Jonathan has been a parent returner mentor since the inception of Steps Ahead. As chair of the local CIPD brand, Jonathan heard about the Steps Ahead parent returner programme from a CIPD newsletter and, having just come back from travelling, saw it as a way to help him re-establish his work as a coach and a mentor. 'I was after some personal development for me and I knew I could help parent returners because of my previous experience. This programme helps me do both,' he says.

'My role is to help remind people just how good they really are. It’s about bringing out those skills and passions they have and refocusing them into something that they perhaps hadn't thought of before.'

Imagine a teenager who had the courage to run away from a gang in their teens and who now runs their own business. Or a Hotel Services supervisor who left Ireland at 14 hardly able to read or write and who burst into tears when put on training with 15 other people because it was so overwhelming. Imagine she has now taught herself computer skills and reads books by management gurus such as Charles Handy.

Jonathan Broadhurst can imagine these people because, through mentoring them, he has played what he calls a small part in helping them to get where they are. It’s quite simple, he says, mentoring changes people’s lives.

'And yet I don't feel I do that much,' he adds. 'I just allow people to talk and share things about what they're doing, how they're feeling and what their dreams are. But it just has this amazing effect on people and that’s why I do it.'

His own path to mentoring has been a varied one. As a child he was a keen squash player with a three-times world champion as his coach. As an adult he had a career playing squash in Germany. Following that, he did a six-month stint managing a squash club. Or rather, discovering he didn’t have a clue where to begin when it came to management.

'Nobody thought to ask me if I was actually any good at managing things,' he explains. 'My parents worked in hotels and pubs and we moved around a lot when I was young. All I'd ever done from the age of 12 was play squash. I was hopeless at managing people, managing resources, managing anything.'

No surprise then that after six months he left that role. Newly married and with a high-interest mortgage he took the first job he could find, as a sales assistant in a sports shop. He worked his way up to managing the largest store in the group. During this role, he realised that most issues were related to people in one way or another and that he liked to help sort out their problems. He became the unofficial regional troubleshooter for the business.

Fast forward a few years and Jonathan took voluntary redundancy and, with a newfound love of learning and development, put himself through university as a mature student studying for CIPD qualifications.

Being the sole dad

It was during this time that Jonathan saw firsthand the challenges parent returners face. With no other qualifications he had to start from scratch, going through college to get the entry requirements for university, while his wife worked full time to support them. With two pre-school children, Jonathan fitted his studies around childcare.

'I was the sole dad at the mother and toddler groups. And when I tried to hold one myself nobody turned up because people might talk. In the end, I was inviting in anyone who came to the door just to have an adult conversation, from Jehovah's Witnesses to double glazing salesmen,' he says.

'I got a personal experience of what it's like being at home with young children. Having had a career then spending two or three years looking after the children before going back to work. I know what it is like trying to make your way again, explaining why you were out of circulation for a period of time and facing all the challenges around people’s perceptions of what it is to be a carer.'

With this experience and perspective, Jonathan signed up to become a CIPD parent returner mentor and searched the portal hoping to match with someone fairly local to him in Wakefield, Yorkshire. Caroline Gill, who’d had a career in customer insight and management in the financial services sector and had taken voluntary redundancy to spend just under three years looking after her children, fitted the bill.

'With this programme you have to write a little about yourself and the mentees write about themselves. How Caroline described herself and what she wanted to achieve chimed with me,' he explains.

They arranged to meet in a hotel coffee bar halfway between where they both lived, to have a chat and see whether they wanted to work together. 'That’s really important in mentoring,' he says, 'because it’s not like a line management relationship. You need to be able to understand each other and to be open in a way you often are not in other work relationships.'

It’s all about the mentee’s agenda

Every mentor has their own way of working and Jonathan confesses he is not very structured about this, preferring to allow the mentee to lead the conversation. With a long history of mentoring and coaching, and having picked up many tools and techniques along the way, he works with a mental checklist that he ticks off but, as he says, 'it doesn’t matter how we get there.'

'By doing this, it’s not my agenda and maybe things will come up that we hadn’t originally considered. So I let the mentee talk and ask questions along the way, just to probe and challenge.'

At the initial meeting, Jonathan and his mentee moved quickly from introductions into analysing and investigating her situation, both leaving with an action plan. Like so many parent returners, Caroline was unsure whether her skills could transfer into a different role and sector and was questioning whether she was still of value to an organisation.

'I asked her to tell her story and I simply affirmed all the amazing things that she'd done. What happens is that, when you get things wrong in business, you find out straight away. But if you do things well, you're lucky to find out at all. To hear someone saying out loud that you have done things well, you’ve made some good choices and you have skills that are valuable to people makes a big difference,' Jonathan says.

They agreed he would look at her CV while she made contacts with her network and they would catch up by telephone two weeks later. In terms of her CV, it was strongly focused on Caroline’s technical achievements, so Jonathan worked with her to focus on the outputs and bottom-line impacts, as well as highlighting the transferable leadership skills she had and making the overall CV shorter.

During the two-week gap, Caroline applied for a job and emailed questions to Jonathan, who was able to give some pointers. She received an interview in which she had to do a presentation, something she hadn’t previously done at an interview.

'It was about helping think through what might happen in the interview, particularly managing nerves and being able to say the right thing. Going to an interview when you've already got a job is one thing but going to an interview when you haven't got a job and you've been out of that work environment for a while just brings added pressure.'

The advice must have worked, however, as Caroline was offered the job.

What makes a good mentor?

Jonathan brings an unusual perspective to mentoring, having gone from being a squash coach to a mature student and full-time carer. He also has experience of helping to turn around a major high street retailer, and of running his own L&D business for two decades. Having closed that business three years ago, he went backpacking for six months through south east Asia, Australia and New Zealand with his wife in what he calls a 'life changing experience.' They then returned to the UK and completely downsized their lives.

So what does he think makes a good mentor? Jonathan says that being a good listener, being able to understand the strengths mentees don’t recognise in themselves and giving them the confidence to try things in a safe space, are all important. But he says sports coach Dave Alred sums it up best when he said mentoring is about finding opportunities for people to practise things and then managing the internal emotions of the person you're coaching or mentoring. By doing those two things you are taken to places that neither of you have been before.

'It boils down to creating an environment where you can have these conversations and then managing the emotions of the person that you're talking with, so that they're able to go out and do things they didn't think they could do before.'

Anyone can become a mentor

Jonathan is positive about the overall mentoring experience and has no hesitation in recommending the scheme to others, noting that anyone can become a mentor. 'It helps any leader or manager in any business to be able to share their experience with someone else. You're not coaching, there's no line management relationship, you're not having to be concerned with political niceties. It's about having a relationship with someone, sharing your experience and seeing that person flourish as a result of that. And it will make those people better leaders and managers.

'Mentoring is life changing. If you are willing to take a risk, the benefits outweigh any perceived downsides of doing it. Mentoring is a risk worth taking.'

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