In Ancient Greece, Odysseus entrusted the education of his son, Telemachus, to a trusted counsellor and friend. This trusted and wise friend, Mentor, reportedly became the counsellor, guide, tutor and mentor for his protégé, Telemachus.
David Clutterbuck defines mentoring as “offline help by one person to another in making significant transitions in knowledge, work or thinking”.
Put at its simplest the Mentor is there to help the Mentee to learn. Much of the learning is enabled by the Mentor guiding the Mentee into learning situations and then helping them to reflect on and consolidate the learning.
As a global talent management and executive coaching firm, in partnering with Singapore organisations in designing and implementing mentoring programs at the workplace, we observed that mentoring relates primarily to the identification and nurturing of potential for the whole person.
It can be a long-term relationship, where the goals may change but are always set by the learner. The learner owns both the goals and the process. Feedback comes from within the mentee – the mentor helps them to develop insight and understanding through intrinsic observation, that is, becoming more aware of their own experiences.
Mentoring is commonly viewed as a relationship, which gives people the opportunity to share their professional and personal skills and experiences, and to grow and develop in the process.
Typically, it is a one-to-one relationship between a more experienced and a less experienced employee. It is based upon encouragement, constructive comments, openness, mutual trust, respect and a willingness to learn and share.
Our point-of-view is that mentoring is a developmental relationship where one person invests time, know-how and effort in enhancing another person’s growth, knowledge and skills. The purpose of the mentoring is to transfer the knowledge and skills of experienced employees (mentors) to our less experienced employees (mentees).
Mentoring is a shared effort between employees, their management, and the company, drawing on the diversity of the organization for its strength. It results in mentees with increased skills, knowledge, and visibility; mentors who are more conscious of how to coach and develop people; stronger relationships; and a more competitive company.
Effective mentoring requires a partnership between mentee and mentor. Mentees have the main responsibility for managing this partnership, and they start by recruiting a mentor. The mentee is expected to work with their mentor to create a development plan consisting of training and educational opportunities, on-the-job experiences, and other developmental relationships.
The mentoring process involves regular communication between mentor and mentee. The length and types of communication should be negotiated during initial contacts – they can be face-to-face meetings, phone calls, or e-mails.
Why have a Mentor? – From the Mentee’s Perspective
There are many benefits to having a mentor for the mentee’s perspective. The key to the value of a mentor is that whatever you are facing, your mentor will probably have been there before you. They can give you advice based on their experience. This means you are benefiting from the wisdom of someone who has probably faced the same issues that you have, many times over.
Finding out how your mentor dealt with a situation, and why they acted in the way they did can help you make decisions for yourself. A mentor will provide you with an independent opinion that you can use as a measuring stick when you’re faced with a difficult situation. They can also help to boost your confidence and help you avoid mistakes.
Having a mentor will help boost your career progression in a number of ways. Mentors can advice you in making decisions to progress your career, expose you to opportunities you may not previously have considered, or had access to. Mentors are able to serve as a reference to building your network, and perhaps even guide you to become a manager to riseto higher levels within an organisation.
How do I choose a Mentor?
The ideal mentor can be within your company but it may be preferable for them to be someone outside your department or someone in a similar area at another company. It’s important to have someone you can learn from, and bounce ideas off.
You should be able to trust your mentor, and consider the person to be a good communicator whom you feel comfortable talking to. Ideally, your mentor has been successful in their career, not just on paper, but also in your view. They will likely be one who already has the type of job you aspire to have yourself one day.
What’s in it for the Mentor?
A good mentor will believe in and have a commitment to helping people develop. They will gain a sense of fulfilment from the relationship and understand it is also an opportunity to develop their own skills. An older, more experienced mentor will also be exposed to the newer ideas from their “mentee”.
How do I ask?
Many companies are now initiating mentoring programmes for their staff. If your company has such a programme, approach your HR department to become involved. If your company doesn’t run a mentoring program, don’t be afraid to request mentoring support, or make the suggestion. External mentoring services could also be a possibility for your company.
If your company is unable to help you, do not despair. Finding a mentor on your own will maximise your chances of finding the best person for the job! Consider what you are looking for in a mentor and then approach the person of your choice. They are most likely to be flattered and unlikely to knock you back.
Building the relationship
Once you have found your mentor, the next step is for you both to discuss your expectations and what you hope to achieve from the relationship. You need to be open to learning and have good understanding of yourself and a desire to achieve.
The rewards of a mentoring relationship are too great to ignore, sometimes it can just be a matter of being a natural progression in a bond with a senior colleague at work or an industry contact, or it may be a relationship that you have to actively pursue.
Regardless of the means, the benefits speak for themselves and you will always have an experienced sounding board to assist you through tricky times and be there to celebrate through your achievements. No matter how small the challenge, your mentor will always understand as he or she has been there before and is familiar with the trials and predicaments you experience on a day- to- day basis.
Our advice for organisations in Singapore who are considering to implement mentoring programs is that for Mentoring to work effectively the Mentor must not take responsibility away from the Mentee. In order for this to work the Mentor should take responsibility for managing the relationship but should allow the Mentee to ‘set the agenda’.
Managing the relationship involves ensuring that the Mentee feels supported and encouraged and able to speak with the Mentor without the fear of judgements being made. The Mentor also needs to feel that the discussion and information exchanged is kept confidential.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Prof Sattar Bawany is the CEO & Master Executive Coach of Centre for Executive Education (CEE Global).