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Kathryn: Hi there. This is Kathryn from the Learn, Grow, Succeed podcast. In today’s podcast, we’ll be taking a look at mentoring in the first of a two-part series. In both episodes we’ll be exploring practical tips for both mentors in part one, and mentees in part two. So both of you are making the most of the time you spend together.

Before we get going, if you’re new here, Welcome! Thanks for joining. You’ll always find a transcript of our podcast over on the Excel Communications website, where you’ll also find loads of other resources to help develop your leadership capabilities. When you’re there, do you remember sign up for our email updates if you’d like to gain more top tips and insights into developing yourself!

Some of you listening might be starting out as mentors or mentees yourself, some of you might be looking to support your organizations’ mentoring program, and some of you listening might never have heard of mentoring but after listening to this you might be itching to get involved.

With that in mind, we’re lucky to be joined by my friend, Karin Mueller today, who is a leadership development expert and career coach, facilitator and trainer with an extensive background in the corporate sector gained from over 16 years in senior positions in a global top 10 FTSE company.

She has helped leaders from a variety of different industries, including tech, the financial services, law, retail, manufacturing, and the charity sector to develop and reach their potential. Karin has a great passion for exploring and understanding life from different perspectives, having lived and worked across many different cultures.

She was born and raised in Germany and now lives in London not too far from me and holds a master’s degree in business from Göttingen university. Karin is an accredited professional certified coach with the International Coaching Federation and sits on the board of the Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability.

So without any further ado, let’s get things going.

Kathryn: Hello Karin…

Karin: Hi, Kathryn. Thank you for having me

Kathryn: And thank you for joining us. It’s lovely to see you. It’s been a while.

Karin: I know time flies. Doesn’t it?

Kathryn: It does. It does. So thank you for joining us today. It would be great for you to give us a bit of an introduction and tell us a bit about yourself.

Karin: So I’m actually working in leadership development and coaching, but when I think about my interest in mentoring, I think that really started a long time ago, longer than I would like to remember. So it was probably right at the beginning of my career. I spent 16 years in corporate before I actually changed careers and went into leadership development.

And I remember only one year into my management trainee program, I was asked to mentor. So this was crazy. And it felt like I can’t be a mentor. Right. I was always thinking of mentors as being wise owls who had done it all and seen it all, and I really didn’t see myself as that, but they didn’t take no for an answer!

So off I went and mentored this new guy from the next cohort of management trainees. And one of the first things I probably learnt is that anyone can be a mentor. So that was my very first lesson. But at the same time, I was also matched with a mentor and that didn’t go so well. I think being a management trainee, I was matched with somebody really senior in the organization, but it was, I think the finance director at the time.

So one of the most senior guys, and I think we’re talking late nineties and I think mentoring was less well understood at the time. And he didn’t really know what to do with me. And I didn’t really know how to make the most of it either. So we had a few really awkward sessions and didn’t really talk about anything to be honest.

Eventually just fizzled out and I was quite relieved and I’m guessing that he was too. So that was a good example of how mentoring probably shouldn’t be done. It was nobody’s fault, I think he had the best intentions. It was just a lack of really knowing how to do it. But since then, I’ve had some really great mentors in my life and I’ve always mentored as well.

So I’ve seen the benefits from both sides since, then I left corporate. So I now help organizations build better coaches for leadership development, and executive coaching is what I do. And as part of that I also advise organizations on their mentoring programs and also offer training for mentors.

I’ve got a huge passion for the subject.

Kathryn: Oh, that’s so interesting to hear. And I think the listeners and myself would definitely agree that you learn probably more from the less positive experiences when it comes to any topic really as you do from the positive ones. So it’s interesting to see that you’ve had sort of both experiences and come a long way since then. You pose a good question at the end there, talking about organizations and mentoring programs for them. So what are the benefits for organizations for having a mentoring program in place?

Karin: Well from my experience, I think the beauty of mentoring programs is that when they’re run well, everybody benefits. So it really is a win-win if you like. For mentees, it’s probably most obvious the benefits of course. I mean, it’s such a gift to be able to benefit from somebody else’s knowledge and experience. And to have an opportunity to build your skill sets with the support of somebody who takes an interest in helping you. It broadens your horizons and you get a new perspective. You often get access to new networks, new opportunities that otherwise you would never know about!

So I’ve seen it be a real accelerator to career progression for mentees. But I think mentors also benefit and that’s often maybe less obvious. Mentoring is a real leadership skill, especially for first-time mentors. I think that they’re often amazed at how much they can learn by really helping somebody else. Listening skills, coaching skills; I think they’re both so key for good leadership. And as a mentor, you’ve got plenty of opportunities to practice those. I’ve learned from every person that I’ve ever mentored. I also get a new perspective, especially when I mentor across differences.

I think then it’s so hugely rewarding to really see the world from their perspective and be challenged in different ways as well. I think it’s really intrinsically motivating for a lot of people to mentor and pay it forward.

Kathryn: Oh, I completely agree. From my own experience, I think it’s so valuable from both sides. So I completely think it’s such a valuable thing for organizations to be doing. And as you say, it’s a really cost effective way of people getting development opportunities as well, both for the mentors and the mentees within an organization. And particularly when times are hard, like they are at the moment, it’s such a powerful way of giving development opportunities for people within organizations from all levels for both the mentors and the mentees. So it’s really, really important point.

Karin: I think you’re absolutely right. And I guess that’s the last piece of the jigsaw because for organizations, it’s massively valuable. Yes it’s really cost-effective, it can be pretty cheap, but it really contributes to better cultures. We know that there’s better employee engagement, retention numbers, improve succession planning improves. Oh and as I touched on earlier, if you have mentoring pairs across differences, it can be a real driver for diversity inclusion as well. You can really start bridging that gap and really help people understand what it’s like to be very different from you and work in the same organization. So plenty of reasons to look at mentoring as a tool.

Kathryn: And so, you know, if your organization doesn’t have one, have a mentoring scheme set up, how can you kind of benefit from all of these things?

Karin: So I think the good news is that it doesn’t really require a formal mentoring scheme to take part or to engage in mentoring. I think in my experience it’s often the informal mentoring that’s actually the most powerful. So when just two people decide to work together and somebody decides to take somebody under their wing as a mentor without being formally matched I think those can often be the most powerful matches.

So I would just say be proactive, right? Start, if you want to mentor then start looking for people that you really want to take under your wing, look for talent that’s coming through the door and see who you spot.

Sometimes employee networks can be a really, really good place to start. Get involved in those and see who are the people that you want to support as they are developing and as they are building their careers. So don’t wait until somebody invites you formally to be a mentor is what I would say.

Kathryn: I completely agree. And you know, there’s the other side of that as well. If you’re listening to this and you’re a leader within your organization and you want to set up a formal mentoring scheme for that wider reach within your organization, do talk to us about how we can help you with that.

So Karin, I know that you wanted to kind of give the listeners three top tips on how to be a good mentor. So what would be your three key takeaways for mentors?

Karin: So I think the most important thing, and when I provide training I always kind of go on about this until people really have taken it in, it’s to set expectations and set boundaries.

I think the main reason mentoring fails; if I think back to my very early career experience with this finance director I think that’s where we went wrong; we were not clear on what we were trying to do. We hadn’t even talked about boundaries, so the boundaries were probably far too rigid for a good mentoring conversation.

So I will always, always, always recommend to make sure that you are really on the same page so you know what you’re trying to achieve. Agree some mentoring goals, so it’s not just chat that you’re meeting for. You agree who does what, and my recommendation would always be the mentee should really do the heavy lifting with things like setting up meetings and maybe taking minutes, if that’s what you decide you want to do. All that I think should really sit with a mentee in my view. Because you’re already giving your time and your, your expertise as a mentor.

Be honest in that conversation about what you can and can’t do. As a mentor, you need to be very clear how much time you can devote you to your mentee and what you’re prepared to do for them so that there’s no disappointment along the way. So that would be my first one.

Kathryn: That sounds so accurate. And I think as you said, from your experience lots of these relationships can fizzle out if you don’t set sort of clear boundaries and expectations from the start. So it’s definitely the way to make sure that you’re making the most of the relationship.

Karin: I find that people that don’t define an end point, so it almost feels like the mentoring is kind of a life sentence and it shouldn’t be that, right. I think setting a very clear timeline of maybe a year, maybe less, maybe more, depending on the mentoring goal, kind of focuses the mind and also means that you do have a defined end point at which you can both recontract that relationship and decide whether you want to continue working together or you want to maybe just finish that relationship right there and that’s absolutely fine.

Kathryn: I completely agree. And so setting boundaries and expectations as your first tip, what would be your second tip?

Karin: My second tip would be to build trust early on and honour confidentiality. I think that is so important for really effective mentoring conversations. So I would suggest in your very first session,  once you’ve done the expectations and boundaries and goal setting, really get to know each other and tell your story, right? Tell your story as a mentor. Like, who are you? Who are you really? Right. And, and don’t just tell them your resume, tell them about, you know, how did you grow up? Where did you grow up? How did you end up doing what you’re doing and talk about the good times you’ve had and the successes, but maybe also the times when it’s been difficult for you. And you’ve maybe had looked to look to other people for some help and support. So bring some vulnerability to the table. I think that makes it easier for your mentee to open up as well.

Kathryn: I completely agree, you know trust and vulnerability are the building blocks of really strong relationships and building a good relationship with your mentor or your mentee is so important to the success of your relationship together. So moving onto your third tip, Karin, what would that be?

Karin: I think the final one would be to ask lots and lots of questions. I think it’s Steven Spielberg who had a quote, something about how mentoring is really a delicate balance because it’s not about creating someone in your own image, it’s actually allowing them to create themselves. It’s so tempting to jump into advice-giving pretty much immediately. And I would say, hold off, hold off. I think we rarely have the full picture before we start giving advice. And as a result of advice can be far less helpful than we think it is.

So instead, ask lots and lots of questions. Lots of open questions. Really listen. I think they are really the leadership skills I was talking about earlier that you can practice here. Listen to understand, not to respond. I think that’s always a nice distinction. You don’t need to have all the answers as a mentor!

Your role is to first and foremost, help your mentee explore situations, maybe more wholly and look for pathways and solutions that they might not have explored before. Of course you can give advice, but I would do it towards the end of the session. Once your mentee has finished their exploration and their thinking first, otherwise we might narrow them down a bit too early. So ask lots and lots of open questions.

Kathryn: That sounds great to me. One of my things is that I’m really quick to jump in and give advice. And one of the most powerful things I’ve been taught and I’ve learned to practice over the years is to leave room for the squirm gap! So let that silence be long enough that it’s a little bit uncomfortable and it will help the other person comes to their own conclusion. It will mean that they will explore the answer to the question. And as you say, they then come up with the answer themselves rather than just follow your example or your advice. And that, as you say, is the whole point of these sorts of relationships, all about helping to develop each other.

Karin: Yeah and I mean, coming back to maybe the beginning of our conversation, there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing somebody really grow right in front of you. And you can see how your conversations contribute to them being able to make better decisions or make quicker decisions or really tackle their challenges in their way more effectively. It’s just wonderful to have a little part in that.

Kathryn: Absolutely! I think that’s why we do what we do, isn’t it? So we can help others really realize their potential. So it’s a really important one!

Thank you so much Karin for those key top tips for mentors. As I mentioned in the intro, this is only part one of two, and this podcast is all about top tips for mentors. We’re going to do another one about top tips for mentees. Both are equally important. I think as a mentor or a mentee, you need to make sure that you’re understanding the other person’s perspective. So do make sure you listen to both episodes!

These have been really helpful top tips, so thank you so much, Karin!

Karin: You’re very welcome.

Kathryn: Thanks again for joining today. Watch out for part two of the series for the other side of the story.

If you’d like to develop your leadership style and empower your teams or fancy taking a look at some of the traits of great leaders, then do head over to our blogs on our website, where there’s loads of useful information to inspire you further.

You can also get in touch directly by sending me a direct message through LinkedIn or through the contact form on our website. So that’s it from me, Kathryn, have a fab day, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, and bye for now!