The fund industry rediscovers Socrates

The fund industry has historically had a hire-and-fire image as a place with no training culture. But that is changing, as it embraces a diversity and inclusion agenda.

Fund managers have increasingly realised that a multicultural workforce translates into a richer variety of approaches to work-related challenges. Such approaches, in turn, are conducive to the kind of innovation that raises business performance.

They also require a richness of thinking, working and learning styles; not clones of the managers who have appointed them. After all, if two people are similar, what have they got to offer each other?

Fund managers have also realised that the old style ‘chalk and talk’ training is no longer enough. One of the key learning avenues now being increasingly adopted is mentoring.

Mentors focus on the individual learner as they develop through their career or life. They act as friends willing to play the part of adversary in challenging situations. They listen and question to encourage the learner to widen their own view. They prefer the ownership and direction of the relationship to lie with the learner. They accept ambiguity as a part of life, providing the learner with openings for change and autonomy.

Mentoring, thus, is about unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is about helping them to learn rather than teaching them. The earliest exponent of these self-learning devices was Socrates. But, over time, his philosophy was overtaken by the old behaviourist view that human beings are little more than empty vessels into which everything has to be poured. But over the past two decades, the Socratic approach has made a big comeback.

It is instructive to examine the origins of the word ‘mentoring’. It comes from Greek mythology, in which Odysseus, when setting out for Troy, entrusted his house and the education of his young son Telemachus to his friend, Mentor: “tell him all you know.” He thus unwittingly set limits to mentoring. But experience shows that it need not be so. Mentoring could be a powerful learning tool. It could deepen the talent pool of the fund industry – and reduce job hopping.

I have described all this more fully in my 18th March 2019 article in FTfm. If you are a subscriber you can access it here.

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