Mark Freebairn 7 Sep 2017 02:11pm

Career clinic: mentors

Mark Freebairn sounds his appreciation for the role played by mentors

Ask anyone what their top three most valuable working life experiences have been and mentoring will be there. Mentors are a hugely valuable community of people and it’s vital for your career to have them around you.

History, studied properly, can teach us about mistakes and help us not to make them again. Sadly, history also shows that many people ignore those lessons. That doesn’t mean you have to fall into that trap. At points in your career, you will face a critical choice, two paths, a yes or a no. With the benefit of hindsight, you can make the right decision. But without time travel, you can’t create hindsight – right?

Finance leaders have been building career paths for as long as there have been two of them. And every retired finance leader has faced various decisions along the way. Some they have got right, and some wrong; but they remember and have learnt from every single one of them. Which makes them a mine of information, history and time travel. And therefore a valuable source of hindsight. Because if you have a decision to make and you can find someone who faced a similar decision, knowing what they did and whether it was right or wrong offers tremendous insight for you when making your own.

In my experience mentoring has seen a rapid and pleasing development in the last 10 years. Traditionally, we have all tended to be a bit British about it. No one networks, everyone is a bit embarrassed about asking for help and being a nuisance – and so we all ignored the community around us and looked inwardly to decide. However, for various reasons, I have seen finance leadership adopt a more outgoing persona and as a result, the focus on mentors has increased.

And a simple truth has emerged – people the world over like feeling like an expert (sorry Mr Gove). Being asked for an opinion plays to lots of levels of our self-esteem and, in my experience, almost everyone asked happily answers. At length. And then offers to continue to act in that mentoring role for as long as anyone wants them to. And without wanting to sound trite, it’s a lovely thing to observe.

Mentors are an incredibly valuable part of your career development. Choose wisely, collect assiduously and when the time comes for you to be a mentor, give freely. It’s the perfect virtuous circle and we could do with more of those, not fewer.