Written by Claire Sofield, Managing DIrector & Co-Founder
Throughout my 18-year recruitment career I have been lucky enough to experience mentoring from both sides of the fence. I have offered my knowledge and support to mentees in a work and a non-work capacity and have also benefitted from developing my own leadership skills from an array of different individuals. To celebrate National Mentoring Day I wanted to share several different stories around my mentoring experiences and the benefits that can come from different relationships and environments.
When you hear the word mentor you probably assume it’s within a work environment and follows a very structured and coordinated format, but my experience is very different. I have mentored individuals to guide them in their personal life, I have supported budding entrepreneurs with their initial steps into the business world and I have supported my own team in a more informal capacity. No matter what the scenario I have utilised my experience as a business leader and often as a woman to help support others with their own professional challenges and overcoming personal issues.
Back in 2019 I was part of the Bolton lads & Girls Club mentor programme for young, disadvantaged children across Bolton. I was matched with a 13 year-old boy who I met with every couple of weeks and I would take him bowling or to McDonalds, just anywhere that meant he could enjoy some time away from home and school to just be himself. Unfortunately, he’d had a troublesome upbringing and came from a broken family which meant that he had been place with a foster mum. The role I played as his mentor in that situation was simple. I was there to listen, comfort and offer support in what was a very challenging time in his life. Bolton Lads and Girls Club were committed to demonstrating that anything is possible to these children and I wanted to do my bit to help reinforce that message. I used my experience and my learnings to act as a role model in this young boy’s life and show that just because his early years hadn’t been ideal that there is still a huge world of opportunity out there and he could go on and be successful in whatever way he wanted.
My second experience as a mentor was in a more professional capacity and was part of Natwest’s Entrepreneur Accelerator programme back in 2015. This consisted of supporting and sharing my knowledge around the business world with business leaders. I was matched with two entrepreneurs, the first had a construction recruitment company and the second who had set up a fitness and nutrition brand. I spent time with these individuals every four weeks and in those sessions, I would review their business plans, understand their challenges and offer guidance on how they can improve their business and achieve their goals. The official Natwest programme ran for a year but I continued my communication with my mentee’s afterwards and helped them overcome any professional or personal situations. The happy ending to that story is that Tim, the entrepreneur with the construction recruitment company is now joining Four in the new year as our Learning and Development Manager. When I embarked on that mentorship programme, I never expected Tim to be working in my company years later but it’s such a nice way for things to come full cycle and prove how strong and fulfilling a mentor relationship can be.
Throughout my time at Four I have always been there as a sounding board and often a listening ear for my team to come to with problems, frustrations and questions. As a female in a mainly female workforce, I have always wanted to create an environment where my team feel safe and comfortable coming to me with any problems, whether they’re professional or personal. I will always make time for my team and as a female leader I strongly encourage communication around topics such as leadership and progression as well as topics like parenting and wellbeing.
Earlier this year we launched our ‘Four the Future’ programme where I deliver more structured mentoring sessions to the future leaders of Four. The sessions will allow my team to share their future aspirations and what they need to get there. This allows me to fully tailor my mentoring to the individual and help them to really benefit from a one to one relationship with myself.
Although I have had lots of experience as a mentor, I have only experienced the mentee side in a less traditional capacity. I have never had an official, formal mentor but during my time growing Four I have benefitted from a close relationships with business leaders and owners. These relationships were built on the back of shared visions and common ground in our personal lives and meant that I could build strong relationships with people who understood me and what I wanted to achieve. I am now lucky enough to have a handful of people who I can go to for advice, guidance and knowledge on any particular situation.
During my time as a member of Vistage I would have monthly one to one sessions with the group leader, Hamish. My initial concern was whether the differences between our profiles would affect the relationship, instead, it was a huge benefit to me as he was able to provide a perspective that I didn’t have in my life at that time.
Looking to the future I think it’s always important to build new relationships to benefit myself and my business. We have just appointed a new non-exec and although he is not officially a mentor, his experience and insight will lend itself nicely to the role and will be hugely valuable to both myself and my business partner, Philip.
In summary I think a mentorship relationship can be hugely beneficial to the individuals involved and I like to think that I have been able to help and support others through my role as a mentor. But it’s also important to remember that you don’t need an official structure in place to benefit from someone’s advice and insight. Sometimes it can be just as beneficial to surround yourself will knowledgeable and experienced people that you know can support you whenever called upon.