An insider's perspective to mentoring

An insider's perspective to mentoring

Tuesday, 05 March 2019

Mentoring can be a lot of fun, according to Rebecca George OBE, a seasoned mentor and leader of Deloitte's public sector health practice. Here Rebecca explains why and how she approaches mentoring, and shares some or her mentoring dos and don’ts.


"I have a 'just for fun' network of mentees who I have met over the last few years," says Rebecca. The group includes a sitting MP and two aspiring mps, an international rights lawyer, a Fleet Street leader writer, and the head of maths at an Academy school.


“They are all early-career people, closer to 30 than 40, brilliant, talented and ambitious, and about half are women," says Rebecca.


It takes a confident leader to be so comfortable about mentoring, but Oxford English graduate Rebecca is positively relaxed about it and her mentee network grows organically.


"Some mentees came from Deloitte, one I met at a graduation ceremony and one is a woman I met at an everywoman event. I felt she would make good use of advice from someone older and just asked her if she would be interested," Rebecca explains.


Despite her relaxed approach, not everyone who asks is accepted. "Sometimes I don't think it will work," she says.




"I think it's by instinct. Ask yourself if you want to invest time and effort into this person's development," she advises. "The spark has to be there."


She is also part of a formal mentoring programme at Deloitte, where mentors and mentees are matched up by a third party.  "That tends to be more about coaching people who are applying for the firm's director programme, and once they achieve that they may not always continue the relationship," she says.


Regardless of how the relationship starts, Rebecca says: "I tell all my mentees that I will never chase them for a meeting. They have to drive the process." Even in formal mentoring schemes she leaves it to mentees to book an appointment to meet her.


Rebecca meets some of her mentees at her office over coffee, over breakfast or dinner, but always in person. "I never mentor on the phone, by email or text. Talking about difficult issues is easier in face-to-face," she says.


"I'm 52 and I have been working since I was 14 so I can often comment from experience, but sometimes I am not sure what advice to give," Rebecca admits. This may apply when mentees come from a different cultural background to her own or when problems relate to specific industries, or business processes of which she has no experience. Here Rebecca may offer to introduce the mentee to someone better able to help, or advise them to speak to their human resources department (here her experience in HR at IBM helps).


Whatever the problem, Rebecca sticks to the main rule of mentoring: never tell mentees what they should do.


"The idea is that mentees should work that out for themselves. I may give them my opinion but I make it clear that they are free to ignore it and that they can always get advice from someone else," she says.


Nevertheless she can offer advice about business relationships, relationships with stakeholders, or difficult career decisions.  "It's not just issues such as promotion, office politics, or leadership challenges. I have talked to many women about how having a baby may affect their career," she says. "I also talk about diet, exercise and stress management because it is part of being effective at work."


"It's tempting to offer to do things like contacting useful people or forwarding cvs, but I have learnt not to. Now I give mentees the details and suggest they do it themselves," says Rebecca.


Rebecca advises: "I never make promises, over-commit or assume I know what my mentee is thinking. I don't assume I know the whole story or that what has made me successful, will make them successful."


Usually she suggests several options for action, and may mention what she would do in the mentee's situation, but she warns: "It must always be their decision."


Rebecca says: "It's rewarding to help people but mentors benefit as well as mentees. It's energising speaking to people who are younger and in a different business. Their different outlooks open you up to new ways of thinking. I learn a lot and I highly recommend it."


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