WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

By Claire Knight
AVM member and mentoring scheme participant; Strategic Partnership Manager, Macmillan Cancer Support

When I was a child, this phrase was imbued with meaning far beyond its words.  What the adult saying it really meant was “you, young lady, are too big for your boots”.  It was intended to cut me down to size… the proper size, not the size I thought I was in that moment.  Which clearly, in their opinion, was TOO BIG.

I have recently changed jobs, and four weeks in I have found myself reflecting on where I am today.  It’s exciting. I am learning. I am contributing. But also, I feel unsure of what I am doing…was I too big for my boots when I put myself up for this job?  It doesn’t matter where we are on any ladder, being outside of our comfort zone is quite simply, uncomfortable.

The truth is, as we develop in our careers (and in our lives outside of work too), we evolve and build on who we are.  We don’t always know what we have in us until we put ourselves out there and try. We certainly don’t know what we will achieve in the future, or who we will become.  What’s important is to bravely step out of the comfort zone in the first place. The really great thing is that we can help ourselves and we can look to others for help too.

One such source of help is a mentor, someone who is more experienced, or “bigger”, we could say, than we are.  We know that they won’t laugh us out of the room. They can help us navigate our own learning through trial and error.  And the experience and perspective they have can provide priceless insight into our own situations.

Perhaps a less appreciated source of development is to become a mentor.

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I have had the privilege of being a mentor for two people in the past few years.  I’ll be honest, initially I wasn’t sure I had the skills or experience to do what it takes. In my head, a mentor was someone who had earned the right to be on that pedestal…a “bigger” person than me. But I like to think I made a difference to my mentees’ development in the time I supported them.  They have both moved on in their careers, that’s for sure.

Importantly, I learnt from the experience too.

I deepened my understanding of two specialised job roles; this broader perspective later proved helpful in securing a more senior position. I discovered who in my organisation could use their technical knowledge to help my team; this prompted me to experiment, measure and improve our web content. I improved my questioning technique to result in richer conversations; this helped me improve my line management skills and resulted in greater development for my own team.  I began to appreciate the ways my professional and personal experiences could be useful to others; this built my self awareness and confidence. Finally, on a personal level, I enjoyed getting to know two interesting, talented individuals.

In short, I am convinced that being a mentor helped me to develop in new ways, be better at my own job and ultimately to progress in my career.

The pilot mentoring scheme being developed now by the Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM) is looking for people to become mentors. This exciting opportunity involves a matching process to help pair mentees with mentors, and comes with guidance, support and the chance to network with other mentors too.  

If I can share my mentoring experience with you, I would suggest it is not about being “bigger”, older or earning more. It is about having an enquiring mind and a fresh perspective. This could come from a simple difference such as being in another team, area of work, or position in a hierarchy.  If you are looking to progress your career, consider being a mentor. You would learn as much by giving as by receiving, I promise you. So go on….give it a go.

Simply tell us who you think you are and we’ll take it from there!

If you work in volunteer management and are interested in finding out more, please let us know here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/8TGXLWH

Finding a mentor…like going to the movies?

Movie-popcornBy Angela Wilson, AVM Director.

Soon after I joined the Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM) Board of Directors, the Chair, Ruth Leonard, rang me up to ask what I wanted to get out of volunteering, what was it that motivated me? I said I hoped to learn from the diverse experience of other AVM members: I wanted to progress in my career, and so it would be great to learn from others how they had gone about developing theirs. We then got to talking about mentoring, and how it would be wonderful if AVM could set up a scheme where members could learn from each other, much as I was describing.  Top volunteer management marks to Ruth: she had identified my own motivation, and matched it with a strategic aim of AVMs. Thus it was agreed I would lead the setting up of AVMs mentoring scheme, and use the learning for the search for my own mentor to inform and facilitate the project. Great! I was excited to get going. But where to begin?

Fortunately, I was not alone: fellow Director Jo Gibney agreed to join forces with me. So, we met, drank coffee, and did a lot of brainstorming. Jo also wanted to find a mentor…so we started by thinking about what we wanted to get out of it. Discussing it helped us to think through our aims, which made it easier to consider who might be a good person to help me to achieve those aims.Reading up on it, I found out that the mentoring relationship works best when there’s a high level of trust between both parties, and this is most likely to occur when the mentee chooses their own mentor. It should be someone with whom you are not too familiar (e.g. a friend) as you are unlikely to really be challenged in your thinking or to learn very much. Also the experience gap is important: if it is “too narrow, mentor and mentee will have little to talk about. If it is too great, the mentors experience will be increasingly irrelevant to the mentee” (Clutterbuck, D. 2014).

Where would I find such a person? And how would I make the approach? I felt quite awkward about the whole thing, it reminded me of the bashfulness I felt when I was in my late teens, about to ask a guy if he wanted to go to the movies! So it took me a while to work up the courage…

After a fair bit of umming and ahhing, I took a deep breath, and called a colleague I really respected in the volunteer management field, who had experience within the area I wanted to move into. It was great to catch up with him, and talk through some of my aims and hopes. In the end I sort of blurted it out – “would you have any interest in mentoring me…of course no worries at all if you can’t…” [in my head: “EEEEEEEEEK!”] sadly, this colleague had just changed jobs himself, and just didn’t have the time right now. Oh. Oh well, not to worry. I didn’t take it personally. Onwards!

There was one other person I knew who I’d thought for some time, would make a wonderful mentor, but I’d never plucked up the courage to ask. She was talented and very experienced, and probably very busy. I didn’t think I had much chance, but I thought I’d give it a shot anyway – nothing ventured and all that. And she said yes! I was more delighted than when the guy agreed to go to the movies with me. Having someone I really respected agree to invest their time in ME seemed incredibly generous: I was very grateful.

Meanwhile, Jo and I have been busy working up our ideas for the AVM Mentoring Scheme. We’ve been learning from others, designing registration forms and a project plan for how it all might work. We hope that the scheme will make it much easier for mentors and mentees to find each other and pair up.

Since just last week, 29 people have approached AVM to say they’d like to sign up as a mentor, mentee, or both…so we’re well on the way to making it easier (and a bit less like asking someone to go to the movies?!) for members who want to find mentors. We want to bring people together, both in person and online, and facilitate links between people in similar geographic areas. But those are just some of our ideas.

We are really keen to hear from AVM members who would be happy to help us shape the scheme and test out the tools (such as the registration forms) that we’ve developed. If you’re interested in getting involved, please do leave us your details here – we’ll get back to you.

Edited 16.03.2018

The power of listening…and of new boots

brown bootsBy: Angela Wilson, AVM Director

Returning to work following maternity leave, I realised I NEEDED to go shopping. I’d worn the same cosy, baggy jeans for several months, with my baby happily wiping her nose on whichever of my bobbly jumpers I was wearing that day.

The trouble was, it had been months since I’d bought myself new clothes, and I’d forgotten how to shop! Fashion had moved on and as I stared at the strange, oversized, bat-winged type coats, I realised I had no idea what I was doing, and felt rather lost and intimidated about the whole thing. Back-up was needed. I called my mates Lucy and Jos, and pleaded for them to help me step out of my mum-garb into a confident new look.

I knew I needed boots. Who doesn’t need boots. But which ones? Never one for stiletto’s, I like my feet firmly on the ground. But I’m also five foot three, so a couple of extra inches would be good. My hand hovered over a pair of brown, leather boots with a chunky two inch heel. Argh – there was that indecision again…would they look good? Now, Lucy and Jos aren’t afraid to say boo to a goose. They’re bolshy, opinionated, wonderful women who will tell you exactly what they think, which was exactly what I’d hoped for from them. However, on this occasion, they didn’t.

“What do you think, Ange?” asked Jos.

Slightly perturbed, I looked at my reflection and asked myself that question. Did I like the boots? Yes, I did…a lot. Confirming as much, Josie’s face broke out into a big smile, and she told me she thought they looked great too. Hurrah! They were a great first purchase.
Later on, enjoying my buyers-high, I mulled over the day. I was feeling much more confident about what I wanted and realised I didn’t need to wear enormous bat-winged coats to look good, I just needed to have confidence in the clothes I liked, and to choose clothes that made me feel good. Jos had helped me to remember this. And she’d done it in a really important way.

Instead of dictating to me what she thought looked good, she’d listened, and waited for me to find the answer in myself. If she hadn’t done that, I’d have ended up looking like a daft version of her (she’s far taller than me and a completely different body shape) and I wouldn’t have regained confidence in my own ability to find lovely clothes.

That, for me, was an important lesson. People often have the answers to their problems inside themselves, and only they can effectively overcome their challenges and find their own solutions. Other people telling them what to do simply won’t work, as what’s right for one, is not for another. When others can really listen, and help you to find those answers yourself, it can be a very powerful experience.

It’s the same in a mentoring relationship.

Great mentors respect their mentees and help them to find their own solutions: “to do the role well requires a capacity to hold back and allow people to learn for themselves” (Clutterbuck, D. 2014).

The Association of Volunteer Managers is setting up its own mentoring scheme, in the hopes of unleashing some of the powerful volunteer management skills, experience and knowledge that exists amongst our membership, helping to develop listening and leadership skills amongst mentors, and helping to progress the careers and personal development goals of mentees.

We would like members to help us to shape it and to road-test some of the early stage tools we’ve developed. If you think you would be interested in learning more about mentoring and participating in the scheme, and would be willing to help us to make it into a success, we would love to hear from you. Please leave your details here, and we’ll get back in touch.

Read about what we’re planning.

AVM Mentoring Scheme

With over 400 members and growing fast, the AVM network consists of a wealth of talented people with excellent skills and experience in the field of volunteer management and leadership. We know AVM members are often keen to learn from others and develop their skills and careers. To this end, AVM has great hopes of facilitating an exciting new mentoring scheme amongst its membership.

We hope that members will be able to develop their leadership and mentoring skills through volunteering as mentors for others, as well as gaining vicarious satisfaction through seeing others progress. We also hope that members will be able to learn from others and achieve their own personal development and career goals by signing up as a ‘mentee’.

We’re still in the early stages of planning this scheme. We have developed a project plan, and some of the tools we’ll need to make it work, such as registration forms. We’ve got to the stage where we have an idea what the scheme might look like.

So now we need your help. If you are an AVM member and:

  • have ideas about what might make this scheme a success, and/ or
  • would be happy to help us test our tools/ resources and feedback, and/ or
  • are interested in signing up as a mentor or a mentee

we would love to hear from you! Please leave us your details here, and we’ll get back to you.

Alternatively, if you have questions, you can message us directly. The AVM Directors leading the development of this scheme are Angela Wilson and Jo Gibney.

Not an AVM Member, but still interested? That’s great! We expect that we’ll only have capacity to offer this scheme to members, but if we know there is appetite from outside our membership we can explore ways of extending it. Leave us your thoughts here. Alternatively, you can always sign up as a member!