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My Mentor and Me: Tom and Craig

Tom Rose is currently a Senior Systems Analyst in the Chief Operating Office. Since May 2016 he has been mentored by Craig Jackson, a Sustainability Manager in our Communications & Marketing function. As part of our series on how mentoring can help your career and how to make it work for you, I spoke to both of them about their relationship, and about what they’ve learned from their experiences.

Jon: Tom, can you start by telling me a bit about why you wanted a mentor?

Tom: Sure. I joined the bank from a completely different industry, having worked in environmental and sustainable operations in a facilities management company. Craig was actually my first line manager, and coming into the bank I really didn’t have an idea of how a bank worked behind the closed walls. All I knew was that I put money into the bank and it was there for me to take out when I wanted to. Craig was very helpful in setting context and answering all those questions that someone who knew the financial services industry would have already known the answers to. He was very patient, and that helped to build up trust. I felt I could confide in him and didn’t feel I was asking a really stupid question, even if it was a basic one. After the placement I wanted to stay in touch with Craig. He had a similar route into the bank about four or five years before me, so I felt he was someone I could learn more from him. That’s why I approached him when I was looking at new roles to ask whether he’d be happy to be a mentor to me going forward.

Craig: Trust is the big thing in our mentoring relationship for me as well. From Tom’s side it’s about confidentiality and the fact he can speak to me about anything and know it’s not going to go any further. But from my perspective it’s about Tom showing me that he’s willing to act on the conversation we’re having. I’ve mentored a few people who’ve seen it more as an opportunity to network and build relationships, but don’t do anything practical from the conversations we have. For someone who has their own role to do it’s quite frustrating when you spend time with someone and go through a career guidance document with them or something like that, and the next time you talk to them you’re almost back to square one. Tom is receptive to taking advice – which I think is a really good quality – but he’s also willing to put that advice into practice. That’s a really good motivator for me to think that this is valuable time that I’m investing in the right person who’s got the right attitude. Myself and Tom have a genuine friendship on top of the mentoring relationship, and I think that’s why I enjoy it so much.

Jon: So do you think that your friendship is helpful or unhelpful in a mentoring relationship? Is it better to mentor a friend, or is it better to have someone who can always be objective.

Tom: I think it’s a benefit, because I keep coming back to the trust side of things. For me if I can trust someone, I’m going to be friends with them. Craig and I have similar interests in terms of our careers and ambitions, and our general values and outlooks on life. Having those similar values helps the relationship blossom because we kind of think the same way. When we’re bouncing solutions and ideas off each other you’re dealing with someone who understands your own thought process as well, so rather than saying “oh maybe that won’t work”, or “I don’t like that idea”, our conversations are more like “yeah, I like this, this and this about the idea, but maybe think about speaking to this person”, or “why don’t we have a look at this aspect?” I also think that having similar interests outside of work helps because it makes our conversations just a bit more natural, and we can relax when we’re having a discussion. There’s no having to think about how you’re going to word things. I feel that I can be completely genuine with Craig, and put things in the straightest terms possible without beating around the bush.

Craig: Yeah, I definitely agree with what Tom says. But as a mentor I’m also always conscious that because of our friendship and how our approaches and our mindsets are so similar, there’s a limit on what value I can add to Tom. I can reinforce some of his thoughts, and I can articulate things in a different way, but I’m fully aware that as part of your development you need to hear from someone who would do something totally different, who has a different perspective on things entirely. That’s why I’ve put Tom in front of different people, so I can say that even though I might agree him, let’s get the view of someone who’s a very different personality, or who has a very different set of experiences in the bank. If you have a mentor who has a very similar set of values to you, you’re not often going to change your approach or move out of your comfort zone, and you’ll continue to do what you identify with, which isn’t always the best thing for your growth.

Tom: Craig’s done a really good job of that so far. There have been times when I’ve been in a situation and Craig’s said “I know a person who’s really good at that sort of work, why don’t you reach out to them?”, or he’s been able to act as a bridge to put me in touch with that person as well. Craig isn’t my only mentor now, I’ve got another couple of them, but I wouldn’t have met them at all if it wasn’t for Craig.

Jon: Tell me about your first meeting in the mentoring relationship. How did you prepare for it? And how important do you think the first meeting is?

Tom: I think it’s quite important. When we met for the first time we had a bit of an introductory session which was about drawing on Craig’s advice for what I should be doing in my new role. It was about getting up to speed quickly, and it was about drawing on Craig’s experience, but for me it wasn’t like a first meeting when you’re meeting someone new. It felt very much like a natural progression of working with Craig day to day in placement one. We didn’t really contract out responsibilities. The only thing we agreed on was that we would meet every month, and that any action we took away from the meeting we would keep each other up to date on, and circle back to on the next meeting as well.

Craig: Yeah, the first session for me was more a refinement of our line manager conversations. When you’re line managing someone you have to have multiple ‘hats’ on. You can’t be solely invested on what the best thing for Tom Rose is, you also have to think about what’s the best thing for the team, and what we need to deliver. Our previous conversations had always been slightly compromised by that, because I had to give Tom advice on career development without compromising what we had to deliver. The first mentoring conversation was a chance to say “look, it’s now all about you and what you want to do, and how I can help you achieve that”. Tom’s right, we did focus a lot on adapting to the new role and whether he was getting the support he needed, but for me it was also about shifting the focus away from talking about his workstack, and moving on to look at what the next five years look like, and what do he wanted to achieve? I think we had a very early conversation about a five year plan to give us a sense of direction. It doesn’t matter if that’s in baby steps, it’s there to gives us a sense of direction, and think about how to build up as much experience as possible to get you moving towards it. But as Tom says, because we had a relationship for the previous eight months it didn’t feel like I had to make much of a change in my approach, just to focus the conversation more.

Jon: So how do you both feel that the arrangement has helped you?

Craig: As Tom says I’m five years ahead of him in the journey, but I’m still learning a lot, and I’m new to being a leader. I think most people go through a phase of being a bit selfish in their career and trying to get up a ladder, but then you start to think more widely than about just yourself, and you think, actually my focus now is about developing other people. For me the sessions with Tom have been fantastic because I can try using different tools, observations and feedback and actually see them in action because Tom does respond to what we talk about. I’m sure there have been times when I’ve rambled on, and I’m sure that would be part of his feedback for me, but the sessions have helped me to really get better, to improve my listening skills and to take a step back from driving the agenda and looking at what I think is best for Tom, to think instead about what does Tom want from me? Our relationship has been great because it’s almost a safe place for me to practice having those conversations. Tom’s never dismissive, he’s never rolling his eyes, he’s always focused and attentive, and even though the main driver for our conversations is Tom’s development, I think the sessions have been fantastic for my own.

Tom: Firstly, it gives me a role model to see what my career could be like in five years and shows me what I could achieve. It also lets me see what Craig does when he’s coaching, and to participate in that as well, but also to take what I learn from him back to the apprentice I’m line managing now. To say yes, I like this style of coaching, I’m going to try it out on my team. But I think the thing Craig’s really helped me with is understanding what my main motivators are in my career, and what kind of roles will satisfy those. I think when I came into the bank I was quite keen on doing different roles in different areas, but as I started to progress through my first placement and then through the mentoring relationship I really started to understand that it doesn’t matter which role I’m doing or where in the organisation I’m doing it, but to think instead about what skill gaps I have. Is there a role that will help develop them? But also to ask what do I like doing? What do I enjoy? What gets me up in the morning? Through working with Craig I’ve got the rough idea that I like to help others succeed, I like to be involved in various projects, I like a varied workstack and I like a role that gives me lots of human interaction with others. We’ve also unpacked the idea of what kind of role I wouldn’t like and wouldn’t do so well in. So it’s helped me to look differently at opportunities, and to focus less on where it is in the business and more on what kind of work it will give me, and on what I like doing.

Jon: So what are the main tips you have for mentees on how they can get the most out of a mentoring relationship?

Tom: I think the first one is trust. Meet with several people first, suss out who they are and what they’re like. Just focus at first on do I genuinely get on with this person, is there something there that we can nurture into a mentoring relationship? I think some people focus on looking at people who are very high up in the high company and think yeah, it’s great to have this person as a mentor. But if you don’t connect with that person through the first couple of sessions and have a good relationship with them, it sort of sets up a situation where you might not get the most out of the arrangement. So I’m a big advocate of meeting as many people as possible, and you’ll realise the people you develop genuine connections with. Those are the people you need to keep in touch with and keep meeting regularly, and also ask them what their thoughts are on how you need to develop. Think of it as a ‘try before you buy’ policy: if you can trust them and feel comfortable around them, you’re probably going to have a good mentor-mentee relationship with them. I’d be keen to hear your thoughts as well Craig, what do you think?

Craig: I think that’s all really good advice. I actually had a bad experience with a mentor when I joined the bank. I was being mentored by someone really senior, and I was a million miles away from where they were in their career. I went through a process of continuing to have conversations with them, and I was struggling beforehand to think what I was going to ask them today, what can I say that will put me in a good light? Tom touched on the word ‘genuine’ in his answer, and I think that you can form very negative relationships with people if you waste their time and if there’s not anything there. It’s very rare that a mentor will step away from the relationship – it’s driven by the mentee and if that person keeps putting in time with you, you’re going to go along. But they can form a negative perception if you start going through the motions and wasting their time, especially if they’re senior. After leaving the relationship I don’t think they’re a person I could pick up the phone to now, because it dragged on too long. So to pick up on Tom’s point, you want to consider what it’s like for the person on the other side of the desk from you. If they can help they’ll be more than happy to, but think about whether you’re making the most of their time, and are you really being considerate about the time they’re giving you? And second to that, think about what you can do for them. It’s not all one way, people have a need for feedback sometimes, they also might want you to be involved in certain projects. So just think about how you could make it a two way relationship and make it valuable for the person who’s giving you their time.

Find out more about how to make your mentoring relationship work.

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