“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image,
but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”

Steven Spielberg



Ever find yourself wishing for a shoulder, a sounding board, a source of advice, someone who’ll impart wisdom and insight? A friend, work peer, maybe a more senior colleague in another department could be the idea mentor.

What does it take, and is it for you?

what is it?

It isn’t coaching:-

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However, mentoring is: 

  • a partnership: between a more senior adviser (the mentor) and a protégé or learner (mentee)
  • a process: of ongoing support and development to hone the mentee’s intuitive rather than purely technical skills

what’s in it for you?
Handled well, mentoring leads to reciprocal learning and development for both the mentor and mentee:

For the mentee

  • increased self-confidence: as the mentor helps the mentee develop more effective management skills
  • light which might otherwise take years to dawn: as the mentee gains insight from the mentor’s advice
  • clearer understanding of self: as the mentor gives the mentee a view of how others might see them
  • wider business perspective: as the usually more senior mentor passes on their business acumen to the mentee

For the mentor

  • a chance to hone their own management skills: by developing the mentee
  • increased sensitivity to the concerns of people further down the organisation: by hearing the issues faced by the more junior mentee
  • new perspective: e.g. by being challenged from another point of view

What are the pitfalls?

Handled badly, however, mentoring can be seen as: –

  • a form of favouritism and ingratiation
  • a sign of weakness – with the mentee is perceived to be hanging onto someone’s coat tails
  • a throwback to Tom brown’s school days – with the mentor lording it over the underling
  • brainwashing – you may want a Socrates, but be saddled with a Svengali

What does it take?

The mentor’s role is NOT to: –

  • deal with easy matters first: hopefully they’ll be too tired and disinterested by the time you get around to the meaty items
  • stand up: you’ll instantly gain command of the room
  • call the meeting: it’s your meeting and you’ll do what you want to
  • leave important issues to AOB – hopefully, they’ll have gone by then, so you can decide in their absence
  • provide wordy minutes: they’ll never wade through them to see that decision that went your way
  • provide late minutes: they’ll have forgotten

How does it work?

Once a match is made, the mentor and mentee must agree the basis on which the relationship will proceed: –

  • set the boundaries: this includes the basic ‘admin’ issues e.g. how often to meet, and the range of what can be discussed and what is out of bounds (e.g. some mentees may prefer never to wander into personal issues)
  • determine mentee’s goals and needs: can range from the strategic to the personal; e.g. they may need to solve a problem with a particular project, clarify career direction, or resolve a clash with a colleague in the office
  • stick to the agenda: be business-like: you are not there just for a friendly chat, but to stretch and grow; meet when you say you will meet, come with an agenda of points to discuss, and set milestones to assess what you have learned
  • keep assessing the relationship: are both mentor and mentee learning? are milestones being reached? are meetings frequent enough and valued by both mentor and mentee? are the rules of engagement begin respected?

Are you ready?

Still interested? Then just know what is expected from you personally? Whether as mentor or mentee, would you be prepared to: –

  • take it seriously? You will need to give the necessary time and involvement
  • share your own experiences?
  • including your mistakes?
  • give and receive honest feedback? even when it may be hard to hear

Tough decision, but would you rather be left to your own devices?