What is Mentoring?
A mentor is someone who offers personal support to others. If we are in need of support, a mentor is someone whose experiences we can draw upon and someone we can look up to as a role model. Our mentor will generously give of his/her time and will care enough to listen to us and offer a helping hand. Whilst there are numerous definitions of mentoring, in this publication it is seen as:
a relationship in which a more experienced person supports a less experienced one through a challenge, transition or difficulty.
In essence, mentoring involves a one to one conversation. Through this conversation mutual trust and rapport is developed which enables mentor and mentee to share experiences and explore an issue together. ...it should lead to the development of personal goals and a strategy for achieving them.
But what would I actually do as a Mentor?
In essence, mentoring is a one to one conversation. Through this conversation mutual trust and rapport is developed which enables mentor and mentee to share experiences and explore an issue together. They reflect together on the issue and by doing so gain a greater understanding of it. Ideally mentees (and often mentors) will also gain greater insight into themselves and their situation. The conversation should lead to the development of personal goals and a strategy for achieving them. This sometimes leads to follow up action by the mentor on behalf of the mentee. At its best, it leads to personal growth and development.
As in all conversations mentoring involves listening, speaking, questioning and answering, exchanging experiences, information and opinion. Sometimes the mentor will challenge the mentee to look at the situation from another angle. It can also include periods of silent reflection. The skills involved will be discussed in chapter two.
Initially mentor and mentee must get to know each other and establish a positive atmosphere of mutual respect and trust. Hopefully, they will develop mutual empathy. This may take some time and should not be rushed.
A frequent error made by inexperienced mentors is to attempt to resolve the mentees issues at first meeting by coming up with, what seems to the mentor to be, a sensible way forward. However, what the mentee often needs at this stage is the time and space to talk things through with a sympathetic listener. The mentor (as listener) should ensure that the mentee thoroughly reviews the situation and identifies alternative courses of action and their likely consequences before rushing to decisions.
The most important activity occurs when the mentee talks and the mentor listens.
Where the mentee is struggling to make a decision or to find a solution to a problem, it is not the task of the mentor to come up with ’the answer’. Rather, the mentor should be supporting the mentee to make his/her own decisions. In developmental mentoring these may well be different from those preferred by the mentor. However, the mentor has a crucial role in trying to ensure that the mentee does not simply decide on the first course of action that comes to mind. Remember that our decisions can lead to unintended consequences for others, which an outsider such as a mentor might be able to alert us to.
As mentors, our role is to ensure that any decisions made by the mentee have been thought through thoroughly and that all the various options have been identified and considered. Explaining to a mentor and responding to questions from a mentor forces the mentee to clarify the issues and the alternatives in order to put them into words.
Once decisions have been made the mentee may need some support carrying them through. Our task here is to empower the mentee. As far as possible we help them to develop the skills they need to implement their decisions themselves. Although from time to time we might need to act as their advocate or to use our networks of contacts to bring in additional support.