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The Division: Issue 04; Mentoring.

"Float like a butterfly, Sting like a bee", Muhammed Ali.




17th January is international mentoring day, the date, chosen in honor and memory of Mohammed Ali’s birthday and his legacy as a global humanitarian and mentor for peace and it has caught my attention through my passion for sport.


It is not only a day to raise awareness around the understanding and importance of mentoring but also to celebrate, arguably the world’s most iconic and influential sports personality to date, Muhammed Ali. What many don’t know about the great man is that his work outside of the ring and his advocacy for mentoring has helped define the way those in charge or responsible for young people have done business since. Now although I can ‘sting like a bee’, I struggle with the ‘floating like a butterfly’ so a world championship belt is still to be attained, but what I do know from my youth, 24 years in the Army and running Pheniks Division is the importance of having a mentor, whether the mentor realizes they are doing it or not.


My aim, in this edition of The Division, is to highlight what I believe to be the most important qualities of a good mentor and to discuss situations where I have witnessed a positive impact being made in myself or others.


Positive impact, after all, is what I think is the underlying point of mentoring.


Self belief needs courage.

On many occasions throughout my life whether it be it playing football, attending a career course, leading a patrol, or deciding to start Pheniks Division, I have had people around me that unbeknown to them, have had more confidence in me than I’ve had in myself. In my experience to have a glimmer of doubt in the back of your mind or pit of your stomach is not necessarily a bad thing as I feel it can prevent complacency or over confidence and will keep you sharp. Whilst a little doubt serves you well, a lack of self-belief combined with a lack of courage is where I think a lot of subordinates and young people fall. They can be afraid to attempt new things or share and test ideas due to fear of failure, they fear stepping outside of their comfort zone for fear of what people may think or say, allowing peer beliefs or behaviors to negatively impact their thought process and actions.


Mentors should provide encouragement, support and education prior to any event, task, or problem, be it personal or otherwise. Mentors should show patience, understanding and give re-education and guidance of how to attack the problem if the mentee is faced with failure and adversity and the Mentor should praise, recognize and possibly give more responsibility when things are going well - taking them further on their journey.


I think that for both the mentor and mentee to succeed they should not be afraid to demonstrate or discuss vulnerability as this may help to build the trust and confidence in the relationship.


Trust: difficult to find, easy to lose.

It is hugely important that an element of trust is established as soon as possible between mentor and mentee to allow the relationship to move forward. In some instances, this is possibly the most difficult element to establish and yet the easiest to be destroyed. Knowledge of your subject matter, your lived experience and demonstration of your confidence and ability to trust the mentee may help speed up the process. As a mentor you will be required to roll with the punches if boundaries get tested and it could even be you that does the damage. On these occasions the issue cannot be ignored and must be discussed, apologies made and if required, action taken to allow the mentorship to proceed. If the breach of trust is conducted by the mentee, then that also cannot be ignored but should not be taken personally as difficult as this may seem. It is important that accountability and the negative impact that their actions may have caused are explained, allowing ownership for the break in trust. Failure to act at this point may result in continuous breeches of trust, and trust for the mentee - in any walk of life - could be lost forever.


As a mentor, you must have trust in the organization you are working for and trust in your project and your purpose. If any of the above are in question you need to ask yourself if you can really give 100%? If you are not up for being fully committed when things get difficult then maybe you are not the right person at this time.


Lead by example.

The importance of setting boundaries whilst also developing and understanding the difference between a professional and personal relationship can become difficult after a period, but it is vital that the two do not become blurred to allow longevity in the process. To lead by example at times can be a real challenge but you must maintain your personal standards and beliefs and be seen to do so. At times, making difficult decisions on a difficult day can feel almost impossible but if something needs to be done, it must be you that makes the first move. Doing nothing is not an option and the result could often be more damaging than making a poor decision. Following your moral compass, having confidence in your experience and maintaining the integrity of the organization along with your own should be at the fore front of your decisions.


Some people in charge or those with a duty of care can lose sight of why they have been chosen to fulfill their position. I am a firm believer that the second you are charged with the management, mentoring or welfare of others it stops being just about you. The next job or promotion should not be the driving force of how you conduct business but instead your focus should be protecting those you are responsible for. Considering the impact of how your decisions will affect others, not asking others to do things that you would not be prepared to yourself, being the first to do the dirty work and sticking with it until the end will make others believe in you and whatever you are trying to achieve.


Final thought.

The qualities required to mentor could be never ending but the 3 points I have elaborated on in this blog have served me well. Having someone look you in the eye in life threatening situations, expecting you to hold all the answers is a lonely place to be, until they do what you ask - to the letter - without question. Watching people in your charge grow using the foundations and tools you have given them, and them thanking you when they are succeeding in life or turning to you for advice many years later if they are struggling makes the time you spent all the more worthwhile.


However, the journey of mentoring does not end there, as the work you have done will be ingrained and entrusted to your mentees and will be used to continue to mold the mentors of the future.

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