Unlocking potential: The role of mentorship in professional development

14 November 2023

In times of a rapidly evolving business landscape, newly arrived young professionals in the UK face both great challenges and opportunities. The Link spoke with Dr Aarti Anhal, founder of before nine and Programme Director of the SCC’s “Next Generation Leaders” mentorship programme, about mentorship and its power to unlock potential, the value of relationships and how to navigate through uncertainty as a young professional.

With an extensive background in risk and crisis management and an ever-present passion for people, Aarti first encountered the SCC when growing the UK business of the Swedish startup, 4C Strategies. “When you think about Swedish businesses, and you think about what they're doing globally, in the UK, Sweden and elsewhere, they're really at the forefront of innovation and sustainability efforts. So for me, it’s always been really exciting to be a part of that chain.” 

Her involvement in SCC’s Next Generation Leaders programme began when she was asked to become a mentor in 2017, and a year later took on the role as Programme Director. Since then, the mentorship programme has grown in profile, serving as a platform that provides opportunities for individuals to develop professionally as well as to connect with other young professionals and established business leaders. “If you believe in the power of network, and if you believe in relationships, then it's a no brainer.”

Passion for people 
As the founder of before nine, a company dedicated to unlocking the resilience, transformation and optimal performance of businesses and their people, Aarti now gets to practise her passion for people more overtly. Having held various roles in different organisational settings, her commitment to empowering individuals has been a driving force. “Even when you're working in a role where you're working with process and infrastructure and technology and systems, it's still really all about the people at the end of the day,” Aarti explains. 

Mentorship – a mutual exchange
Aarti stresses the importance of mentors providing guidance, new perspectives and foster a sense of confidence for the mentee in a non-judgemental environment. “In life, it can be very easy to be judgmental about the routes that other people have taken or where they're at, or where you think they should be at. But being a mentor is a really great space for non-judgement and just going ‘oh, wow, someone's taking a really different approach from the one that I would take. And I really admire the fact that they're doing that’.” Contrary to popular belief, Aarti argues that mentorship is not solely about passing on knowledge. Rather, it is a valuable opportunity for mentors to gain insights from their mentees and understand their motivations, challenges, and aspirations. “I think that it's important for all of us, particularly leaders, to continue to be curious about other people, what drives them, and what they’re looking for in the workplace. Being a mentor has always been a fantastic way of just understanding the next generation.” 

Pace management 
“We live in such a challenging and competitive world that it creates a lot of pressure on young professionals,” Aarti says. In the last few years, she has sensed increased impatience, higher standards and expectations from young professionals in relation to their careers. “The level and pace of development and success they expect of themselves can create a lot of stress.” On that note, Aarti views the role of a mentor as someone who can assist their mentee in managing the pace. “You want to see people achieve what they feel that they want to achieve. And you also sometimes want to give people the confidence and tools to step back and assess whether what they're trying to achieve is realistic, or even the right goal.”

Hands-on advice 
When it comes to advising young professionals arriving in the UK today, Aarti emphasises the importance of consistent networking throughout one’s career. “Ultimately, your career is not a series of jobs, it’s a career of relationships”. Attending events targeted towards young professionals and building networks within that community is a great opportunity to forge connections and discover new opportunities. Besides that, Aarti encourages young professionals to engage in non-business-focused networks within the own organisation, focusing on topics such as diversity, inclusion, sustainability, or mental health. “Meet with people who are similarly passionate about certain issues or topics, because I think that's another great way of making relationships”. Additionally, she highlights the importance of saying “yes” and embracing opportunities that feel right at that time, as it may open unforeseen career paths. 

Potential pitfalls and challenges 
“I think one of the pitfalls is probably that you crave safety and security – particularly when the world feels uncertain – so you don't put yourself out there, you stay in your comfort zone,” says Aarti. Becoming too fixated on a predetermined idea of success, often causes young professionals to miss out on the mistakes and detours that could lead to valuable lessons and growth. “It's very natural to be scared or to feel insecure about whether you have to make the right choice. But there's no such thing as the perfect job, and there's no such thing as the perfect choice. There's just the choice you make at the time because it feels like the right thing to do. Later down the line, you'll understand why that was the case and then you'll reflect on what you've learned. Trying not to perfect everything is really important.”

Learn more about the SCC's mentorship programme next generation leaders

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