What is mentoring and why is it relevant right now?

Share your expertise Metoring image of two light bulbs sharing power

We’re in the middle of a crisis, and managers have lots to deal with.

  • Perhaps they’re trying to support employees who are fearful about the future
  • Maybe they’re dealing with the new challenge of leading a team while working from home
  • They could be struggling in self-isolation but still need to manage and develop their people

Or worse, they may be sick and/or worried about loved ones.

In these times of challenge, mentoring for them and by them is more important than ever.

What is mentoring?

Different people have very different ideas about what mentoring is. For me, I would sum it up as “Learning through sharing” – to share and learn from experiences (your own and others).

Mentoring is also a bit like internet dating.  One person is looking for particular qualities, skills and experiences that can be offered by another.

And just like dating, it’s a collaborative relationship of equals.  It’s not about one person telling the other what to do.  It’s about one person helping the other reflect on their own experience, make informed decisions and act upon the ideas that are generated. And as such, it’s enriching and satisfying for both partners.

The Origins of Mentoring

The word mentor originates from Greek mythology. The story is that King Odysseus was leaving to journey and fight a war from which he might not return. He entrusted his son’s preparation as ruler to a wise counsellor, named Mentor, not knowing that Mentor was actually the goddess Athena in disguise.

Dictionaries tend to define a mentor as: “Wise guide” which is in line with the origins of the word and the traditional views of mentoring.

The Mentoring Mind-set

The mentoring mind-set has shifted over the years from a traditional mind-set to a more contemporary mind-set.

A traditional mind-set is that:

  • The mentor picks a protégé
  • A mentor is someone more senior
  • You should have a lot in common with your mentor
  • Mentoring is for young people
  • Mentors tell you what to do
  • Mentors give advice

More contemporary thinking is that:

  • The mentee seeks mentors
  • A mentor is someone you can learn from regardless of age or position
  • Difference provides potential for greater discovery, challenge & growth
  • Mentoring is for anyone at any stage of life or career
  • A mentor is a sounding board
  • Mentors assist your decision-making & problem-solving

How Does Mentoring Differ from Coaching?

You might, at first, think that mentoring and coaching are very similar. They are not the same but the differences are quite subtle – it can also depend on who you ask.

There is a growing prevalence of mentoring and coaching both within the workplace and outside of it. Typically, within an organisation, alumni group or association, coaching and mentoring are voluntary roles.

There’s been a rise too in professional mentoring and coaching.  There are business coaches and mentors, who usually take you through a systematic process of business development.   

There are also experts in their field who offer a kind of “I’ll show you how to do what I do” programme that they call mentoring.  And, there are accredited coaches trained in various techniques for goal achievement.

Mentoring and coaching both:

  • Provide one to one interaction to achieve personalised learning and growth;

  • Cater to individual needs, personal styles and time constraints;

  • Can be conducted face to face or from remote locations;

  • Complement formal training and educational experiences;

  • Process real life issues, problems and decisions;

  • Facilitate access to information and choices about new behaviours and actions;

  • Support the achievement of positive outcomes.

The Differences Are…

The differences between coaching and mentoring are probably best understood by looking at the purpose of conversations and the processes used to have those conversations. You need to keep in mind that we are talking about dynamic relationships that sometimes don’t neatly fit in one box.

Coaching is used when there is a well-defined goal that is based on improving skills and performance.

Mentoring is appropriate for career planning, providing general guidance, setting and achieving goals, making decisions or facilitating problem solving.

Most of the time, the process is toward the less directive end of the scale so that mentees take self-responsibility for decisions and actions. Mentoring enables people to set and achieve their own goals, explore issues or problems and make informed decisions about how to handle situations or manage their career.

Developmental relationships are rich and complex and not static and usually encompass more than one approach. Personally, I believe that it is more important that both parties in a developmental relationship understand and agree about the purpose and process of their conversations, rather than get hung up whether it is labelled “mentoring” or “coaching”.

Right now, managers and mentors need to have meaningful conversations with employees.  They need to help build resilience and cope with massive changes and uncertainty. They need to help employees identify practical ways to boost their health, wellbeing and ability to cope.  They don’t need to have all the answers.  But they do need to have the right questions to help employees think things through. And they need an openness to sharing their own insights and experience.  That’s mentoring.

If you or your teams are struggling with the recent changes please get in touch, we’re here to help.

We have a resourced bank of free or low costs tools including our latest eBook M-Power. A Practical Guide to Mentoring in the Workplace. Plus we are running a FREE webinar “The Role of Mentoring in Developing Talent” in our regular schedule of free webinar Sign up and secure your place.

2 thoughts on “What is mentoring and why is it relevant right now?”

  1. list the rewards and consequences or reaching and not reaching your goal of being mentor.

    Identify major obstacles that could keep you from attaining your goal of being mentor.

  2. How to answer the following questions:

    Mentor should discuss what he/she sees as five objectives for the relationship.

    Mentee should also discuss what he/she sees as the five objectives of the relationship

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