What is mentoring? What is coaching?
For our purposes, both are one-to-one teaching. Further than that, there are three main opinions:
- Mentoring is having a more experienced person as a guide and a respected role model. It has a long-term focus on personal learning. A mentor is a personal advisor, and a friend with whom the student can share joys, offload burdens and focus on personal growth. It includes a wide range of learning oriented to exchange of wisdom, support, and guidance in personal or career growth. Mentoring generally needs to be fairly informal; it is primarily a relationship, not just a procedure or activity.
- A coach is a one-to-one teacher, who provides one-to-one training in a skill and helps to improve work performance. It may be a program, such as a de facto apprenticeship. A coach finds the right questions and asks students so that they can find their own answers. In particular, a coach foresees future challenges and guides students to develop their own responses.
- Another view is that a mentor is the same as a coach. This view has increasingly fallen to the wayside, even though the difference is perhaps more of degree than of kind
A similar definition simply tries to cover all possibilities by using the following elements:
- an independent person (i.e. not the mentoree's supervisor)
- engaged in two-way communication with the mentoree
- a primary role is to provide constant encouragement and assistance
- facilitates the mentoree's attainment of personal growth and/or work related goals
- provide information, guidance and constructive comments
- evaluate the mentoree's plans, decisions, goals and objectives
- gives support and encouragement
- highlights shortfalls in agreed performance where necessary
- maintains confidentiality in the relationship
- does not take over problems and try to solve them
- does not give advice, criticism or solutions, but supports mentorees to make their own decisions
I'd suggest that it's also more complex than the above definition. Consider the following offers to mentor:
- "I'll teach you how to do this stuff."
- "Two heads are better than one. I'll discuss your ideas with you."
- "I'm here. I'll give you advice if you ask."
- "I'll ask you how you are going and keep you accountable for staying on track."
- "I'll point out the dangers just up ahead, and tell you what they look like. But it will you job to figure out what to do."
- "I've been through lots of experiences and I'd like to tell you about them if it will help."
- "I'll be there for you to bounce ideas and feelings off."
- "It's a journey. I'll travel with you."
- "I care and I'm listening. I'll be there for you if you need to talk it out."
So it looks like we can arrange the different views into many points between two extremes: the "imparter of skills" at one extreme and the "personal counselor for the emotionally healthy" at the other.
Instead of saying that mentoring is something in particular, perhaps it's a range of things that depend on the people and the situations you face. So unless your organization has a specific role for mentoring, you will be better equipped if you have a range of tools in your toolkit.
How long have coaching and mentoring been around?
Thousands of years. And, in various forms, it's still the biggest educational program on the planet.
And it's probably more successful than formal class-room education based on:
- sheer numbers of people learning what they need to know and
- its solid track record of making sure that people can do the job they are trained to do.
It's the basis of all apprenticeship systems (both formal and informal), and most other kinds of on-job-training and professional education. It's also the basis of most academic tutoring and postgraduate research supervision. It even includes the higher levels in academia. Medical practitioners do internships, doctoral students do fieldwork, and lawyers do "articles". In fact, most professions require some kind of workplace learning for registration.
Even in modern societies that value formal qualifications, most employee training is still unaccredited and done on the job by mentors. In some places it's called "sitting next to Nellie." In other words, if you want somebody to learn a new job, you sit them next to an experienced person ("Nellie") who shows them what to do, makes sure that they can do it, answers their questions, and solves any problems. In Australia, this phenomenon greatly frustrates VET sector leaders, who would like to see all these workers get qualifications.
Considering the sheer numbers of people who effectively learn this way, mentoring is probably more successful than formal class-room education.
What benefits does it offer?
As a mentor, you get many personal benefits:
- You meet people who will challenge you with fresh perspectives.
- You might take great satisfaction in helping somebody else develop.
- You'll build a significant network of up-and-coming new leaders in your field.
- You'll get better at sharing your experiences, knowledge, and skills.
- You'll get opportunities to test new ideas.
- You'll get a broader picture of what you do.
Mentorees can benefit in various ways:
- They have opportunity to learn new skills, acquire experience, and become more confident.
- They gain insights into the organizational culture, attitudes, protocols and expected behaviors
- They get opportunities to network.
- They increase their potential for career mobility and promotion.
- They get recognition and job satisfaction.
- They get a supportive environment in which their successes and failures can be evaluated.
- They gain mutual respect form peers.
Mentoring offers benefits for an organization such as:
- You increase productivity.
- You have a more capable team of workers.
- You have a group of people who can replicating skills in team of workers.
- You have a way of flexibly sharing knowledge and adapting your workforce to new market needs with relatively little outlay.
- You can safeguard investment in people with high potential.
- You can increase your people focus, so that you get increased staff motivation and commitment.
When can mentoring be effective?
Leaders use mentoring to help the organization improve its abilities (i.e. improve organizational capability). Mentoring can be used for:
- a particular group within an organization
- general professional development for staff
- equipping a team for a specific business purpose or objective
- developing new leaders
- on-job induction and training for new workers.
Mentoring and organizations
In smaller organizations, mentoring can be very effective because training needs to be small scale. In fact, it's often their only realistic way to train new people.
In a larger organization, or a collaborative partnership spanning more than one organization, it can still be fairly informal. But it can be formalized and structured as a significant program. In these cases, it should use a set of learning tools, and be monitored and evaluated to make sure it results in worthwhile learning experiences.
It's generally considered unsatisfactory for mentors to be the mentoree's direct workplace supervisor or manager. The only exception is when the mentoring relationship is only about imparting practical skills. The reasons are:
- Mentorees often need freedom to discuss issues that they wouldn't want to discuss with their supervisors.
- Mentors need the freedom to speak as mentors without having the role of supervisor. Both sides need to know the difference between a mentor's advice and a supervisor's command. Besides mentors can get personal information about the mentoree that could be prejudicial if a supervisor knew it.
- In some contexts, some of the main problems that a mentoree might wish to discuss with the mentor is how to relate to the supervisor. In fact, mentorees sometimes perceive the supervisor to be the main cause of their problems.
If the organization runs mentoring as a program, it needs to make sure that it allocates enough time and support. These are often not very substantial, but still necessary.