“In a mentorship, trust is the most important thing,” says Richard Worth. “A good mentor is someone you can have that fireside chat with, someone you know will keep what you say confidential, someone who has your best interests at heart.”
After decades of traveling the world as a general manager in retail, Richard Worth has found a new passion as a mentor for Everwise. He credits his high regard for mentorship to his earlier career experiences working for Tesco International and Marks & Spencer, where he met his most influential mentors. “Especially at Marks & Spencer,” he says. “When you get towards being a VP, for instance, they make absolutely sure you have at least one mentor who is a board member. They place huge importance on having mentor support for all executives. The relationships with my mentors have lasted 16 years and 10 years, even after both myself and the individual have left the company and gone on to bigger things.”
Now he’s passing that on to the next generation and getting immense satisfaction himself from the experience. His first three Everwise protégés have reported significant results, including several promotions during or shortly after their partnerships with Worth.
“The word partnership is very important in this context,” he says. “That’s part of what makes mentoring different from being a coach — they are two different management skills.” It’s no wonder his protégés sing his praises; Worth is a rare combination of experienced yet open-minded. Speaking to us over the phone from his home in the English countryside, he talks about getting recognition at work, why international assignments are often a disaster, and how he prepares for his meetings with protégés.
When did you decide to become a mentor?
When I was at the top of my profession and I found I had quality time available to reflect on a regular and consistent basis. I find that unless you’ve been a very senior person in that large organization and you’ve managed large teams, you are unlikely to have the depth and the breadth of experience required to be a really capable mentor.
Has mentoring change the way you approach your work?
Yes. And I’d say that even if your initial reaction to this is “no,” the truth is that every experience with a protégé has a personal impact on you. And it shapes the way in which you handle similar circumstances in the future. So the answer is: yes, it does it add to you as an individual. It’s richly rewarding.
Has mentoring changed you as a leader?
It adds to my personal management toolbox. And I think one of the biggest things about being a mentor is that you are in a really trusted and responsible position. So you find that you really care about your protégé and their personal development, you feel responsible for it. And you have to act accordingly. In the workplace you tend to use some of the skills you’ve been building up as a mentor.
How do you set up or plan for your first meeting?
Everwise sends a brief of the individual protégé and what their aims are, what goals they want to achieve. Looking at those points allows me to set down an agenda, which is important in the first meeting. In that first meeting, I dig deep into the initial brief and make sure that I fully understand the protégé’s individual needs. We’ll set an agenda, and we go through the agenda points one by one. I’ll follow up with a my minutes of the meeting and our agreed action plan.
Do you continue that process for the rest of your meetings?
I tend to put a lot of care and time into my thoughts for the upcoming meetings. I plan a lot. I find that as a leader I take even more care in my handling of management than I would have done as a younger manager. You naturally put so much care into mentoring because of the fact that you are in this responsible position.
Described one of the challenges your protégé has encountered while you are mentoring them.
Overcoming barriers and overcoming difficult people is something that that’s a pretty constant thread. Also managing individuals and (on occasion) managing upwards. Which is always a tough one. For that one you need to go very gently with the protégé, because they need to open up to you and tell you what the real issues are. They need to relax and trust you to be able to open up to you. Two out of the three protégés have also mentioned challenges getting and gaining recognition in the organization.
And what did you tell them?
I said to both of these protégés: Obviously the company holds you in high regard because they put you in contact with Everwise. Therefore, your company believes in you, they want to invest in you. In any organization there are going to be a number of projects on the annual business plan, or the three-year plan, or the five-year plan. Go and talk to some of the trusted elder statesman in your organization and find out what these projects are. Volunteer. Go ask for a slice of the action go and get involved in the business. Put in extra and additional effort on top of your day job. And I’m delighted that both of them took their own, individual approaches to this and they both got recognized.
You’ve worked on a lot of international assignments. What are the unique challenges for expat work?
Many big organizations around the world send people from their home countries on international assignment thinking that because they did a great job in their home country surely they can achieve just as good a job in this foreign international assignment. And guess what? Many of them fail. Because they’re out of their comfort zone, they’re in a different country and culture.
I’ve agreed with Everwise and my current protégé, Debi, that we’ll continue our partnership because she’s just been promoted again and she’s relocating from the UK to Boston. I think it’s very important that I continue to mentor her — not just for her business needs but for relocation and settling in. To make sure that I can help her have a soft landing.
If I can help protégés have the softer landing that allows them to be successful in the initial start of their international assignment, then that would give me personal satisfaction.
You’ve been in a different industry than all three of your protégés. Do you think that’s been a distinct challenge or benefit in any way?
As a general manager, I had IT reporting to me, finance reporting to me, and so on — so I think it’s more important that as you’ve gone through your life, you’ve worked up good general management experience. You don’t need to be an expert in any specific area, but if you have a wide experience, that allows you to understand where your individual protégés are coming from. Individuals from your marketing and sales department are going to have different characteristics than you’re going to get from somebody in finance or IT. As a mentor you need to have the skills to help anyone.
What advice would you give to first-time mentors?
Make the time. It doesn’t happen by accident, you have to commit to it. Really get it into your head as a first-time mentor that you are being entrusted. Do not underestimate the role.
One very important part of the first phone call is to make sure that you explained the protégé the nature of confidentiality in the relationship. That breaks down the barriers and that’s important. And even over the phone, you can hear a sigh of relief. Confidentiality really impacts the relationship, because you can be a trusted mentor to them. You start to really get the protege to relax and open up.
One other thing that I think is very important for new mentors is to make sure that you have dedicated and uninterrupted time boxed in for the meetings. There’s no point if you’re going to be interrupted by phone calls or somebody’s going to walk into your office. And that goes for both the mentor and the protégé.
And finally, if you ever struggle as a mentor, ask the Everwise community. Everwise has a massive talent pool within the community, so that if you struggle you can go to that community. If you’re a first-time mentor, if you’re struggling, don’t panic. Just go back to the Everwise community and seek help.