I have a variety of mentors, who I use as sounding boards and for emotional support. I’m a very instinctive person and got my first taste of mentoring early in my career, when I was working in a very male, operational, engineering environment. I was benefiting from just talking things through before formal mentoring schemes were introduced.
One of my current mentors is my former permanent secretary – he’s a very seasoned senior civil servant, and I can ask him, in a very informal way, how to handle situations. Government and the public sector are new to me, so I can ask him how to deal with or influence things.
For me, that’s what having a mentor is all about. It’s not a case of not being capable of doing something, but of looking at it from a different perspective. I always chose someone who’s got a different style to me.
And they must have a good sense of fun – I take my job very seriously, so it’s good to have someone very gently poke fun at me, and to say ‘Well, that didn’t go so well – how are you going to handle it in future?’.
You can learn a lot from your boss, or even a coach, but the dynamics are different with a mentor – they may be another senior person in your organisation, but they are not part of your direct line of report.
Being mentored means you can explore things in a safe, learning environment. A good mentor listens but will also challenge you. The more senior you are, the more resilient you are expected to be – which is as it should be – but you still need a trusted confidante.
Bev Shears, director general, corporate HR, Ministry of Justice