I thought back on my work history and the light dawned. Mentoring does not have to be a formal relationship between two people, it can be informal and, when I started work, it was not called mentoring, it was just being a good boss.
I was lucky enough to have a ‘good boss’ early on in my working life. I watched how he dealt with people and saw that whatever level they were in the organisation, he was respectful. He managed cleaners and managers and he made no distinction. He was fair and managed with a light touch but everyone he managed was clear about what was expected of them and generally delivered. He encouraged me, as a junior manager, to take responsibility and make decisions while all the time knowing that he would make time for me to discuss anything of which I was unsure. He set high standards for his department and I was measured against them. There was no formal appraisal but I would be praised for what had gone well and gently had things pointed out to me when they could have gone better and what was lacking. He was good-natured and kind but he was still the manager and no-one was in any doubt of that.
I, in turn, wanted to emulate him when I began to manage staff. I found though, that he had made it look easy because he was sure of, and comfortable in, his management style and had decades of experience. I discovered that sometimes people found the work difficult, occasionally people were lazy and often had different way of going about things to mine. I had to find my own way but through him understood that I had to be clear about how I wanted to manage and communicate that to the people that I in turn managed. I then had to find a way of managing different people based on what they brought (or not!) to the workplace. This proved to be a challenge throughout the time that I managed but I had a good base on which to work.
Years later I moved into local government where initally I had a very different experience. The job was a short-term contract but I was desperate at the time for work and hoped that in getting into a large organisation I would have a good chance of getting a permanent job, if I could prove myself.
The person I was to report to, left a couple of weeks before I started and no-one seemed sure what to do with me. I was put in an office on my own without even the most basic of information. Not a happy start. It turned out very well in the end though. I had been employed in an administrative capacity but found myself working for a very senior manager on a project basis. She had no idea what level that I had joined the organisation at, and gave me work to do which I got on with. I had no idea of how hierarchical the public sector could be, so I thought nothing of it.
We worked together and she was fantastic. She would give me the work to do with some explanation and I would go off and do it. This was all completely knew to me but I thought nothing of just getting on with it. She would then give me feedback on what was good and not quite right about it and would help me improve it. She was kind and very encouraging. I shared her office (which I thought nothing of at the time) and saw how she worked with people in the organisation. It was deja vu; took me back to my first great boss. Again she was respectful with everyone, had high standards and integrity.
After a couple of months working with her, I was beginning to get a feel for the organisation and people began to comment about the fact that I was working so closely with her, shared her office and reported to her. I mentioned it to her and she asked me my grade. I told her and she was appalled. Apparently I had been working well above my grade and she arranged for me, after the three months probationary period, to go to the top of the scale in which I was placed. Having started at the bottom, this meant a 50% increase to my salary. I was fortunate enough to be able to continue to work for her for a time, before being promoted. After another couple of promotions I was again assigned to work for her and it was one of the happiest days of my working life.
These two people not only shaped my working life. They also informed the rest of my life because I do not believe that you can divorce the two. Work was, while working for them, a rich and rewarding experience which touched the rest of my life. I tried to remember that when managing people; it was my responsibility to help them grow and develop in the workplace and also to ensure that it was a positive and rewarding experience, not a blight on the other parts of their life.
Anne Casey is Business Manager of the3rdimagazine.