Mentoring refers to a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.
It is a process for sharing knowledge relevant to work, career, or professional development. The intent is to develop another’s capabilities through a one-on-one relationship that is outside a formal organizational structure. It can be face-to-face or via technology, and held over a sustained period of time. Mentors come either from within one’s own organization or externally, even outside one’s sector. They provide insight, guidance, and often pointed advice and direction, based on their own experience and expertise. Effective mentoring requires agreed upon goals, scheduled meetings, and evaluation of outcomes.
What’s the difference between mentoring and coaching?
There is often confusion between mentoring and coaching because one of the functions of a good mentor is to coach a mentee. Although mentors use coaching skills to serve the mentee, mentoring involves additional tasks, which can include:
- Being a role model -> performing actions and displaying behaviours specific to a given
- Consulting -> sharing information about an industry, company or business unit relevant to
- Brokering -> making introductions to powerful, influential, and otherwise useful individuals in an industry or
- Advocating -> for a mentee’s work assignments or career development to support the mentee’s growth and development.
Good mentors also use a coaching process and coaching skills to help mentees:
- Be clear about big picture career
- Identify and develop leadership
- Develop sound structures and accountability to accomplish the important long-term development goals (vs. the urgent performance ones).
- Understand their own value and
- Leverage their best qualities and
Mentoring also helps you view the organization with a fresh eye toward its functions, politics and culture. You may, for example, gain a new understanding of how people from different generations or backgrounds approach their work and careers. Also, many mentors say they get personal satisfaction and fulfilment from their mentoring relationships. If you’re feeling burned out or cynical, mentoring can give you and your career a boost!
So, what does it take to become an effective mentor?
- Develop and manage the mentoring relationship. Initially, this involves assessing your own readiness and interest, selecting someone to mentor and getting to know each other. Over time, it means working to build trust, set goals and keep the mentoring relationship on track.
- Sponsor. Opening doors and advocating for your mentee can allow her to develop new skills and gain meaningful visibility. You can create and seek new opportunities for her and connect her with people in your network.
- Survey the enviroment. Mentors keep a watchful eye on the horizon, looking for both threatening organizational forces and positive opportunities. You want to be on the lookout for include rumors, people taking an adversarial position relative to the mentee, shortcuts through the system, low-visibility or no-win assignments and high-visibility or win-win assignments.
- Guide and councel. You may serve as a confidant, sounding-board and personal advisor to your mentee, especially as the relationship grows deeper over time. You may help your mentee understand conflict or explore ways to deal with problems, for example.
- Teach. Many mentors enjoy the teaching aspects of mentoring, which mean not only imparting their knowledge but also sharing their experiences and recommending assignments.
- Model. Just while observing you mentees pick up many things: ethics, values and standards; style, beliefs and attitudes; methods and procedures. They are likely to follow your lead, adapt your approach to their own style, and build confidence through their affiliation with you. As a mentor, you need to be keenly aware of your own behaviour.
- Motivate and inspire. Mentors support, validate and encourage their mentees. When you help your mentees link their own goals, values and emotions to the larger organizational agenda, they become more engaged in their work and in their own development.
You will not do all seven of these things all the time. Each mentoring situation is different, and you’ll need to shift your role depending on the person and their goals. For example, if you’re mentoring an up-and-coming project manager who will be moving on to another assignment soon, your focus may stay on her near- term challenges and preparation for the next step.
Always remember that Mentoring is a shared job. You aren’t solely responsible for creating a successful mentoring relationship. The person being mentored needs to be flexible, honest, open and receptive to feedback and insight. He or she needs to be willing and able to take action in pursuit of goals, to invest in learning and to take steps toward needed change. The mentee also needs to be willing to give you feedback and talk about what is or isn’t working well in the relationship.
- As you work together, you’ll make course corrections, the relationship will deepen, and you’ll discover that being a mentor is no longer an unnecessary, expendable task. Instead it will be a rewarding one for you that has a profound impact on others.
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