen this relationship in the movies, in politics, in sport - the more experienced person takes the rookie under their wing, with the reward being the satisfaction of watching their mentee grow. But in reality, the mentoring relationship is far less one-sided than the traditional definition implies.
David Clutterbuck, who has written several books on mentoring and coaching, believes that anyone can be a mentor if they have something to pass on, and the skills time and commitment to do it.
The aim of mentoring is to promote positive change in an individual by enabling them to develop their own skills, strategies and capabilities. My experience is that mentoring is a journey of discovery and learning together. Working with your mentee to problem-solve and considering ways to tackle challenges together. Asking questions that invite reflection and continually challenge the mentee's assumptions so as to stretch their thinking or approach. The knowledge, connections and personal growth are just a few of the obvious benefits that mentoring can provide the mentee. What I didn’t anticipate was the benefit mentoring would have on my own thinking and approaches.
While a mentoring relationship is first and foremost to benefit the mentee, as the mentor, you have just as much to gain in experience, confidence, and knowledge.
When you mentor others, you gain critical skills to improve as a leader. You learn to bring out the best in others, recognise strengths and weaknesses, how to be diplomatic while getting results, how to give constructive feedback and be supportive, and most importantly, how self-awareness is key in order to make changes.
You learn to ask more questions and gain more clarity about a situation to ensure a better understanding of the bigger picture before you identify and agree the appropriate next steps. Identifying and setting the goals – short and long term – and working through the steps to achieving them, mean your own goals come into sharp focus very quickly. When you remind mentees to be kind to themselves and take confidence in their achievement, you are reminded to do the same for yourself. You learn to take the time to reflect on your own strengths and good qualities too.
For both the mentor and the mentee, speaking with and listening to someone who is not connected to your day-to-day role can bring experiences, perspectives and fresh thinking, and is not only inspiring but hugely valuable in steering decisions about the future.
When you decide to mentor someone, you really have no way of knowing how it will go. Whether you shape the next great legal mind or help someone achieve their career dreams, you'll make a difference. But even more rewarding, are the lessons you learn on your journey as a mentor and the time you take to reflect on your own life goals and ambitions.
So where do I see myself in 5years time? Definitely still making the time to mentor.
Thembe leads the legal team at Whyte and Mackay Ltd, identifying and managing legal risks to the Group’s global distribution interests. As well as dealing with commercial contracts, her role is to provide strategic and operational advice on legal and compliance matters, training and advice on the variety of executive, management and governance issues that arise in a fast paced commercial environment.
Abbie McCreath, an associate in CMS’ employment team, talks about how mentoring has helped her.
I was inspired to apply for the Law Society’s mentoring scheme after family and friends told me how helpful they found having a mentor. Shortly after applying, I was matched with David Bryson, a lawyer at Baillie Gifford.
Initially David and I met every month over a coffee. I would set specific goals and we would then review my progress against these at the next meeting. The regular reviews meant that I stayed focused on my personal development. Prior to the mentoring meetings, I found that this would fall to the bottom of my list and I would only really pick up on it at appraisal time. David was also able to share his insight on things that he has found useful in his career, as well as recommending various books and other resources.
We have now been meeting for almost three years, and I have found the experience invaluable. We have reduced our meetings to a few times a year and they are always something that I look forward to. David has been great at developing my confidence and pushing me to try new things. For example, it was through David that I found out about the Law Society’s trainee mentoring scheme, and I have now mentored two trainees.
As David works in-house, he has also been able to share with me what he finds helpful (or not!) in external lawyers, and I have used these to inform the way that I deal with my own clients.
I would definitely encourage other lawyers to make use of the scheme. I am acutely aware that most lawyers are very busy and can be reluctant to add another ‘to do’ to their list. However, I have found that taking an hour every few months has really helped me to re-focus on the bigger picture and ensure that what I am doing on a day-to-day basis feeds into my long-term goals. It is also a good opportunity to meet new people and make new friends.
The legal world is a small one, and you never know who your mentor could introduce you to, or where they might end up.
David Bryson, Senior Legal Counsel with Baillie Gifford & Co and co-vice convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s In-House Lawyers Committee, talks about his most rewarding experiences as a mentor.
One of my most rewarding mentor experiences happened more or less by accident. Having just finished a talk to some diploma students, I was approached by one of the students who had the presence of mind and determination to ask me to meet her for a coffee to discuss her career. Impressed by her pro-activity, I readily agreed to do so and a new mentoring relationship was initiated.
The goal of this particular mentoring relationship was to secure a legal traineeship for the mentee, and while that goal was ultimately achieved, it was not the most satisfying element of the process for me. Instead watching the mentee develop her approach and thinking was far more rewarding.
In particular, I recall reading one email which said:
“I found myself facing a difficult challenge and to develop a strategy to address it, I asked myself: what would you as my mentor ask me at this point? I ran through the type of questions you often ask me using the GROW* model and I worked out what I would do next”
At that point I realised that something had ‘clicked’ and that my work was done. The mentee had developed a life skill with her technique for handling challenges and it would only be a matter of time before she achieved her immediate objective of gaining a traineeship.
To me, mentoring is not the mere dispensing of advice, or the issuing of directives by the ‘all-knowing’ and experienced mentor. Rather the key is to use open questioning and appropriate challenge to help the mentee develop their own solutions to the unique challenges that they are facing.
I would really encourage colleagues to volunteer to mentor, there is so much to gain: the pure joy of giving something back and helping others; meeting different people and gaining an insight to their challenges and counterintuitively engaging in your own self development as much if not more than the mentee.
For mentees, the benefit of a different perspective, especially one outside of traditional management structures, is huge. And so is the opportunity to talk about your career in a confidential relationship with an experienced professional who does not have an angle on your development.
While this scenario relates to working towards a traineeship, my belief remains that having a mentor is beneficial throughout our career. Perhaps as we get more experienced and confident in our abilities, the need for a fresh pair of ears and some appropriate challenge is just what we need.
*GROW model of questioning:
- What is my Goal?
- What is my Reality?
- What are the Options?
- What is my Way forward (or next steps)?