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Have you ever had that moment where someone asks you a work question that seems quite difficult but you just knowthe answer? Because… well, because you’ve got years of experience under your belt and you have all the knowledge that comes with that.
Maybe it’s time to use that knowledge and experience to help someone younger and on their way up?
In a way, that’s what mentoring is: it’s where a senior or more experienced person (the mentor) acts as an advisor or guide to a younger or less experienced colleague (the mentee). The mentor helps the mentee with significant challenges, drawing on their own experience, acting as a sounding board and helping the mentee find their way through. The mentor may also suggest new challenges to help the mentee stretch and grow.
The relationship can be incredibly rewarding for both parties and drive real change. Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple) was a mentor to Mark Zuckerberg (co-founder of Facebook). They would take lunchtime walks round Palo Alto in California’s Silicon Valley, discussing how Zuckerberg might develop Facebook. When Steve Jobs died, Zuckerberg said, “Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world. I will miss you.”
Essentially, mentoring is where one person helps another by enabling them to understand their strengths, weaknesses and goals. As the mentor is standing outside and looking in, they can add a clarity that can be difficult for the mentee to perceive. The mentor provides perspective, support and encouragement.
Mentoring isn’t always about work – it can be about other areas of life – but in most cases it is related to work, and often organised by the workplace. Usually, the business mentor and the mentee are in the same or very similar industries. It’s a long-term relationship and it has to work for both parties – that requires mutual respect, trust, shared values and, above all, good communication.
A good mentor will help the mentee come to their own conclusions – crucially, the mentor will not tell the mentee what to do. Instead, they will ask open questions and listen actively to the response. A mentor might point in the rough direction but they will seldom spell out an exact route.
This is one of the ways in which a mentor differs from a coach.
Coaches tend to work in a fixed, short timeframe of six months to a year, with regular, structured meetings, focusing on a particular outcome. Mentors tend to have longer term relationships of a year or two, or more. The meetings are more informal, with the focus on the mentee’s development, taking a more holistic approach.
Both approaches are perfectly valid but have different goals. In coaching sessions, the agenda is co-created by the coach and the client. The desired outcome is normally specific and measurable. In contrast, the agenda in mentoring is set by the mentee and facilitated by the mentor; desired outcome scan shift and change over time. The outcomes are less specific and, therefore, less measurable.
To learn more about what people can expect when signing up to be coached, have a look our Career Coaching package.
A key difference between coaching and mentoring is that coaches offer a professional service that is paid for, whereas mentors normally offer their professional expertise for free.
Mentors tend not to be paid as there is a focus on a two-way, mutually beneficial relationship. Ideally, they are motivated to impart their knowledge to help the growth of an individual or business. It can also look impressive on a CV, especially if you wanted to go into paid opportunities such as career coaching or consulting.
There are several types of mentoring; below are some of the key types. Consider which type might suit you best but, bear in mind, a mentee may prefer a different approach.
In traditional mentoring, a mentee and mentor are matched based on location, the mentee’s needs and mentor’s specialities. Mentees and mentors are often matched through mentoring programmes (such as the Help to Grow scheme) or through businesses. One-to-one mentoring involves regularly meeting with a client and helping them with their problems. The content of the mentoring is very much mentee-driven: it is the responsibility of the mentee to determine exactly what they want to get out of the mentorship.
Distance mentoring is similar to traditional mentoring, but the mentee and mentor are in different locations, and communicate virtually. This has the advantage of making the most of both parties’ time but it is more difficult to create the personal relationship that grows and thrives with traditional face-to-face mentoring. However, if you feel that distance mentoring would fit better into your schedule, this may be the answer.
This is where one mentor works with several mentees at the same time in the same group. The mentees are normally from the same or similar sectors, and at a roughly similar stage of their career or business. It can be really productive as the mentees not only learn from the mentor but also from each other and can give group support. However, it does demand a lot from the mentor. They must be organised, have great management skills and be used to juggling the needs of several clients at once.
Team mentoring is similar to group mentoring, though here multiple mentors work with a group of mentees. It makes use of the mentees learning as a team, while drawing on all the different skills and areas of expertise offered by the mentors.
Although mentoring is usually where an older mentor guides a younger mentee, that’s not always the case. In reverse mentoring, a more junior employee mentors a senior employee in certain areas they may not have experience it. This flips the traditional mentoring dynamic on its head, giving senior leaders the opportunity to take on the role of student and gain a new perspective. With the increase of multi-generational workplaces and the need for the over 50s to be productive and fulfilled members of the workforce, reverse mentoring is set to grow. Typically, the issues covered are themed around technology, use of digital business programmes, social media and so on.
You will need some key skills to become a mentor. Normally, that will mean expertise and success in a particular area. You will also be building a relationship with a mentee, so you will need good soft skills, especially being able to listen actively and communicate empathetically. Finally, you will need good organisational skills as you will be meeting at regular intervals.
There are several programmes that will train you to become a mentor and match you with clients. For example, the Help to Grow scheme offers a largely government funded 12-week course in mentoring. The scheme then matches you with eligible small businesses which you will then mentor for a period of 10 hours to help them thrive.
There are also mentoring schemes run by charities. Some are aimed at specific minority groups such as young people, those with a disability or those with a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background. They include:
Some mentoring schemes aim to encourage people from under-represented groups to enter a particular career or sector. These include:
If you are thinking, like many over-50s, of starting your own small business, gaining the help of a mentor could be really helpful. Help To Grow can help you find someone who is suitable.
To make the most out of being a mentee, you must be proactive and eager to learn. After all, the mentee determines what they want to get out of the mentorship. You will need to have a good idea of your goals and what skills you want to learn from the mentor.
It’s never too late to learn.
Written by James Marsh