MOSAIC stands for Mentoring Opportunities Amongst In-house Counsel and is the global mentoring programme for in-house legal professionals. The third in our series of posts looks at the importance of getting a mentor, why mentoring shouldn’t be reserved for the select few and how to make the most of a mentoring relationship.
The concept of having a mentor is usually reserved for the upper echelons of senior management. Built into MBAs and executive leadership programmes, mentoring is an absolute right of passage and an essential tool in professional development. However, if it’s that important to senior executives and the next generations of leaders, why don’t we start mentoring much earlier? And why is there an even more notable absence of mentoring in the in-house legal profession? Here are a few thoughts that might answer the question.
The terms “mentoring” and “coaching” are often used interchangeably but they do not and should not provide the same offering. There is also an additional distinction to be made between “counselling” and “sponsoring”. Confusing the terminology can make searching for the right solution difficult and often leads to individuals giving up on finding one.
Most mere mortals don’t consider finding a mentor until they need something. Either because they’re in transition, are stuck in a rut or want to be moving upwards. It’s important to remember that having a mentor can be beneficial during your good times, just as much as during your tougher times. When things are going well, capitalise on that feeling or energy and maintain your relationship with your mentor.
There’s nothing wrong with having a mentor when you’re not in an executive leadership programme; it’s not a sign of weakness! In fact, it’s an investment in your future.
Time-poor and de-prioritisation of self-development
For some reason, everyone seems to have de-prioritised their own self-development and when opportunities come up money is usually spent on yet another contract drafting workshop. You already know how to draft contracts! Mentoring doesn’t mean more legal training, instead it provides access to networks and different perspectives, advice on handling difficult conversations and more. For example, do you know how to:
- Speak the language of finance?
- Create a business case for additional employees in your team?
- Present in front of the audit committee?
- Manage an ambitious team who all want pay increases and promotions within the year or they will move on?
These are all issues that are not taught in law school but can be discussed in the right mentoring relationships.
Finding a mentor
Finding a mentor (informally) can be a challenge: we all know that Sheryl Sandberg has a waiting list, so she’s not currently an option. If you’ve identified someone who you think may be a good fit and are brave enough to have the conversation with them, well done. Most people are not built that way and don’t know who to turn to, which is why we created MOSAIC: to ensure that everyone has a place to go to find a mentor in the in-house legal profession. There is no seniority or designated high-potential criteria and it’s not an exclusive club for an “elite” group, it’s open to everyone within the in-house legal profession.
Once you have decided that you would like a mentor, give a lot of thought to your professional goals, where you are in your career and where you’d like to get to and, finally, what you’d like to achieve through your mentoring relationship. Once you have considered these questions carefully you will be in a much better position to find the right mentor for you. Formal mentoring programmes, such as MOSAIC, provide a framework with as much or as little structure in the form of goal setting as you prefer.
Top tips for being a good mentee
Get off to a good start by actively engaging with your mentor. Schedule meetings (consider whether they will be in person at first, then by Skype or email follow ups) and come prepared with ideas on what you’d like to talk about or get out of your mentoring relationship.
Engage and follow through
Be present in the moment (don’t be distracted by your work phone) and follow through with action points you are truly interested in taking away. Both of you will no doubt be busy, so use this time productively and come back prepared for your next meeting.
If you’ve established that you can work with your mentor and trust them (this usually happens very quickly), then be honest about your goals, concerns and challenges so that your mentor can help ask questions that really matter.
Your mentor is not the genie in the lamp. They are a sounding board, a confidant, a safe space to help with your professional development. Your mentor cannot secure you a promotion and you cannot give your mentor KPIs! There is a difference between coaching and mentoring (and counselling). It’s important to be clear from the outset what your expectations are.
We have heard countless stories from our members that being mentored has changed their lives for the better. If your mentor has had a positive impact on you, let them know. They are giving you this time willingly for nothing in exchange. Showing gratitude goes a long way; then pay it forward by becoming a mentor yourself.
Becoming a member of MOSAIC
To become a member of MOSAIC you must work in-house and not in a law firm. In-house means the legal departments of private and publicly held companies, as well as government and regulatory agencies. You can be a qualified solicitor, barrister or attorney, a patent or trade mark attorney, work in legal operations, compliance, the company secretariat or be a former lawyer who now runs your own business. Trainees or apprentices doing their training contracts in-house are also eligible to join.
We charge a small annual membership fee (free to mentors) to cover costs and develop and expand the programme. We don’t hog your inbox with a mailing list, instead follow MOSAIC on LinkedIn for announcements and our latest news. For further information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website.