Why you need a mentor

If you make decisions in isolation there is every chance you will make the wrong call.

This year’s feast of sport got me thinking about mentoring. Alex Ferguson has always done remarkably well pairing up young starlets with older, more seasoned professionals. You can see in the rowing how important Steve Redgrave has been to the younger members of the GB team over the years. And so on and so on. In each instance, the coaches/managers have seen how valuable it is to provide their growing talent with a voice of reason. Someone who can be respected and trusted to give advice and counsel and who provides a role model.

Given how obvious this has become in a sporting context, I have always found it strange that so few people in business do the same thing. I believe it’s part of my role to provide that service for people I know. ICAEW also recognises the value of mentoring and its F-ten network is a good example of how it can work. In an ideal world you have a number of people around you who can give you a mix of opinion to help you make the right decision.

When you are building your career, you find yourselves at a crossroads for much of the time. Each decision can have a substantial impact on the direction and speed of travel. If you make decisions in isolation there is every chance you will make the wrong call. But if you make those decisions based on the advice and counsel of others who have been at those crossroads before, you improve the chances of making the right call.

There is little more instructive than discussing how careers have been built with the people who have already built them. To hear about the choices they had to make and the consequences of those choices. To find out what different businesses have expected from the function and how you use your experience to your advantage.

Equally, you can’t ignore the network that develops as you rise up through the ranks in your chosen profession. And this network checks in with each other regularly, looking for opportunities that could help the people they are supporting.

Most important, it gives you an opportunity to hear the old war stories and to learn from them. One of the reasons people study history is to learn from the past and not repeat mistakes in the future. Your mentors can help with that tremendously.

Having, I hope, convinced you of the value of these mentors let me try and help you identify who yours should be and how you can persuade them to act as a mentor on your behalf.

In short, the sorts of people you want to turn to as a mentor should be seasoned, successful, helpful specialists in your field – former CFOs, former bosses, audit chairs, audit partners, headhunters and colleagues who have jumped a couple of levels past you.

All of these are highly credible potential mentors. They should be people you trust well enough to ask the most stupid question and whom you know will advise you impartially and evenly.

As to how you find these people, all you have to do is ask. Most of them will have benefited from mentors themselves and, as the sports world has clearly demonstrated, the people who have gained from this in the past tend to be the ones who will give in the future.

And in my own experience, there are far more people than you might expect who really enjoy helping ambitious talent develop its true potential.

Mark Freebairn is partner at Odgers Berndtson

This article first appeared in economia.

Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.