I need to show my hand upfront.
I am an active volunteer mentor. I am the Director of Mentoring for HerCentury, Shanghai. I have benefited from having great mentors throughout my career. I am, and have been for a long time, a strong believer in the power of mentoring and so my bias in this article is simple and clear – I think mentoring works. And I think it offers amazing opportunities for both the mentee, and the mentor.
The question I get most often is – ‘What exactly is mentoring? It’s the same as coaching right? Just like a friendly advisor?”
So let me explain, from my perspective…
What Mentoring Is
According to Wikipedia, mentoring is ‘a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person….It is a learning and development partnership between someone with vast experience and someone who wants to learn.’
At its simplest level, mentoring is a relationship that offers a relaxed and helpful additional perspective to someone who is looking to grow and develop their skills. Mentoring has been shown to boost employee engagement & satisfaction and increase the ability to succeed as a leader. Both mentees and mentors are statistically shown to be promoted more often than those who do not take part in a mentoring programme. What’s not to love about those benefits?
It empowers mentees to take the next step in their own development – thanks to knowledge sharing and supportive ‘cheerleading’ from their advocate - their mentor.
The relationship is most often based on relevant ‘expertise’ areas and the ‘weight’ of responsibility typically lies with the mentee to define what she (or he) wants to achieve from the relationship – what are their goals and objectives, when offered the opportunity to build a relationship with someone more experienced and knowledgeable?
Mentors are able to provide a safe and neutral 'sounding board', assuring total confidentiality for their mentees. Good mentors have no agenda other than assisting their mentees in their development and the reaching of their goals.
Mentoring involves helping mentees to develop their career, skills and expertise - often drawing upon the experiences of the mentor in the process.
And for Mentors – what’s the benefit?
Well, mentoring offers the chance to improve communication skills and develop leadership abilities. It reinforces their knowledge base – and helps to grow their confidence in areas of expertise.
The relationship with the mentee can often bring a fresh perspective to their day to day issues and, most significantly for me, mentors get to feel a real sense of fulfillment from ‘paying it forwards’ to the next generation.
What mentoring isn’t
First and foremost, mentoring isn’t only about solving the mentee’s problems. It’s not about giving them the answer or telling them what to do. It’s about helping them to find additional perspectives and guiding them to finding their own solution. (If you want to know how to fix a specific problem – want to know what exact steps to take – find an advisor or a consultant.)
It’s not the same as coaching. Coaches are trained specifically in coaching and may not have industry knowledge and experience outside of their coaching expertise. They may well not be the ‘best’ at the subject matter thay coach on – but through powerful questions and strategic direction, they are able to generate the best results for you – in focus, direction and action. They provide an accountability system for you so that you can continue improving and moving forward.
It’s not about assuming that the Mentor knows best. But they’ve probably faced similar issues before and so can offer alternative perspectives and options on how the mentee can proceed.
It’s not unstructured. Informal, probably yes. Lakcing in rigour and focus? No. (Well, not in the best programmes.)
It’s not a role to take on just to look good on your resume. It requires time, commitment and energy. It is not something to be done half heartedly…
The Value of Mentoring
The real value of mentoring lies in the people – the mentors and the mentees.