What is mentoring?
Mentoring is a long-term process whereby a mentor tutors one or many 'mentees.' Mentoring focuses on improving mentees personal and professional development rather than simply improving job performance. Rather than providing clear-cut instructions on what should be done, mentors must help mentees identify their own flaws by providing insight into the mind of a professional. The ultimate goal is to have mentees emulate the mind-set and thought process of the more skilled mentor.
Mentoring vs. coaching
Mentoring and coaching have very little in common. Coaching is an impersonal, short-term and quantifiable process. Mentoring depends on creating personal connections, is long-term and will often only have qualitative outputs.
A mentor is a servant-leader. That means letting mentees take the initiative and then correcting behavior reactively rather than acting pro-actively. Mentors need to enable mentees to act in 'correct' ways that they first identify, this encourages new thought patterns and new approaches to problem solving. Coaching only serves to reinforce singular thought patterns.
Coaching is, by nature, an impersonal endeavor. Coaching helps students follow set structures, slowing moving through processes much like a checklist. Coaching is useful in some industries where there is only one 'correct answer' to a problem. Mentoring is best applied to roles where critical thinking is a necessity. Mentoring is a deeply personal, it requires mentors to understand mentees thought processes and personal biases. Mentors must 'draw out' desired personal traits, while guiding mentees away from undesirable habits or value-judgments.
Traits of a mentor
Mentors must be patient and they must be subject-matter experts. It's important that mentors can self-analyze and treat the mentoring process as a journey of personal improvement. Mentors that are fixed by personal values, ideologies or biases cannot hope to sufficiently understand mentees and thus shape their habits.
Mentors must remain an authoritative figure, so far as they are a reliable source of information, but they must never assume a position of moral, political or ideological superiority. Mentors must position themselves as equals to mentees to establish and maintain trust and understanding among mentees.
If you'd like to know more about mentoring and what it means to be a mentor, read more useful information at the National Mentoring Resource Center.