A great mentor encourages a person to progress, giving valuable advice and encouragement. But it isn’t a one-way street. Many mentors find building the bond just as rewarding and gain fresh inspiration. Below, Bernie Thompson and Melissa Crawshay-Williams share their journey.
Mentoring is a relationship between two people with the goal of professional and personal development. The 'mentor' is usually an experienced individual who shares knowledge, experience, and advice with a less experienced person, or 'mentee' – Mindtools.com
Bernie Thompson joined the Civil Service in 1998. She is a Deputy Director in MHCLG, responsible for Inclusion, Wellbeing and Employee Engagement and co-chairs the cross-government network, Race to the Top G6/7
It’s important to note the word ‘relationship’ in the above definition: you don’t just click on day one and the relationship grows over time.
So, does mentoring stop during lockdown when we’re working from home so differently?
Absolutely not! Mentoring relationships must continue to evolve and flourish.
There are several reasons why creating, growing, and sustaining mentoring relationships during these emotionally challenging times is fundamentally important. However, from a wellbeing perspective, there are huge benefits.
Mind, the Mental Health charity, provides five ways to wellbeing and three of them can be obtained through mentoring:
- Connect - Strong evidence suggests that feeling close, and valued by other people is a fundamental human need, that contributes to functioning well in the world. It’s clear that social relationships are critical for promoting wellbeing and for acting as a buffer against mental ill health for people across all ages.
- Learn - Continued learning through life enhances self-esteem and encourages social interaction and a more active life. Mentoring is a form of learning.
- Give - Participation in social and community life has attracted a lot of attention in the field of wellbeing research. Individuals who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy. Mentoring as a leader, is a form of giving back.
I was delighted to connect with Melissa via the Civil Service Live spot mentoring session when she asked if I’d become her mentor as part of the Crossing Thresholds programme.
I said yes, and the rest is history.
Since we started mentoring, adapting to the ‘new normal’ is what we’ve all had to do. It’s why I wanted to ensure Melissa’s mentee experience was just as stimulating as meeting face-to-face.
This meant ensuring our meetings were firmly in the diary, injecting humour in to the conversation and using our time as an opportunity to have the very important wellbeing conversation. I also wanted to ensure that all the usual activities that I would undertake with my mentees continued and creativity really was the name of the game.
Our mentoring relationship has flourished through lockdown, with both of us gaining something valuable from working together.
For me, seeing Melissa grow in confidence has been such a wellbeing boost.
Melissa Crawshay-Williams is a SEO working in the Trade and Europe, Governance and Secretariat team in BEIS
Last summer I approached Bernie to be my mentor as I found her so engaging during our Civil Service Live 'spot mentoring' session. We hit it off straight away.
Initially I felt nervous, though Bernie soon inspired me with her ‘can-do’ zest, and I was fired up after our first meeting. I outlined my goals and she helped me prepare for my next career challenges. Now I’m excited to be starting a new policy role next month in the Office of Life Sciences in BEIS.
Bernie steered me on rewriting my cv, empowered me to step out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to be assertive about my aspirations.
For example, I recently joined the Crossing Thresholds course, and Bernie encouraged me actively to promote it to colleagues and share new insights. At times, she has questioned my negative assumptions, low confidence and helped pave the way by coaching me for a new career challenge.
Bernie’s mentoring has been so worthwhile. She gave me so much encouragement. I’ve been able to bounce ideas off her, learned a lot and feel more knowledgeable with stronger communication skills. Thank you, Bernie!
Just do it - lockdown has been is a great time to get involved with mentoring as virtual meetings make it so simple to organise.
Lead the mentoring relationship - plan your career priorities and how your mentor could add value. For instance, you may need help reshaping your behaviour examples, or a fresh perspective on your career goals. Your mentor wants to encourage you to reach your full potential, so be curious together about opportunities.
Share any work setback - your mentor will give you experienced advice on how to overcome challenges and suggest ideas to get back on track
Agree mutual expectations and a feedback process. This is important as a check and balance of your progress.
At a click of a button you can shadow senior management meetings - a great opportunity to watch senior staff dynamics in action. Seeing your mentor interact with the senior civil service (SCS) is exciting. It was fascinating shadowing Bernie at MHCLG’s HR senior management team. I also virtually attended MHCLG’s weekly senior civil service Round Up chaired by Perm Sec Jeremy Pocklington, and Bernie’s diversity team meeting. I’d probably never be able to attend these meetings if we were face to face.
Final words from Bernie and Melissa
Don’t let lockdown stop you from finding a mentor. We may be dealing with unprecedented circumstances, but starting a mentoring relationship might just be the right path to help you thrive.