My mentor and me: Carrie and Katherine

Carrie Munford is a Financial Planning Product Manager who joined us around seven years ago. For much of that time she’s enjoyed a mentoring relationship with Head of Complex Life and Pensions and ‘super mentor’ Katherine Rawlings, a mentor to scores of people during her career. They kindly spent some time talking about why their relationship has been so strong, and about the importance of resilience and self-belief.

Jon: How did your mentoring relationship start?

Katherine: Carrie joined my team and was incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunity to progress here. Quickly the reality of the challenge set in, like needing to increase her professional qualifications and expand her knowledge on wider aspects of financial planning.

I believed I could help Carrie through her challenges. Like so many people you can make a big difference by developing your confidence, enhancing your time management skills, and learning how to become assertive and resilient.

Carrie: I agree, coming to the team was quite a departure from my previous experience in investment management, and I came in a little bit arrogant if I’m honest, thinking I would know how to do everything. It was a big shock to me to find out that I didn’t! There were challenges in my private life too and together it became a lot to manage. Katherine was there to offer support and guidance to help me get through.

It’s interesting that your relationship had a real element of personal care to it, but also having a mentoring relationship with someone in your reporting line is somewhat unusual. Could you tell me a little about how that affected you as mentor and mentee?

Katherine: For me, mentoring always has a massive wellbeing slant. I sometimes see that people who have something going on in their personal lives worry about telling their line manager because they don’t want them to judge or think they can’t cope. When you’ve been a line manager for a long time, you can generally see someone’s performance change. It’s not that we should interrogate people about it, but there may be ways we can advise and guide them, whether that’s taking time off to deal with the situation, or directing them towards help. And some aspects can be as simple as time management. Carrie has a ‘can do’ attitude and needed to make sure she wasn’t picking up every little task , including things the other team members weren’t prepared to do. She learnt to be more assertive and resilient, which isn’t easy.

Carrie: Yes, there are some techniques that sound simple and obvious but which can make a big difference. I was always very dismissive of ideas like that until I put them into practice. I started to enjoy my role a lot more once I felt I could say no to people who expected me to complete all of the team’s little jobs. At first I was pleased to be asked and to be the ‘go-to’ person, but Katherine helped me realise I was being imposed on, and it had a negative impact on my workload. I could be open and honest with Katherine because I knew she would give the best guidance for me, and it wasn’t all about the business. I used to ask Katherine to think about problems with her ‘line manager hat’ on, or her ‘mentor hat’ on, just to help look at different things. My relationship with Katherine also helped me approach another mentor from another part of the wider business, which gives me the benefit of different strengths and a different perspective.

Jon: Did you find you needed to put a structure to your meetings to determine when you were wearing those different ‘hats’?

Katherine: You do need structure, because there needs to be a defined line. I think there always has to be when it comes to management. Sometimes there has to be a really hard message and then the next thing you’re going to the pub for a social event and it’s all fun and laughter, so there has to be a distinction. Sometimes we would have a conversation where the problem would the fact that she didn’t want to let anyone down and wanted to please the other team members. I think that’s where a mentor can help, because I still do it myself. I’ll talk to one of my mentors and say ‘can you believe what I’ve taken on?’ and they’ll tell me ‘ok, you know you can do it, you just need have the confidence to say no sometimes’, which is something I’m still working on. Many people put themselves under so much pressure that things don’t get done, which leads to more stress. So confidence, assertiveness and resilience can really help.

Carrie: I often think about our conversations and ask myself ‘What would Katherine say about this?’ Even if you haven’t had a meeting in the last month, the mentoring relationship is still there – the seeds have been planted.

Katherine, you’ve mentored lots of people in your career. What do you get from being a mentor?

Katherine: For me it’s repaying the fact that people have invested in me over the years. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have people come into my life at the right time to support me, and I’ve got this passion to try and help as many people as I possibly can with the knowledge I’ve gained. I’ve won industry awards for what I’ve done, but it’s not about that. It’s about the fact that you can watch somebody grow and develop, or just cope with a situation they may not have coped with before.

I’ve also learned from my mentors that sometimes you have to just battle through. That’s much easier if you have techniques you can use, and your mentor can help you develop those. The best part is having someone to listen, guide you and challenge your thoughts in a safe and supportive way. Most people know that successful sportsmen and women have mentors and coaches, so why not learn from their success? My passion is to do that for as many people as I can in my career. My goal is to retire early so I can spend all of my time mentoring and working with charities.

What advice do you have for people who are interested in having a mentor, but who don’t know how to go about it?

Carrie: I’d say get out there and ask somebody you admire and respect. What’s the worst that could happen? If you don’t click with that person, you don’t click, but you’ve lost nothing. And it may be that they can recommend someone else who’s a better fit for you and for what you are looking for. Be honest with yourself. People who mentor are generally so open and caring that there are no stupid questions, so definitely go for it because there’s nothing to lose and potentially so much to gain.

Katherine: Act today. There are so many tools and tips available, lots of reading material, and now podcasts as well which are perfect for if you don’t enjoy reading. You could ask your line manager to help you find someone suitable, and there are so many colleagues who will find the time to support and help you. My top tip though is that you have to be prepared to be challenged and commit to the plan – you need to put the effort into your development, because no one else will do it for you.

Interested in looking for a mentor? Read our tips on the benefits of mentoring, and choosing the right person.

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