Better together: why mentoring matters

Meeting the right mentor can be life changing, offering the kind of invaluable counsel, support and honesty that is as effective as it is uplifting.
Two hands in silhouette, reaching out towards each other against an orange/red background that looks like a sunset.

Written by Mai Youssef

Corporate Communications and Marketing Services Director – Africa, Middle East and Turkey

‘Lifelong learning’ is an expression that is often used rather casually in business, but it makes sense that some level of continued professional development is necessary for careers of every type. More often than not, this takes the form of short-term on-the-job training or custom designed in-house programmes that improve skills and achieve a learning objective. And while there’s no doubting the value of skills training alone, to gain the most value from it, mentoring can play a truly powerful role in taking professionals to the next level.

It harks back to the old adage ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. The most effective mentoring partnerships are those that pair a mentee with someone who is a true role model – a person who is successful, yes, but also relatable and aspirational. And this is where the right mentor can be truly life changing for professional people who might not see themselves in the leadership space. Working with a mentor with a shared lived experience, someone for whom many ambitions have already been realised, can be both a guiding light and an inspiration.

Throughout EMEA, Canon have local mentorship programmes that work with colleagues at all stages of their careers. Canon Middle East, Turkey and Central and North Africa offers training-focused internships and mentoring to female graduates through the ‘Women in Sales’ programme. The objective is to increase the number of women in sales management across the regions and the programme has been specifically tailored to suit each location, with each participant working with their own mentor. “Gender equality and empowerment of women are key ingredients to create an inclusive society as well as to attain economic growth,” explains Veronica Juul-Nyholm, Director of Human Resources at Canon Middle East. “The Women in Sales programme aims to create an enabling working environment for women by providing them the right set of tools required for professional success and satisfaction.”

Twenty-five people of all ages, colours, shapes, sizes and clothing, stand in the foyer of Canon’s EMEA and UK HQ. Above them is a huge Canon logo in silver, mounted against a wooden background. Behind them are a set of stairs leading to the first floor of the building. On their left and right are umber coloured walls with doors set into them. The floor is tiles and a light brown in colour. (Image courtesy of CG Weddings)

Both mentors and mentees gain valuable insights from the experience. Students from West London’s Global Academy were able to learn from industry experts, while Canon colleagues gained a greater understanding of how best to support young people in their career journeys. (Image courtesy of Canon colleague, CG Weddings)

However, early mentoring can also have a huge impact on the direction of travel for young people in the formative years of their education. Through the Creative Mentor Network, Canon’s UK and EMEA Headquarters recently welcomed students from West London’s Global Academy. Each was assigned a mentor and Natasha Khan, the Head of Programmes at the network, knows from long experience that mentoring isn’t just great for the students, but the mentors gain powerful benefits too. “Mentees tell us the programme has helped develop and expand their professional networks, understand more about the industry and the types of roles they could apply for,” she explains. “And our recent impact report highlights that 100% of mentors now have a better understanding of the barriers young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds face, and over 90% are more confident about supporting them into the industry”. So, how does mentoring provide these tools?

It’s personal, but structured

Regardless of whether you take a formal or informal approach, when you work with a mentor you are in an important one-to-one relationship. This means mutual trust and respect, treating each other’s time as valuable and using it together wisely. The most successful mentoring relationships take plenty of time upfront to set out and understand expectations, establish ground rules and develop a shared vision for success. These are the foundations for excellent, trustful and collaborative partnerships.

It’s honest, but constructive

One thing a mentor is absolutely not there to do is simply act as a cheerleader. The beauty of the mentor/mentee relationship is that they are a place of confidentiality, where both can speak openly and candidly, offering frank exchanges of ideas where needed. A good mentor will also look objectively at situations and scenarios presented by their charge and share the wisdom of their own experience to guide them towards a course of action that’s right for them. They are there to challenge thinking, help to find clarity, offer counsel, provide support and share a fresh perspective.

On the left, a caption that reads ‘Women in sales program’. On the right, the faces of nine professional women.

The ‘Women in Sales’ programme operates across Canon Middle East, Turkey and Central and North Africa, but applies very local, personal and tailored approaches that are the hallmark of effective and positive mentoring experiences.

It’s long-term, but goal-focused

Consider this; it’s not enough for an orchid to be planted in the right soil and placed in the sunshine, it must be watered and fed regularly and correctly for it to bloom. A good mentor plays an important and consistent role in a mentee’s working life. They will help their mentee to look strategically at careers, as well as helping to navigate any day-to-day working challenges. They can make valuable introductions and share resources. It is a nurturing relationship with a defined outcome – growth.

Moreover, a mentoring relationship makes space for opportunity by fostering new mindsets and building confidence. In a world where Imposter Syndrome is very real for so many, the honesty and supportive nature of these relationships can help to conquer fears of inadequacy and discomfort when presented with new people, roles or situations. The mentoring process is uplifting in so many senses, but perhaps it is Isaac Newton who inadvertently captured the experience most succinctly: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

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