When I first started out with my Mentoring programme at work, I must have Googled this question a thousand times. At the time of writing this blog, 123,000,000 results come up when you search 'What is Mentoring?'. So as you can probably imagine, this isn't the first time someone has asked and tried to answer this question.
Like all bad wedding speeches, I'm going to kick off with a definition pulled straight from the internet.
''Mentoring is to advise or train someone, usually a younger colleague''
Who agrees with this one? For me, although there is the word 'usually' in there, I don't like the use of 'younger colleague' afterwards in such a concise definition. Yes, Mentors are typically older and yes, Mentoring usually occurs in the workplace, but Mentoring can happen all around us, and it's a lot more common than we think to have a younger Mentor, especially in today's younger workforce.
It's hard to find the perfect definition, but for me it has to involve such words as 'knowledge', 'sharing', 'advice', 'Self-development', and 'trust'. These are certainly the words that come to mind immediately when I think about what Mentoring is. I think the reasons behind Mentoring need to be covered so that people know what Mentoring can help them with from the start. This means that some people who might be under the impression that Mentoring will 'fix them', are able to set some more realistic expectations.
Development is a key reason to seek out Mentoring, but we need to be clear this is 'self-development', and not simply a way to get a promotion. Yes, that might be an end goal for many Mentees, but you need to work on yourself first. Highlight those weaknesses and look at how you could work on them, realise and own your strengths, and discover your passions and goals. Adding 'self' in front also highlights that the Mentee is in charge of their own development, and that they have to action and commit to making a change, both to their lives/careers and to the Mentoring relationship. knowing who drives a Mentoring relationship and why, is crucial for success.
It's also important to mention the word 'trust'. Especially in my experience, but also for many others, a Mentee will often share their worries, their perceived weaknesses, and their feelings. If they don't feel they can trust their Mentor, there is a risk that they won't open up about the above and progress might not be made. And for the Mentor who might think it's appropriate to share a specific experience they went through to help the Mentee, if it was a challenging time for them, or the experience highlights something they did that they aren't too proud of, they might be wary about sharing if they think their Mentee might share it with others. Trust is a key element in any relationship, but especially in Mentoring.
I think the inclusion of sharing is good as well, but it has to be clear this is a 2 way street, and not just all from the Mentor. Although it's expected for the Mentor to share their experiences and advice as we just touched upon, the Mentee has to share as well for the conversation to flow. What good is a sharing Mentor, when their Mentee has barely said two words?
As I've been writing this, a few more words have come to me, such as 'future', 'confidence', 'tools', and 'focus'. I think this goes to show that Mentoring is such a vast and powerful topic that it would be very hard to sum up everything that it is in one tidy definition. I think it's fair to say that one size does not fit all. It's also worth considering that because traditional Mentoring has evolved so much over the years, this kind of question is never really going to be answered because it can change depending on the different formats.
I hope that you have a slightly better understanding of what Mentoring is after reading this. As always, if you have any thoughts please comment below and start a discussion. Maybe you could share what Mentoring is to you? If you'd like to hear about future blogs and other content from Enhance Mentoring, please subscribe to our newsletter below.