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And how can you make mentoring work for you?

“If you want to go fast go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”

This African proverb sums up my passion for mentoring (and I suppose also for doing quite a lot of stuff on my own if I’m honest).

But, as with coaching, people often have their own definition of mentoring so if you’re thinking of entering into a mentoring relationship as either mentor or mentee, it’s a good idea to check that both parties share an understanding of what that will entail.

You should also give some thought to whether it’s the right arrangement for each of you at that time.  It may be that coaching or training would be better for you (the mentee) at that point.  Or the mentor might need to reflect on whether they can really give the relationship the time it needs.

So some of the formal definitions of mentoring may actually be quite helpful.  Here’s one from the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC):

“Mentoring is a developmental process in which a more experienced person shares their knowledge with a less experienced person in a specific context through a series of conversations. Occasionally mentoring can also be a learning partnership between peers.”

I’ve taken that and various other definitions to come up with my own.

Mentoring is:

A relationship (short or long-term), usually between 2 people where

  • Person A has more or different experience and knowledge than Person B
  • Person A is willing to help Person B to learn, and Person B is willing to accept that help
  • Person A is willing and able to let Person B have control over their learning
  • Most of the learning is through conversation

So, for me, the big difference between training and coaching is the value of The MentOR’s knowledge.  They will usually work in the same field as the mentee, although not always in the same company or chambers.

And the mentor might be junior in age or years on the job, but have different knowledge needed by the mentee.  Which of us in mid-life wouldn’t benefit from so-called reverse mentoring around our staid and settled views, perhaps around tech, or diversity or work-life balance?

Knowledge sharing from mentor to mentee

It must be recognised within the mentoring relationship that the knowledge and experience of the mentor, is something of value, that can add to the mentee’s learning.  Not necessarily something to be passed on wholesale – not everything is that straightforward as, obviously, times change.  But there is knowledge and experience there that can be learned from.

However, rather than the mentor simply telling the mentee everything they know, I prefer to see the relationship as being similar to coaching in that to improve the quality of learning, and to embed that learning, the mentor would usually be asking astute questions and allowing time for the mentee to find their own solution.  But, as distinct from coaching, they will, where appropriate share their view on the best way forward, based on that knowledge and experience.

Also a mentoring relationship, like a coaching relationship, might be for a specific task or time, with the coach or mentor being keen to avoid over-dependency on them and to allow independence to flourish.  But, in practical terms a mentoring relationship, if it’s a good quality one, and benefits both parties, can last a lifetime and can develop into a strong friendship

Getting mentoring right

I have a lot to say about mentoring, how it can go wrong, what to avoid and how to build the foundations for a high quality mentoring relationship.  So much so that I have put it all into a short online course in 4 modules. This is now live on Teachable and you can find out more here or go straight to Teachable here.

In the meantime, here are a few of my key pointers:

  1. Have an initial discussion to work out whether mentor and mentee are well-suited
  2. Set boundaries and ground rules at the outset
  3. The ground rules should include, as a minimum, regularity of contact and an outline of the mentee’s goals
  4. The onus for the topics for the mentoring conversations should lie with the mentee – it’s their learning.
  5. Be honest with each other if something isn’t working.  As with so many things, open communication is the key.

Coaching instead?

If you’re debating whether to find a mentor or a coach, you can find out more about my approach to coaching here or learn more about how it works in practice with this case study.

Mentoring for Barristers – the course

If you think you might want to become a mentor, or find a mentor so that you can go further in your career, and you can spare an hour, then my new course on Teachable might be just what you need.

Find out more here.

Keep in touch

I’d love to know what you decide and am always keen to hear about your success stories.  You can get in touch on  I’d also love to know if there are any other topics you’d like to see covered in a future course.

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