A Guide to Mentoring

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Often confused with coaching, mentoring is an informal method of guiding development. Claudine McClean of Predaptive OD Limited gives a quick guide to making mentoring work.

Mentoring can be a very useful way of helping people to give their best. Like any technique that is attracting attention, firstly it is important to get the definitions clear.

Why mentoring is different to coaching

Mentoring is concerned with the development of the whole person driven by the person’s own work/life goals. It is usually unstructured and informal.

Coaching is much more about achieving specific objectives in a particular way. Coaching is also more formal and more structured, usually around a coaching process or methodology.

Where the lines get a bit blurred is when coaching is divided into two sub groups, active/directive coaching and passive/reflective coaching.

Active/directive coaching is about the coach knowing what ‘perfect’ looks like and, through a performance feedback loop, giving the person receiving coaching ideas for improvement.

Passive/reflective coaching is about the coach asking the questions ‘how did you feel about that?’ and ‘how could you improve that?’

This style is more an interactive process of self-discovery on the part of the person being coached. The two strands are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes the line between mentoring and passive/reflective coaching can cross over.

Ten Tips for Effective Mentoring:

* Both are volunteers.

* The Mentor has no executive, or direct-line reporting responsibility for the person being mentored. Sometimes they don’t even work in the same organisation.

* Both are getting ego satisfaction from the relationship. The mentor gets the satisfaction of watching somebody grow who values his or her insights. The person receiving mentoring gets a feeling of being valued, and gaining regular ‘air-time’ with somebody who they respect and admire.

* The intensity of the relationship is matched. It is taking up actual and mental time in proportions both people are comfortable with. This can be flexible, sometimes there will be several meetings quickly in a very challenging period, then none for three months.

* There is no dependency. Neither party needs the relationship to continue, both are happy for it to continue but it could stop tomorrow. It can be very destructive where the mentor needs the relationship for status reasons, or the person being mentored needs it as an emotional crutch. There might be occasions where the person being mentored needs a ‘shoulder to cry on’ but that is event, rather than relationship driven.

* The person being mentored is not a protégé. It is not a teacher pupil relationship, nor does the person being mentored (necessarily) have the patronage of the mentor. An effective mentor gives wise counsel, and the person being mentored can talk about what they need to talk about. Where they can test arguments and have tough questions asked of them.

* The mentor is not mentoring two people at the same time who have a close working relationship. Discretion and confidentiality are paramount. Also, rules of engagement. Who knows about the relationship, some are public knowledge some not, as long as both are happy, it doesn’t matter which.

* The obligation for continuing is two sided. The mentor feels they have value to add, the person being mentored is getting something from the relationship. Either side can end it without justification.

* If the mentoring practice is to become widespread, rather than extraordinary, the culture of the organisation needs to be a supporting one, as it does with coaching.

* Mentoring programmes are about guidance and facilitation rather than formal training.

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