The magic of mentoring

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Annemarie van den Thillart does not see mentoring as a simple task of the experienced ‘giving back’ to their juniors, but rather as a symbiotic process that leads to a win-win situation for both mentors and mentees. She unpacks why this ‘pay it forward’-mindset can be the driving force behind progress in women’s careers.

What makes a great mentoring relationship? It’s a question Annemarie has pondered in her craft as a coach and mentor to female executives. To answer it, she draws on her collective experience following a tenure of twenty-five years in the telecommunications industry, which culminated in a director role. She believes that the answer is simple: it’s all in the chemistry. It’s about building an energy-giving connection through mutual understanding and respect, and ultimately developing an ease of communication that inspires you. The most critical part of this process, however, is that both potential mentors and mentees step up and make themselves available and open to the process; therein lies the catalyst of the elixir of professional growth and development.  

 The value of mentoring  

Annemarie encourages younger women to seek out mentoring relationships with intention, in addition to their existing support network of friends, family and colleagues. “When you become part of a defined mentoring relationship, it’s about you, and it’s a safe space to focus on your development.” To Annemarie, mentoring relationships also bring about inadvertent advantages to mentors: beyond the satisfaction of knowing that their experiences are contributing to the development of the next generation of strong, female leaders, they gain valuable insights into how younger generations think. Mentors will undoubtedly also benefit from honing their listening skills, learning to articulate their insights, and reflecting on their own experiences from a fresh perspective.  

 Identifying the blind spots  

According to Annemarie, a great mentor is not only someone who steps up, listens well and shares their knowledge – a critical task is to hold a mirror for a mentee to objectively discover new things about themselves. “Mentoring is supposed to shine the light on your blind spots – and unearthing, exploring and developing them is the only way to grow. Although those close to us are well aware of them, it’s not the ideal setting for constructive feedback.” The same feedback from a loved one and a coach or a mentor will land differently. Annemarie laughs: “I worship my own coaches and mentors for calling me out on a blind spot; but I hate it when my partner does the same thing.”  

 Mentoring in the workplace… and beyond 

If a mentor is in a better position to advise us on our blind spots than our loved ones, it begs the question: where does a mentee draw the line between the personal and professional when asking for guidance? Aspects like a mentoring relationship’s chemistry, the respective ages of both parties, and their hierarchies within organisations will, of course, factor in. But Annemarie is confident that mentees should be bold in unpacking their professional questions and issues against the backdrop of their personal circumstances and personality traits. “An ideal mentoring relationship is one where there are no walls – who you are at home directly feeds into your performance and how you lead. Women should be bold in exploring all aspects of themselves within a mentoring relationship – and should not feel that they are overstepping or being unprofessional when they reveal their authentic selves.” 

That’s why Annemarie believes in the magic of mentoring; and why she feels strongly that mentoring relationships should go beyond one’s current organisation. This is also why she supports initiatives like RightBrains, who connect like-minded women within the digital technology industry – and acts as a mentor herself in the annual RightBrains Growth and Mentor Programme.  

The winning combination  

Where mentoring is a developmental relationship, sponsorship involves a senior or influential individual advocating for, and actively supporting, the career advancement of high potentials. Although mentoring relationships outside one’s organisation are invaluable, sponsorship is a fantastic tool within organisations to develop young female talent. Annemarie thinks that women should pursue both sponsorships and mentoring relationships – especially in a male-dominated industry like digital technology. She believes that the winning combination between internal sponsorship and support for external mentoring programmes, is the key to driving forward the careers of talented women. 

Paying it forward 

The pay it forward concept involves the recipient of a good deed or act of kindness repaying it to others instead of the original benefactor – and this mentality should be deeply rooted within mentoring relationships. “Mentoring is a win-win for everyone. So be daring, take the leap and reap the benefits; for your current and your future self!” 

This article was originally published in th RightBrains DIGIDIVA Magazine. Check out this year's issue for more inspiration!


By Annemarie van den Thillart

Annemarie van den Thillart is a talented mentor to female executives, public speaker and guest.

Annemarie van den Thillart is a talented mentor to female executives, public speaker and guest lecturer. She focuses on executive coaching, career development coaching, corporate training, diversity and inclusion (D&I), and life coaching.