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Why mentoring matters and how we can all benefit

15 June 2020 - By Lucy Hempseed

Mentoring is a powerful tool which allows people to connect for a mutual purpose; on the one hand to be a guide and provider of wise counsel and on the other to listen and be guided forward by the wisdom offered. It is relationship that when it works well is a mutually enriching experience, which in a professional setting will often have long-term career benefits for both the mentor and the mentee.

There are examples in every field: Prime Minister Winston Churchill developed a close bond and friendship with the young Queen Elizabeth II as he mentored her in the complexities of constitutional monarchy after the untimely death of her father King George VI.

The legendary American investor Warren Buffett has been mentor and friend to Microsoft founder Bill Gates for almost 30 years, to the point where Gates says when faced with a challenge he and his wife Melinda often ask themselves “what would Warren do?”.

The fascinating aspect of this story is that Gates initially rebuffed his mother’s attempt to introduce him to Buffett, believing he had nothing in common with somebody who “just buys and sells pieces of paper”.

His mother persisted and Gates and Buffet met, had an instant connection and conversed for several hours, forming a bond which has just grown stronger over the years

Closer to home, former Prime Minister Helen Clark has been a long-term mentor and champion of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. When Ms Ardern had her first child, Ms Clark used the opportunity to contextualise the event in a way that was helpful to other parents juggling professional and family commitments saying:

“The thought in 1981, that you could be PM at 37, and unmarried, and having a baby. People would have said ‘are you crazy?’.

“And what I think is wonderful about New Zealand, is we do move with the times... We have moved with the times; these things are possible, and I think that’s something to celebrate.”

Modern mentoring of course, doesn’t need to involve a high-profile or older mentor, it may simply be someone who has experience in an area you would like to know more about, particularly as we navigate these rapidly changing times.

With this in mind, the New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa is delighted to be expanding our free mentoring programme nationwide. Law Society President, Tiana Epati, was eager for the programme to be offered more widely as soon as possible, given the challenges the profession have faced during the pandemic.

Now, more than ever, a unifying and collegial programme is needed to help us support each other through the impacts on New Zealand and the law in the wake of COVID-19, she says. A programme that has professional wellbeing and improvement as its driver.

“Over the course of my career, I have had the privilege of having some incredible mentors,’’ Ms Epati says. “They made all the difference. I would not have become President without the early influence, wise counsel and guidance of some key people.’’

Available online, the National Mentoring Programme, launched in mid-May, is an ideal way for lawyers to meet, connect and support each other professionally, in the wake of COVID-19.

The programme is a version of the sharing economy where lawyers from all over Aotearoa New Zealand can come together and form mentoring partnerships. Building the platform virtually means anyone can get access to a mentor or mentee who is based elsewhere, as we have all adopted working in new, more accessible ways.

The Law Society is using a well-established online platform called MentorLoop to match mentors and mentees. Once you have been matched, the programme begins with the two of you agreeing on how to make it a mutual, engaging partnership. In the Practising Well section of the Law Society website, we have put together some guidance on what you can expect as a mentor and mentee. This includes tips on getting your mentoring relationship off to a great start, what we know works well and what we can do to help if you strike any teething problems or issues along the way.

All are welcome and we encourage as many participants to the programme as possible. Although primarily designed for those holding practising certificates, these are unusual times and we welcome interest from anyone who has been admitted but is not yet practising and those who may be between roles and therefore do not have a current practising certificate. Participation may also count towards your CPD hours.

The Law Society trialed a pilot scheme over a nine-month period in the Canterbury-Westland and Auckland branch areas; its uptake and success led to the national roll-out. The pilot programme will continue to inform and guide us as we take on any opportunities that participants suggest.

If you would like your own personal mentor, and have access to a person who can provide wise career counsel, share their knowledge of all things law and career management, or if you think you could share your personal insights with someone less experienced than you, then the Law Society’s new National Mentoring Programme is the right avenue for you.

What is mentoring?

International research shows that mentoring can be associated with a wide range of positive outcomes for protégés, including: behavioural, attitudinal, health-related, relational, motivation and career outcomes. See “Does mentoring matter? A multidisciplinary meta-analysis comparing mentored and non-mentored individuals” Lillian T. Eby, Tammy D. Allen, Sarah C. Evans, Thomas Ng, and David DuBoisJ Vocat Behav. 2008 Apr; 72(2): 254–267.

It is an informal and voluntary way of networking and learning; your own personal professional sounding board where you and your mentor, or mentee, get to shape the agenda and choose what is important to you both.

Mentoring for professional development provides a way to extend our human capacity. Research (“Editor’s overview: Outcomes and benefits of mentoring”, Shinhee Jeong, Beverly J Irby, Jennifer Boswell and Elisabeth Pugliese. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning Volume 26, 2018 – Issue 4) shows that in the case of virtual mentoring, mentors “build the skills of the mentees who are better able to reflect on their own practice. It is vital that mentors are not judgmental or critical; rather, they develop relationships that create a trusting environment for instructional improvement”.

And the benefits are usually much wider than just the duo. In the same article, it states “when mentors, and interns engage deeply in professional learning communities to explore common challenges and experiences, they develop trust, professional friendship, and community”.

For us, mentees can come from across the profession and be at any stage of their career. You do not have to be starting out to take advantage of the programme. The common factor for all mentees is that they value the advice and wise counsel of another lawyer with whom they don’t work or have an existing professional relationship. It’s about having a desire to learn and be challenged to think about career paths, and the profession, in different ways. Mentoring is a two-way street and both parties agree on what they would like to achieve through the partnership.

Not only do mentors have the satisfaction of sharing their knowledge, they inevitably also learn from their mentoring experience.

What is reverse mentoring?

Reverse mentoring can also be called upward mentoring and it refers to the traditional hierarchical approach being turned on its head, so that the mentee or less experienced person can also inform, educate and support the mentor in an area of work they may need upskilling on.

This is one way to create a truly even playing field, build trust and helps more senior people to stay up to date on fields such as technology, cloud computing or social media for example.

How to join up / Registration

1 If you hold a current practising certificate, you will have received an email with a link from our President Tiana Epati. To sign up from the email, click on the Register here for Mentorloop button. If you did not get this email, please contact mentoring@lawsociety.org.nz

2. Once on Mentorloop, you will have to confirm you are happy to commit to the terms and conditions and Code of Conduct, then you will answer a series of questions so that the software matching programme can create a profile for you.

3 Every fortnight, the data pool is updated with new participants to help with matching. You will be notified when you have been matched with a mentor or mentee. Please note, this process might happen quickly for some of you and for others it may take more time. Once a match is made you both have an opportunity to see if it’s the right match for both of you.

Last updated on the 15th June 2020