‘A shoulder to stand on’
Special insight into how mentoring provides two-way inspiration
— From Michael Cole-Fontayn, Executive Vice President and Chairman, BNY Mellon; 30% Club mentor

Being a mentor is a wonderful role. It is a privilege, it is an honour, and I believe I am the person I am today because of my mentors and mentees. In a successful mentor-mentee relationship, the benefits to mentees are endless. New skills are learned, bigger goals achieved, better decisions made and stronger values developed. Great mentors push, dare and confront mentees. They are persistent in challenging them to do and experience things they might otherwise neglect or actively avoid.

However, one of the most common misconceptions in mentoring is that it is a transaction or a one-direction relationship. This is very untrue: mentorship is two-way learning. Insights flow in both directions, and the right mentoring relationship can be enriching and life changing for both parties. A good mentor must recognise their mentee’s strengths and opportunities for development, know when to be supportive, when to give advice, and how to bring out the best in them. These key leadership skills are inadvertently learned as a mentor and are very much applicable in professional situations. My mentoring experiences have undoubtedly refined my leadership capabilities. My ability to motivate, inspire and encourage others around me has been sharpened, and I use them broadly in my role.

“We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. And, fortunately for mentors, it is just as exciting to be the shoulders on which someone else stands.”

There is a saying: ‘Before you are a leader, success is about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is about growing others.’ There is a much truth in that. However, everyone, including leaders, including those at the top of their game, has more to learn and further to grow. I have certainly grown through my role as a mentor.

Another form of mentoring which is hugely beneficial is ‘reverse mentoring’. Reverse mentoring, where the more junior person mentors the senior, can help you develop new creative ideas, see the world through another lens and think outside the box. My experiences in this regard have been fantastic, and to me it’s a concept that makes total sense. Technology, and the speed with which it’s changing both our personal and professional worlds, is daunting. Millenials are indigenous to the landscape created by the internet. They live and breathe technology, and there is a huge amount we can learn from them. We need to be reminded of what’s happening in this world, and how the new generation thinks and behaves differently. Furthermore, mentoring is crucial when it comes to gender diversity. Unfortunately, women still face challenges in male-centric organisations. The 30% Club Cross-Company mentoring programme is a useful tool to help companies develop a broader pipeline of women.

What is of paramount importance and absolutely integral to the success of all the above, is the need for the mentee to have a growth mindset, in which they embrace challenge, drive the relationship, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism and find lessons and inspirations in the success of others. And mentors are central to enabling their mentee achieve this mindset. Challenging mentees to take on unfamiliar or anxiety-provoking tasks is not easy, but such is the nature of strong mentorship.

To anyone considering mentoring, or becoming a mentee: be adaptable, mindful, real, honest, humble and willing to grow! We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. And, fortunately for mentors, it is just as exciting to be the shoulders on which someone else stands. Through mentorship, we bring everyone closer to smashing their glass ceiling.