Got a round hole? Find a round peg.

As I wrote last year, mentors do an important job. Many organisations have excellent schemes for apprentices or graduate trainees and they deliver tremendous results. They have carefully planned development programmes, run by the best people. And they make adjustments when things change, as they surely do, over the years.

But some organisations don’t enjoy the same success despite their best intentions. It isn’t always immediately obvious why they under-deliver. The long timescales inherent in personal and professional development programmes don’t help. But one of the reasons is that the wrong people are involved.

Helping others isn’t for everyone. Some don’t enjoy it; they don’t see the value; or they don’t have the patience. Whatever the reason, some just aren’t cut out for it.

Square Peg Round Hole

We’ve all been learners at some point – whether learning to drive, to read or to write. It probably wasn’t always easy or comfortable, and was almost certainly frustrating. But with time and evidence of improvement, the frustration will have subsided and learning became easier. As we become older, we tend to discover our own learning style and understand what works well for us and what not so well. And almost certainly we learn what sort of guidance we need and how best to make use of it.

Teaching isn’t just about the process, the syllabus or the school – it’s critically dependent on the teacher. We can probably all remember a teacher who had a particularly profound impact on us in our formative years – for positive or negative reasons.

Consider this: Would you rather have your children taught by a brilliant mind who doesn’t enjoy teaching? Or by someone who isn’t as sharp intellectually but naturally nurtures, teaches, demonstrates, inspires, explains and grows others?

Where schools develop the basic knowledge and theory, work-placements and apprenticeships develop practical, real-world skills. Teachers are trained to develop their pupils; many supervisors receive little or no training in how to develop their trainees. In creating an effective training scheme, selection of the right people is an important consideration.

Organisations and individuals alike must play their own part in the development of young talent. Some key pointers:


  • Don’t try to put a square peg in a round hole. Find a round peg. If the “right” person isn’t good at nurturing a young trainee, then don’t keep trying – s/he isn’t the right person. Find someone else.
  • Do recognise other people in your organisation, and put them into a position of influence. You will grow not only your trainees, but their supervisors too.
  • Create a culture in which mentoring is actively encouraged.


  • Do remember the time when you yourself were learning, and finding it all daunting. Remember the person who helped you find your feet. Be that person.
  • Do give others space and encouragement. Be patient, be forgiving. You have the opportunity to shape and form young minds with behaviours and attitudes.
  • Be generous with your time and experience. These are probably the most valuable gifts which you have to offer.


Feel free to comment on this post – I’d be interested to hear your views.
Inixiti – Improving graduate employability. Click here to visit the website.


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