Why mentors matter

I recently picked the brains of several senior Irish business people while researching an article on successful leaders in the workplace. During these various conversations I noticed an interesting (and slightly unexpected) theme recurring.

The one thing that almost all of them spoke gratefully and with feeling about was the mentoring that they’d received during the formative years of their careers.

‘The beauty of a mentor is that they help you see situations from another perspective’, explained the director of a Dublin-based multinational. ‘Acquiring one was a key career milestone for me. When you lack experience you need a person who isn’t your manager to bounce ideas and concerns off.’

‘Find yourself a mentor’, replied the chairperson of an Irish legal practice when I asked what advice she could offer graduates embarking on their careers. ‘I can’t stress how invaluable they can be. For many years I didn’t have one and in retrospect I would have benefited greatly from one.’

This is all good advice, but what exactly is a mentor? What do they do? What’s the difference between a ‘mentor’ and a ‘buddy’, and how do you go about getting one?

Well, a mentor is someone who should ideally be completely unconnected to where you work. They don’t even have to be in the same profession, but should be more experienced than you, and willing to give you honest, impartial advice based on their own experiences.

A ‘buddy’ is a colleague who is often assigned to a new starter at a company. They provide a friendly face and general support with the process of settling in. They are usually assigned for you by a manager and work in a similar role to you.

If there is someone in your network that you look up to and feel would be a suitable candidate as your mentor (a favourite tutor for example), then approach them and ask them directly. The chances are they’ll be delighted to give you the benefit of their experience. Best to leave parents, relatives and friends well alone though – they could find it hard to remain impartial.

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