What’s in a role?

By Fran Plowright and Bianca Manu

I have recently been pondering precisely what is it that makes a successful mentor/ mentee relationship work? As a friend and colleague – who runs her own mentoring programme for women Angel Investors in the waiting pointed out over lunch, ‘the thing that busy mentors hate the most, is to be invited out for a coffee!’.

But if mentors don’t want a vague, non specific kind of a chat over a flat white, then what do they want from the relationship and how do mentors and mentees find the perfect match?

In ‘Lean In’, Sheryl Sandberg says that the mentor / mentee relationship works best if the mentor and mentee find each other organically; ‘if you have to ask someone if they will mentor you, then they shouldn’t be your mentor’. Sheryl’s point suggests relationships can only be sustainable if there is a true and natural connection between mentor and mentee rather than an involuntary connection.

So if a mentor and a mentee should be lucky enough to ‘find each other’ or at least – let’s be realistic here – in many cases, unless you already work in the field of youth engagement – finding each other, often will require a helping hand in the form of organisations or individuals whose role it is to facilitate these ‘perfect matches’.

Fran and Bianca

Fran and Bianca

Once that relationship has had a few debut dates and in some cases, a few managed sessions – perhaps goals are brainstormed, discussed and then written down, the relationship begins – but what next? There is no ‘one size fits all’ plan of a mentor/ mentee relationship and no finite period of time during which this thunderbolt, impactful relationship will happen.

What does a busy mentor want out of their role? Why do they want to do it?

What do phrases like ‘to put something back’, ‘to share some of my hard earned knowledge, experiences, wisdom, stories’ mean? It seems to me that what they want is a purpose and a real role, something specific rather than a vague response to ‘I want to do what you do, how do I get there?’ and involved issues to unpack using their experience and expertise.
Feedback from a conversation with a CEO at a successful multi-platform production company revealed that he would like a ‘satisfying relationship’ with a person whom he would mentor through regular, honest and meaningful meetings rather than light touch and superficial contact:

I would rather give up more of my own and my staff’s time and have a greater sense of investment in that person than a few superficial meets and placement of someone in my company without a goal or a purpose, it would feel more authentic and ultimately much more satisfying I believe.

I think these are good questions that any prospective mentor should be asking themselves; ‘what do you want out of this contract?’ and ‘what is the impact you would like to have?’, at the same time, a mentee seeking some guidance and support should also think about what qualities they are looking for from their mentor and more specifically, to come up with a list of concrete questions and to take along something specific or issues to get feedback on rather than vague statements.

Most importantly, I think that a successful mentor/ mentee union, also has a lot to do with the reciprocity. It never is just a one-way street, and as much wisdom often comes from the mentee as from the mentor through a good relationship which is built over time, with trust and respect being the most important qualities both should be imbuing the relationship with.

That brings me neatly onto one of my mentee’s Bianca Manu, and my experience of watching her give a talk at ‘Grown Your Own Talent ‘ at the International Festival for Business at the beginning of July.

I have known and worked with Bianca for four years and over that time we have definitely gone on a bit of a journey together. She is now just going into her second year studying English Literature at Manchester University and is also a successful young entrepreneur, assistant, researcher and environmentalist in her own right.

Bianca joined a programme I was working on called Headstart which documented the welcoming of the world leading up to and during the 2012 Olympics from a young East Londoner’s perspective using social media. I saw something in Bianca and she in me and she has worked for me on and off as an assistant and researcher ever since.

Along with another employer of Bianca’s, – when she isn’t at ‘Uni’, we have both been lucky enough to mentor her, I say lucky because as much as I know I have had positive impact on Bianca and some of the choices she has made and continues to make, she also has brought her voice into the work that I do. As a person who works in youth engagement as I do, having a good and on-going relationship with the young people I work with like Bianca and other inspirational young people including Kimberley Nyamhondera, who also guests on my blog, I would not be able to do my job properly. The input, intelligence, research they give me and their resources and network of their peers is absolutely invaluable to the work that I do

So, going back to the conference, at the beginning of July, I travelled up to Liverpool to watch Bianca give her first – of many I’m sure – talks and as her mentor and employer, I was very moved and proud to see her standing on the platform delivering her own presentation at part of the Liverpool International Festival of Business about what she thinks makes for a good young prospective employee and what the ingredients for successful mentoring and work opportunities for the next generation..

At this point, I am going to hand over to Bianca herself who will pick up the blog from here:

Bianca Manu gives talk at Grow your Own Talent

Bianca Manu gives talk at Grow your Own Talent

On Wednesday, 9th July, I spoke at the International Festival for business’s two-day event: ‘Grow your own talent’. Held in Liverpool, the event explored the importance of retaining and recruiting young talent to develop industries and workforces.

With the number of work opportunities and graduate programmes increasing, the event delivered practical advice in the employment sector focusing on both traditional methods of recruitment as well as offering an in depth look at the dynamic schemes designed to engage employers with employees, such as apprenticeships and traineeships.

The opportunity arose from a recent feature in Sheryl Sandberg’s international bestseller, “Lean In: the graduate edition”.

By relating my own experiences of transitioning from internships to employment, I explored the importance of employers adapting to understand and attract young talent whilst creating mutually beneficial working and mentoring environments.

It’s particularly through employers and mentors like Fran, who’ve allowed me to grow and develop my skills professionally whilst teaching me important life skills that influence the decisions and work ethic I maintain today.

The opportunity to work with employers who consider and care about me has given me the confidence to believe in my ability and understand the process of translating ideas into reality.

Its so important young people are given the opportunity to have mentors and reap the benefits of guidance from someone who’s been there, done it and wears the t-shirt.

Young people should be given a larger platform to experiment and test their abilities.The constant reassurance, trust and cultivation has made me grateful for the opportunities I have been afforded.


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