Be my mentor

Mentoring is identified as a key skill for good managers. After all, you would want all your good skills and techniques to be learned by some one else before you meet your maker. Having a good mentor goes a long way to help individuals reach their pinnacle levels in jobs but unfortunately, not many of us are lucky enough to meet that suitable person in the workplace.

What is mentoring?

A mentor is described as a senior level staff within your organization, usually a senior manager, who takes a special interest in a workers particular skills and deem the worker worthy of further development. Having a mentor helps the junior staff to get to know how the business works, picking up special knowledge from him/her. Mentoring is also a two way road, one lane serving the worker with knowledge and experience with the other lane providing the mentor with much needed hard labor and loyalty. Being a mentor is not easy and having a mentor is not easy either but the arrangement is usually mutually beneficial for both the student and the mentor.

Some texts do tend to mix mentoring and coaching, and use them interchangeably. This post adheres to the popular belief that coaching and mentoring are different. Coaching is identified as a key important interpersonal skill of  managers, namely it is identified in PMBOK as important skill for project managers. Some differences between mentoring and coaching are identified below.

Mentoring Coaching
Coaching usually deals with teaching skills that are task oriented. Coaching is therefore task oriented Mentoring tries to establish a relationship between the mentor and mentoree, so that the mentoree can learn many sets of skills, tricks and experience to succeed
Coaching is a short term experience, established for a period of time in which the coachee may or may not learn what the coach is trying to teach Mentoring is a long term establishment, where both parties get comfortable about sharing their experiences and problems
Coaching tries to enhance the performance of the worker, and the measurement of success of coaching is based on the performance. Mentoring focuses on the development of an individual, not for the immediate task at hand, but also for the foreseeable future
Coaching doesn’t require any special design. Once a task in a process is identified as being inefficient a coach can be hired to fix the problem Mentoring requires design, in order to lay down a strategy and purpose for the long term relationship that is going to be developed
The immediate line manager of the person being coached plays a critical role in the coaching process. He/she identifies the weaknesses and also identifies them when it is fixed The immediate line manager plays no role. Other than maybe being a little jealous, when they realize that they are not the one’s being worshiped as they expected
Coaching is a more formal approach, and adheres to a strict schedule of when meetings and workshops takes place Takes on a more informal approach, with meetings taking place when it’s convenient for both the mentor and the mentoree
The coach in question can be some one outside from the organization, who doesn’t specialize in the line work of the coachee, but is established in a specific skill set The mentor is usually from within the organization, senior enough to be an expert in the game.
The return required of the coaching process is improvement in teamwork and performance The return required of the mentoring process is affirmation and loyalty

Why is mentoring important?

Research available suggests that mentoring helps both the mentor and the student. The mentoring functions have been strongly linked to increase the transformation leadership capabilities of the mentor and increase work commitment and organizational well being of both partners. While mentoring can take both a formal and informal approach, the formal approach has a tendency to fail because of poor design. Mentor commitment is important in the success of formal mentoring programs, which requires matching the right people, not too different from any other relationship in this world.

The benefits of being mentored for the protege is numerous but, aside from the loyalty, what’s in it for the mentor? Many mentors are leaders who want to leave behind a legacy, because nothing lasts longer than a persons legacy. What better way to do that then by teaching someone to become you?

Does having no mentors spell disaster for you? Not necessarily. Research strongly indicates that mentoring is not strongly linked to career success. Having network ties do help with the career success, and having a mentor with a powerful network may help you towards success, but that isn’t something a mentor is really needed for.

What makes a successful mentor?

Say that you still want a mentor, because you feel that without him/her your career path looks gloomy and set on a path of doom. Here are some points to note about a successful mentor.

  1. Strong leadership: A mentor needs to be a strong leader, preferably of the transformational variety.
  2. Strong network ties: A mentor with good network ties spells good fortune and success, more so than others without them.
  3. As much a listener as a speaker: A mentor may have a lot to say but they also need to be a good listener. You didn’t come to them without your problems, and they should listen to them.
  4. Dedication to success: Success of you, success of themselves, success to the organization you and they work in and success to competitors too, for good measures. A mentor strongly believes in success, friends or foes.
  5. Creative and innovative: The comfort zone doesn’t allow people to be creative and innovative so a good mentor needs to be willing to step out of the zone and explore outside the box
  6. Altruism: This ensures ethics and commitment from your teacher.
  7. Accessibility: Having a mentor for a namesake is not relevant. Being able to meet and have contact with a mentor is important to gain any real benefits.

Mentoring model

Say that you won yourself a good mentor. Is the relationship mutually exclusive? Does he/she have others around, same or better then you? Does it make you jealous ? Mentoring can take on many forms. The answer to the first two questions depend on what kind of mentoring is being employed in the organization. You need to work out the last question on your own.

Mentoring styles

  1. One on One mentoring: The most common and preferred mentoring used, because its effective, efficient and takes care of that last question you had up there.
  2. Resource based mentoring: Much the same as one to one mentoring, the difference being in the way how the match making process occurs, which doesn’t employ a mentoring specialist to make the match. Lower effectiveness due to this.
  3. Group mentoring: You are no longer just a student, you also got some class mates too. The mentor is the teacher of this class. Group mentoring usually works with 4- 6 students at a time. Quite difficult to manage this setup.
  4. Training based mentoring: This is not mentoring. It’s coaching wearing some sheep skin.
  5. Executive mentoring: Senior managers takes on the role of mentoring juniors and considered a best practice for the organization.

The mentoring styles above doesn’t make up for a really hard science, and can be tweaked and twisted to make another style. Figure 1 given below illustrates an encapsulation of all these styles.

Figure 1: Mentoring styles

Mentoring programs

By now, given that we talked about mentoring specialists and formal mentoring, the fact that organizations have mentoring programs in place shouldn’t have escaped you. All formal mentoring occurs through mentoring programs that picks up one of the styles above to stimulate mentoring within the organization. The process of such a program is given below in Figure 2

Figure 2: The mentoring process

Want to be [a] mentor[ed]?

Having a mentor helps, mentoring others helps you and your student, so don’t stop here. Get yourself a mentor and if you feel you are experienced enough, be a mentor for someone else.

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