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Jonathan Wade: surprising benefits of being a mentor

Jonathan Wade, Head of Spatial Planning at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea took part in the RTPI pilot mentoring scheme NURTURE.

As a younger planner I would have jumped at the opportunity of having a mentor - someone who could have helped me reach my potential and given me confidence and renewed vigour, rather than at times just chugging along with the day job, (important though this is).

I think most of us enter the planning profession because we want to make a difference, but clearly it does not always feel like that, especially with the challenges that face us all daily.

Mentoring – either being a mentor or being a mentee - is a really positive process and whilst my 30 plus years working for a local authority in Development Management and Spatial Planning has been very rewarding, a mentor when I was younger would have given me a boost and given me a clearer idea of what I wanted and where I was going.

Benefits of mentoring

I had done some mentoring before, as part of the Future of London Leaders programme so I knew that it was more than just transferring knowledge and advice. When the RTPI pilot scheme came up I did not hesitate to volunteer. However, I was not necessarily expecting forming a bond with someone new to be quite so enjoyable.

Most mentors will say that they want to give something back to others and have that feel good factor, but I found it much more than this. Being a mentor helps your own sense of fulfilment, sometimes in a day without highlights (and we all have those days) – which can give a boost to your own morale and performance.

Inevitably when I volunteered, I had the thought, what will the mentee think of me? Am I any good at this? Am I what they are looking for? However, I would say to put these thoughts to one side and just jump in.

I love talking, sometimes too much, but being a mentor helps you strengthen your active listening and communication skills, and also gives you an opportunity to home in and reflect on your own leadership and management skills. Listening is not always something that comes naturally to most of us.

If you want to expand your professional working partnerships, polish your skills and build your own confidence whilst helping a planning colleague, I cannot recommend mentoring too highly.     

My mentee worked in a different planning system and was involved in some big worthwhile public projects in Scotland, which involved a variety of skills and behaviours being brought into play – I certainly learnt a lot about crosscutting projects and the close links between economic development and planning.

It gave me a fresh perspective on life and challenges outside London and we mutually shared ideas and approaches to challenges. It was interesting that many of the same issues arose, such as politics, in all its guises, which makes life so interesting. But looking at the bigger picture and focusing on strategic matters and the influential players helped provide a framework for our conversations.

We had a few chuckles along the way, but I think they best remain between us. I don’t pretend to be a planning guru - far from it - but if you want to expand your professional working partnerships, polish your skills and build your own confidence whilst helping a planning colleague, I cannot recommend mentoring too highly.     

Find out more about the NURTURE programme here.

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