PerSPEctive

Mentoring Takes Many Beneficial Forms

Tjerk Joustra

Almost 5 years have passed since I walked into a building in Assen, The Netherlands, on my first day with Shell. Straight out of Delft U. of Technology, where I studied civil engineering, and I was about to start my first job as a production technologist. Clearly, my engineering degree did not fully prepare me for the technical job I was about to start in the enormous organization I was about to join. This was the start of a journey with a steep learning curve, both technical and organizational.

On this first day, I met many people, but one would clearly become my pillar when it came to my technical development. On the second day, he took me to the rig for a logging job and explained every single nut and bolt I could see. By doing that, he not only gave me a head start in my learning process, but he also motivated me even more to develop my technical skills as quickly as possible. Mentoring is all about motivating, teaching, and challenging. After that experience, my mentor continued to show and teach me so many more technical subjects in those first couple of months. Having the guidance of such an experienced colleague, of whom you can ask the “stupid” questions, is extremely important and helpful, especially in the beginning of your career.

I realize that I have been lucky, and not everyone is so fortunate, but there are some important ingredients that made this mentoring relationship successful.

Now I find myself on the other side of the table and realize how important the mentoring was to me. I make sure that when I mentor, I do my best to motivate, explain, and challenge to create a similar experience. It does not mean that I do not need coaching any more.

Although a mentor for your day-to-day job is important, mentoring cannot cover all aspects of the job. After a couple of months at Shell, I realized that the scale and the complexity of the organization made it difficult for me to always find the person I needed to get things done. To ensure I was moving on the right track, I looked for an additional mentor who was more senior, knew the organization and the people leading it, and was not related to my line of reporting. Because I worked on the technical side of the organization, I wanted to find someone outside this department. I found a manager in Contracting and Procurement who wanted to take up that role. At that time, I wanted to spend a minimum of 1 year on a rig to gain the practical experience I desperately needed to improve the quality of my work. There were only two problems with that:

Although we met regularly and established a good relationship, and he gave some valuable advice, my new mentor was not able to help me pull the right strings. I realized I needed a mentor who worked on the technical side of the organization, but still was not in my line of reporting. I found someone who was glad to pick up that role of guiding me through the organization. With the assistance of my new mentor, and helped by a reorganization and new people at the right places, I managed to get the job I wanted and even more.

“Mentor” is basically a more formal word for someone who gives you advice. Most conversations I have at work and in my private life from which I learn most are with my peers, friends, and spouse. These are the people you discuss technical, organizational, developmental, and personal subjects with, and their advice is just as valuable as the advice I get from my “official” mentors. Although I believe formalizing mentoring helps to lower thresholds, break boundaries, and motivate people, there is also room for more-informal mentoring with colleagues.

All these types of mentoring have helped me; I am sure you should not choose just one method of mentoring, as they complement each other. Chopin once said: “Nothing is more beautiful than a guitar, except possibly two.” This is definitely the case when it comes to mentoring. All my mentors have helped me in my career, and I hope I have given all three something back as well.

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