July 11, 2017

What makes a good mentor? Part 2 of 3: Who were my good mentors?

Last time, we asked what makes a good mentor.  Now, to show you I’m not just talking theoretically, but speaking from experience, I’ll share with you the stories of three mentors who helped me along.

Who were my good mentors?

1. When I was a trainee hairdresser, there was the owner of the Salon. She asked me to sweep the floor while she cut hair. She also had me buy the milk, do perms, wash hair, colour and bleach it, and perform other tasks as my abilities grew. When I burnt myself handling hot equipment, she was there to tell me to put my hand under the tap, and there to tell me when it was under for too long. When I was learning to die hair, she was there to ensure that I put the cap on the client correctly and that I didn’t risk getting any irritants on the client’s face, or worse. The other hairdressers at the Salon were like mentors to me too, they gave little bits of advice, and so were the clients. However, V took full responsibility for my training and oversaw what I did more than anyone else could.

2. While studying office skills and technology (I started out doing an NVQ in Administration), A.E. was there to make sure I knew my potential. She asked me to please carry files for her, assigned me to participate in the organisation of certain activities, guided me on choosing and finding a work placement, helped me choose which spreadsheet and word processing exams to take, and to know when I was ready to take them. When I felt overwhelmed, I was able to downgrade my NVQ to a series of Pitmans and OCR qualifications, to show what I had learnt, and she was still there to help me achieve those.

3. At directory enquiries, my trainer started out by simply telling us what to do and guiding us with practice on simulated calls. Like a driving instructor in the parking lot, she was with us, maybe not always one to one, but she was there full time with a small group of under a dozen learners, overseeing us for the first weeks of our training.

She then assigned us individually to experienced customer advisors, so we could listen in on their calls.

Even when we completed initial training, she continued to listen in on my calls, and met with me individually to listen and guide me to self-suggest how I could improve. Like a good driving instructor, she gave me a lot of reign, not pulling on the breaks until it was necessary, and gradually bringing me to more difficult tasks to help me grow.

Of course, it only helped because I knew how to listen.  Sure, she showed us training videos in addition to other things, but she supplemented these videos with personal instruction.

Okay, so I couldn’t find the videos, but I remember what she taught me.

Of course, mentors aren’t everything.

I stuck with directory enquiries job the longest NOT because the mentor was good (she was excellent) but because the pay was most predictable. I know, the “customer adviser” pay isn’t that great, and we all knew that the call centre was closing down, but having a basic salary was a motivation that helped me through the difficult times.

What do these three mentors have in common? They worked with me, in the same room, so they could monitor my progress individually. They had professional experience in what they taught. And they had taught many others before me to do the same task, so they knew what to look for and what to suggest much better than a critic or academic or even a customer who only saw the end product would.

Why no driving instructors? I don’t have a license. I’m not blaming any instructors, just saying I’m not really a good judge of mentors in that field.

Why no film mentors?  Well, I’ll get to that in the third part.  I had a group of people who were sort of my film mentors, but not in the same way as the others I’ve mentioned.  But more about those people in the final part.