January is National Mentoring Month, and we’re celebrating the positive impact mentoring can have on us. In the article below, we discuss what Mentoring is!
What is mentoring?
• Mentoring is a process for helping someone develop in their current job and also for the future.
• A mentor is a person who offers support and guidance to another; an experienced and trusted counsellor or friend (Oxford English Dictionary).
• Mentoring is help by one person to another in making significant transitions in knowledge, work or thinking (Megginson and Clutterbuck, Mentoring in Action).
It is often characterised by:
• Focusing on the overall development and aspirations of the mentee
• The relationship being professional and also, to some extent, personal
• Mentees sharing whatever critical issues which impact their professional and personal success.
• A long term relationship between the mentor and the mentee
• The employee’s manager is not a critical partner in the mentoring process
Who is the mentoring for?
Mentoring is suitable for almost everyone across the organisation. A mentor can offer the right kind of support for you if YOU are:
• Willing to take responsibility for your goals
• Willing to reflect on what you want out of the mentoring relationship
• Willing to seek out and identify the best mentor for you
• Able to commit to driving the relationship forward
And want to learn and develop by working with someone who can:
• Provide feedback
• Help them find their own solutions, but provide some advice and expertise
• Help develop specific skills
How does a mentoring relationship work?
The mentee initiates the first meeting/contact, where they establish whether the mentor would be able to meet the mentee’s needs. If rapport is established and both parties feel that they can work well together, they can take the conversation further. Initially, establish the boundaries of the relationship, probable length, when and how will they ‘meet’, ways of working, confidentiality, and most importantly: learning and development objectives.
There is no fixed time that mentoring relationships are expected to last. This is entirely a matter for the mentee and mentor to decide and dependent on the mentee’s needs.
The purpose of mentors
Mentors help people learn and develop. Mentoring, therefore, has the potential to make a valuable contribution in terms of personal and organisational development. It supports personal and professional development, and it promotes knowledge sharing across the organisation.
Benefits for the mentee can include:
• Increased confidence/self-esteem
• Increased sense of value within the organisation
• Help and support
• Safe learning environment (can be open about vulnerabilities)
• Increased understanding of the organisation
• Focus on specific skills (i.e. coaching from the mentor)
• Ideas about career opportunities
• Training in new skills (financial, staff management, committee membership etc.)
The benefits are not all one way. Mentors too can gain a sense of value within the organisation as well as satisfaction from passing on their skills and wisdom; also greater understanding of the organisation and its issues and problems, as well as improving one-to-one communication skills, coaching skills and management skills.
The role of the mentor
Mentoring is separate from the line management chain. Your mentor will not act as an instructor, tutor or personal friend to you. Instead they will provide an additional resource and complement the relationships you have already developed within and outside your organisation.
Mentors are volunteers. They can be more senior within the organisation (offering wisdom and organisational awareness), or external to the organisation, may offer insights into particular skills and experiences (including project management, change processes or leadership) and they can be from a different affiliate (sharing their knowledge of their affiliate).
Key aspects of mentoring
The idea behind mentoring relationships is that more successful, senior partner, the mentor, wishes to pass on some of what they have learned to someone else who will benefit from their experience. Some organisations run formal mentoring programmes that match mentors with learners. Less formal mentoring relationships can also work well.
Mentoring programmes tend to have four key elements: improving performance, career development, counselling and sharing knowledge. There may also an element of the mentor acting as a sponsor for the learner.
Mentoring relationships, especially formal ones organised through a mentoring programme, are often entered into with a defined time limit, or a defined goal. Such a framework can make it easier for both parties to agree than an open-ended commitment. For example, a learner may agree to work with a mentor for a year, or until they achieve a desired promotion. After they have reached the time limit or achieved the goal, terms can be renegotiated. The mentor and learner may decide to continue to work together, especially if the relationship has been productive and helpful to both.
The mentor will take responsibility for developing the relationship, building rapport, and ensuring that the climate of meetings is conducive to learning for the person being mentored (the mentee). The mentor will also take responsibility for the process of meetings and the relationship more generally, making sure that a learning contract is agreed, however informal, and that regular reviews are undertaken to ensure that the arrangement works for both parties. As time passes the mentee is likely to take on some of these responsibilities.
The benefits of mentoring
For the learner:
• The opportunity to explore their learning and benefit from someone else’s focus and expertise, either in a particular subject or in supporting the learning process
• Learning and development can often be pushed to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list when we are busy, and a mentoring relationship brings it forward again, not least because of the need to prepare for and then attend a mentoring session
For the mentor the benefits may be more subtle:
• It is good to feel that we are doing something valuable and supporting someone else.
• A mentoring relationship may also be a useful opportunity to work on a leadership style, particularly coaching, or other communication skills without comments from co-workers about the change.
Learn more with a mentor
Research around career success shows that those who actively seek out feedback increase their self-awareness and have a greater likelihood of career success.
Executives who work proactively with a coach or mentor on their career plan also find that positive encouragement, not negative criticism, is what makes a big difference. Learners need to take responsibility for their own progress and commit themselves to the mentoring engagement.
Choose someone with a commitment to developing others, with a mindset that encourages those being mentored to take responsibility for themselves and to realise their potential. This is not about words of wisdom, or sage advice based dropped from above. A mentor is someone with the experience to help you formulate questions and assess the pros and cons of a variety of approaches and solutions.
The idea is that mentoring helps you to learn and grow with a view to becoming a more independent and experienced manager rather than being reliant on your mentor. So good questioning skills and the ability to envisage alternatives and explore innovative solutions are more important than a directive approach.
A good mentor should be supportive but also prepared to challenge your thinking and perspective. Ideally your mentor will suspend judgment and encourage you to reflect on a range of options. Rapport is essential in establishing a relationship that is open and honest so you will experience maximum benefit from the mentoring.
A mentor is someone whose integrity you trust so that their input, whether positive or negative, is credible and effective. A mentor raises issues you may not want to discuss but gives you room to explore and focus. A mentor should challenge you to set stretch goals for yourself, not letting you settle for the status quo or put up with second-best, helping you to reach for goals you might not have set on your own.
Essentially a mentor is not there to tell you what to do but to help you work out for yourself what is right for you and what will help you achieve your goals and fulfil your potential. Mentoring is supposed to be collaborative, with both parties having input on topics for discussion.
A mentoring relationship is not about power; it should centre on learning. Both parties need to be in accord on the general goals and direction for the relationship, adjusting them as necessary. Mentoring is intended to be collaborative, with both parties having input on topics for exploration.