By Reg Bible, Regional Sales Director UK&I at Exabeam
As the business landscape gets more challenging for everyone pushing to progress in their career, it’s absolutely critical to know how to navigate it and get the most out of the journey.
To become an effective leader, you have to have a great combination of soft and hard skills, whilst challenging yourself along the way; and yet, even the most successful people can face unbeatable circumstances that bring the career progression to a halt. This is where having a mentor (or ideally, mentors) to connect with and learn from can really help you grow into a better professional.
My personal experience with mentorship started 12 years ago, although you could argue it started as far back as my childhood. I have always been a very curious individual, always questioning the world and looking for answers. This hasn’t changed at all as I’ve entered the cybersecurity industry as it helps me put customers’ point of view into perspective and be considerate of their business needs.
I had to take a direct approach with all of my mentorship opportunities, and actually mustering the courage to approach my mentor-to-be has been the most challenging action, whilst getting them to agree was often easier than expected. I truly believe that having both male and female leaders to guide you through your career is very important. Unsurprisingly, earlier in my technology career, I found almost all of my mentors to be men. However, with the shifting balance in the industry, there are now so many inspirational young women entering the cybersecurity scene who demonstrate that it is possible to not only excel in this specific career choice but also balance the high demands of the role and other life commitments.
Having a mentor gives you the opportunity to learn from an experienced and skilled professional who helps you take a pause from your day-to-day activities and realistically assess how you can optimise your focus across all aspects of your work and personal life. Whilst having a mentor from your industry can help you listen acutely and be more organised in meetings, having a relevant customer mentor can teach you to be more prepared at navigating through the levels of a customer organisation, which is truly invaluable, as you get to see two perspectives.
One of the biggest areas of learning when having a mentor, though, is the ability to have a more detailed appreciation of where you need to develop your skills and a clearer approach to bridging the gap with a detailed plan.
One of my most successful mentorships was with a senior-level leader in a large global company who was a true inspiration in her business approach to everything – from having a unique insight into her company, to her detailed metrics to meet the auditor expectations and the reporting methodology that measured business success. Even on a personal level she had many skills and qualities that were closely related to my own aspirations. As a leader with forward-thinking vision and all-rounded communication skills, she managed to balance a full-time job and her family, and it was inspiring to learn from someone who could enrich my career from every single aspect of a busy life.
How to approach a potential mentor
Whichever industry you work in, analyse your weak spots in that environment and approach relevant people that can help mentor you towards achieving a specific goal. Make sure the mentor you are choosing has the correct set of skills and values to which you aspire, too.
When finding the right person, don’t be afraid to approach them personally, and make sure you are well prepared – explain what you want to get from the mentorship, but equally what you can bring to it too, it’s a two-way partnership! And don’t worry if they take time to consider your offer – it’s a huge commitment from both parties to agree to.
When you do secure a mentorship, there are a few little tips to help you ensure you get the most out of it:
- Set your own goals and discuss them with your mentor. Be very clear and specific in what you want to achieve from this activity and how they can help guide you there.
- Always make sure to have an agenda for each meeting and conversation you are having with your mentor. Don’t let it turn into a nice chat over coffee as you are wasting the invaluable time!
- Finally, be prepared to receive constructive feedback. We all make mistakes along the way, especially when facing a difficult situation, so make sure to respect any feedback and take it on board, even if you don’t like it.
Mentorship programmes greatly benefit organisations by advancing and nurturing future leaders from every aspect of their lives. Having multiple mentors helps enhance and enrich employees’ skills from different perspectives, adding towards diversity and driving the corporate culture agenda.
But most importantly, mentorship is an opportunity to become the person you want to be, without having to go through so many layers of mistakes, and it’s a journey that never stops. Despite being mentored for the past 12 years, I am still not done – there are so many skills for me to learn, and so much knowledge to absorb. So keep at it!