This statement is the foundation upon which human progress has been predicated, our innate ability to learn through trial and error. Development is most swift when both negative and positive results are successfully handed from person to person, generation to generation. The first Industrial Revolution used water and steam to mechanize production. The second used electricity to power mass production. The third used electronic devices, computers and information technology to automate production. And now we are living through a fourth, the Digital Revolution characterized by a fusion of technologies and artificial intelligence that blurs the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.
From the first to this, now fourth age of industrial revolution, the improvement of ideas has been the cornerstone for advancement, each new cycle building upon the lessons of the last. This current rapid progression is only possible through the greater ability to access and share information.
There is something wonderfully liberating about acknowledging that one has both resources and limitations, and that both of these give shape and direction to one’s existence. Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. Life is a place where everything we know how to do is tested by what we do not know how to do, and the conflict between the two is what creates opportunities for growth and meaning. Real growth is experienced when one actively seeks to bridge that gap.
I am certain most people have some idea of what mentoring is; it is an incredibly powerful personal and professional growth tool.
There is a saying: “Iron sharpens Iron”… The point really is that it is essential to surround yourself with like-minded people who are already where you want to be: learn from their mistakes.
You have likely experienced, in one form or another, a successful mentoring relationship, even if you did not label it as such. Perhaps it was a wiser older sibling or friend, a teacher at school who helped guide you through, or a more experienced colleague at work who showed you the ropes. And if you were lucky enough, you would have been involved in a formal corporate mentoring scheme of one sort or another.
The key to good mentoring is the exchange of ideas, perspectives and experience.
One of the principal benefits of mentoring is that it is not simply top down. The best mentoring relationships are mutually beneficial where both the mentor and the mentee learn from each other. It is a sharing of energy, drive and ambition. After all, the best teachers have always been, and always will be, those who remain curious learners themselves.
So while the purpose of mentoring may seem common sense, you may well be surprised at how under utilised it is and yet how beneficial it can be, especially if applied as a universal tool to stimulate improvement and evolvement.
With nearly 30 years of psychological research from The European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) founded in 1992, the leading global mentoring body paints a clear picture: done right, mentoring programs can positively impact the mentees, mentors, and the organisations they serve as a whole.
The EMCC creates and maintains a range of industry-standard frameworks, rules and processes for mentorship, related supervision and coaching fields.
So what is mentoring?
There are many definitions– but in every case it is always a social capital and relationship-based process designed to provide guidance, pass on knowledge through communication as well as create champions out of both participants. The concept of social capital is generally used to describe how people can work together in a community to engineer progress and development. It is a set of shared values that allows individuals to work together effectively to accomplish a common goal.
Particularly, the focus of mentorship is to develop the whole person or organisation.
Mentoring programmes instantly create a cultural and knowledge exchange. The mentor benefits from community engagement, a broadening of perspectives and giving back has been shown to improve mental wellness as well as overall happiness. Dedicating time to help others bestows patience, greater understanding, kindness and resilience. The mentee learns from a person with spades of experience and know how. Knowledge, that with a little vision, ingenuity and lateral application could revolutionise how the mentee gets things done across many spheres of life.
The potential benefits, the ideas and information that could flow from such an exchange are enormous.
Good mentoring creates a learning culture while almost entirely removing the cost of learning. It decreases stress and anxiety for both the mentor and mentee, providing a boost for mental health. It increases confidence providing psychosocial and career related support as well as role modelling.
It is clear that good mentoring can lead to greater success, as well as increased opportunities. Organisations that embrace mentoring enjoy higher levels of employee engagement, retention and knowledge sharing. So it is vital that employers and businesses embrace this as something beneficial for them and allow space for their employees to devote time in pursuit of personal growth.
In fact, mentoring has proved so beneficial that from around the 1970s mentoring spread across the United States as an advancement mechanism linked with important historical milestones in the progression of minority rights in the workplace. Mentoring became an effective tool in personal and professional development. It has been described as ‘an innovation in American management’.
Mentoring is a vast topic. There are many types of mentoring, the relationships that stem therefrom and further many sub types of mentoring techniques. There are several models that have been used to describe and examine the sub-relationships that can emerge, but lets focus on the types of mentoring to begin with.
The most obvious and simple type is the customary one-on-one face-to-face. This can be formal or informal where a mentee and mentor are matched, either through a program or on their own. Within this and to illustrate the techniques and sub-relationships the mentor could for example, participate in the learning process with the mentee, acting as a guide and support system. The mentor could also literally teach or show the mentee how to get it done. Alternatively, the mentor could be there to review the mentees progress and make suggestions on next steps. The mentor can deploy different methods or a combination based on the situation, the skills, ability and mindset of the mentee.
As an Entrepreneur in Residence at a University in London, I have spent the last 15 months working remotely and also distance mentoring or e-mentoring. This is another type of mentoring. As a result of the pandemic this type has become more ubiquitous. We all now know about Zoom meetings!
I work as a group mentor, another type of mentoring, which is where a single mentor is matched with a cohort of mentees. The reverse dynamic also works. A mentee can have multiple mentors. Having more than one mentor can expand the learner's knowledge, as different mentors will have different strengths and this is often the best approach.
A sub type of which there are many not listed here, but this, I feel best describes the role of a mentor is mosaic mentoring, as distinguished from the single mentor approach, it is based on the concept that almost everyone can perform one or another function well for someone else — and also can learn along one of these lines from someone else. As long as someone can fulfil one or more positive functions such as being a champion, coach, confidant, counselor, guardian, patron, educator, facilitator, role model and much more … then they can be a mentor. The key with this approach is to be intentional and that starts by understanding the shortfall you seek to address.
Corporate mentoring programs may be formal or informal and can serve a variety of specific objectives, including the acclimation of new employees, skills development, employee retention, and diversity enhancement.
The different types of mentoring can also be blended. For example, the mentor and mentee could have a scheduled face-to-face mentoring session once a month but then meet once a week online. Blended mentoring provides the most flexibility and has been found to increase learner satisfaction, which is inherently tied to effectiveness.
Mentoring is not just for individuals. Small businesses and their owners often lack all the resources and tools they need to succeed or take their business to the next level and may seek business mentoring to assist them get across the line. Business mentoring is where a business mentor provides guidance to a business owner or an entrepreneur on their business. This process has been systematized and officially recognised through the creation of business incubators. Across Europe and America business incubators have become prevalent with start-ups and early stage companies. There are both public and private funded programs that offer incubation assistance. Incubators provide a support network as well as a range of services from mentoring, consulting, management training to prototype creation, office space and other services such as access to sources of funding.
While mentoring benefits and statistics and are more than encouraging, it is important to remember that mentoring is not some sort of a special formula that automatically generates success. The truth is, effective mentoring takes commitment, drive and determination. Creating meaningful mentoring interactions requires specific skills, sensibilities, and structure from the programme as well as both the mentor and the mentee. The mentoring relationship needs to be based on trust, confidentiality and mutual respect. It should be based on agreed boundaries and ground rules that address the power, class, wealth, age, race, gender or any other differentials between the subjects. Success happens when both parties take full responsibility for making it work. Success happens when best practices are in place.
There are of course practicalities such as matching people, duration of programmes and regulating the programmes in an unobtrusive manner to make them compelling and exciting while optimising outcomes. Those are all considerations for development and further discussion.