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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.

What is Mentoring

Mentoring is increasingly recognised as a vital component in any business toolkit for the 21st century - but what is the role of a mentor? Ask any group of individuals and their ideas are sure to differ widely.

In general, mentors are usually more experienced, are frequently more senior than the learner and provide support, encouragement and guidance.

Mentoring is not only a valuable modern business tool but is also an age-old tradition, valued by countless generations. In recent times, the mentoring tradition has been followed through craft apprenticeships and modern-day "buddy" arrangements.

These definitions of mentoring reflect different yet related ideas.

"Off-line help by one person to another in making significant transitions in knowledge, work or thinking."

" A mentor is that person who achieves a one to one developmental relationship with a learner; and one whom the learner identifies as having enabled personal growth to take place"

What do mentors do?

Mentors perform roles in four key categories:-

  • Coach e.g. by showing how to carry out a task or activity;
  • Facilitate e.g. by creating opportunities for learners to use new skills;
  • Counsel e.g. by helping learners explore the consequences of potential decisions;
  • Network e.g. by referring learners to others when the mentor’s experience is insufficient.

She or he may achieve these in a variety of ways, for example by challenging the learner’s assumptions, encouraging the learner to explore new ideas and different ways of thinking, by setting "development" tasks for the learner and simply by sharing a different view of the matter under discussion.

What can mentoring achieve ?

Organisations of every size and type use mentoring, according to Amanda Rockhill of The Mentor Exchange. Mentoring can be found, for example, in the BBC, the Royal Mail, Shell, GP surgeries, hospital management, colleges, universities and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

Mentoring is widely used to:

  • help new employees acclimatise to the working environment;
  • facilitate better communication between different functions or management tiers;
  • provide support to isolated individuals - from women returners to board directors;
  • promote and support changes in the culture of an organisation;
  • provide support and a safety valve for rapidly changing environments and the use of new technologies.

Who can be a mentor ?

Usually, the mentor will be more senior than the learner and have no line responsibility for the learner. Your mentor should not also be your manager. Mentors do not have to be management gurus. However, they should be interested in developing themselves and others and should be someone you respect and can confide in.

Why have a mentor ?

Think back to a time when you had to make a difficult decision or do something you didn’t feel ready to attempt. You may have been fortunate enough to have someone who supported you and helped you to resolve the situation in your own way. If not, imagine the difference it would have made to have talked it through with someone you respected. They may have tested some of your assumptions or helped you see the matter from a different perspective.

A full range of on-going services are available from Business Link Hertfordshire for a successful mentoring programme, including:

  • defining the individual and programme objectives
  • marketing the programme
  • design and delivery of mentor/learning training
  • development of support/learning materials
  • effective use of multi-media technology
  • on-going support through our HR Advisers, Monthly Mentors Forum and Mentoring Network.