“A mentor is someone whose hindsight can become your foresight.” – Anonymous
A couple of years ago, a friend asked me to contribute to a training seminar covering the topic of mentors. As a management representative, I was asked to define the difference in less than 3 minutes without a pre-warning of the topic. The point of that video questioned a consistent misunderstanding of the differences between mentoring and coaching. The management feedback he received was surprising. How did so many managers become confused about the role of a mentor?
A better answer in hindsight is always an easy call. My answer should have involved detailing the objectives of mentors as they help individuals achieve their full potential. The standard mentoring process typically flows through examples of experiences and/or scenarios in the most relatable of contexts. That focus on shared experiences includes personal guidance and advice related to specific challenges which may include strategies or policies in the business world. First and foremost, remember that mentoring is a relationship between two individuals. The lesser experienced person is dependent on the mentor’s references of their greater knowledge and understanding to support the lessor’s development. You’ll also find several organizations use mentoring programs when people step into more senior leadership roles or move into new roles requiring unique skills. Often these corporate mentors are selected in the same manner as a personal mentor. Individuals with broader life experiences and ability to clearly frame career issues will always be the preferred mentors.
Decisions always seem a little easier when there’s a trusted sounding board for advice, right? The mentoring experience is always free of authority figures or power structures. At its best, mentoring is a two-way mutually beneficial setting for learning where the mentor provides advice, shares knowledge and experiences while teaching with a low pressure, self-discovery approach. When preparing, consider the adult learning approach as a preferred method to the teacher – student model. In the adult learning approach, each mentor is a source of knowledge and information as well as a Socratic questioner.
- Mentoring seeks to build a safe environment where the mentoree shares issues affecting their professional and personal success. Although specific competencies may be used as a basis for creating the relationship, its focus goes beyond these areas to include topics such as work-life balance, self-confidence, self-perception and how personal influences impact professional decisions.
- A successful mentoring relationship requires time for both partners to learn about one another and build trust to develop an environment of security in sharing issues. Plan to invest a significant amount of time with the relationship lasting 9-12 months
- Its purpose is to develop the individual not only for the current job, but also for the future. This distinction differentiates the role of the immediate manager and that of the mentor. It also reduces the possibility of creating conflict between the employee’s manager and the mentor. Throughout the process the immediate manager will be indirectly involved. The manager may offer suggestions to the employee on how to best apply the mentoring experience, but the manager has no link to the mentor and does not communicate about the project during the mentoring relationship. This exclusionary step helps maintain the mentoring relationship’s integrity.
- Mentoring requires a designing phase to determine the strategic purpose for mentoring. What are the focus areas of the relationship; the specific mentoring models; the specific components that will guide the relationship, especially the matching process.
Earlier the desired personal history and experiences were outlined. Every mentor will bring different strengths and areas of lesser strengths. Mentors do not need to be all-knowing experts and do not be bashful about placing a value on lessons learned from prior mistakes. The ongoing relationship will be a vehicle to affirm the value of and satisfaction from fulfilling a role as helper and developer of others.
A quick takeaway?
In mentoring relationships the individuals decide how long, how often and the areas of focus. If I’m you mentor, you probably picked me. During the relationship key aspects of mentoring are authority free environments with a two-way mutually beneficial relationship. Mentors are facilitators and teachers which allow the partners to discover their own direction.
Do your independent research and personal analysis of your stage in life. Give it some thought and decide if the mentoring strategy can benefit you.