Jakarta, 29 May 2019 — Mentoring is more than 2,000 years old. How can you benefit today?
The term mentoring is, nowadays, used around the world. That wasn’t always the case in history.
In Homer’s Odyssey masterpiece of Greek literature—Mentōr was the person put in charge by Odysseus of the education of his son, while he traveled to complete his mythical tasks.
Elsewhere in the world, however, adolescents and adults have through the ages also sought the counsel of people with more experience than they had. Typically, it took time and travel to make such encounters happen, unlike today’s world where meetings can be arranged at a moment’s notice.
While mentoring, and the use of that term, is now widespread on every continent, and while there is broad agreement that mentoring has many benefits, there is no consensus on what it exactly means or encompasses.
What is Mentoring?
Wikipedia tells us that more than 50 definitions exist. That’s mainly because mentoring is a part of the spectrum of helping styles that also include counseling, coaching, facilitation, training, teaching and more.
In that context, this simple definition may be helpful. I adapted it from what I found on Wikipedia.
In my experience (there is that word again), mentoring has three important dimensions.
First, mentoring is a relationship.
With regard to time, that means that having a cup of coffee with someone you admire is not mentoring. However, it could be the start of a mentoring relationship if you take action to make that happen. Mentoring implies, for me, that you have three or more meetings with your mentor or mentee, as the case may be.
It also means that both sides need to invest sufficiently into building the relationship, with curiosity and trust that allow for learning and better outcomes. And that brings me to the second point.
Goals and Results
Second, mentoring is about goals and results.
Mentoring needs a commitment to investing in the relationship and in taking actions, especially on the part of the mentee. Those actions will result in new learning, and that will make change and growth happen for the goal agreed upon.
To produce learning and better outcomes, mentoring is often, and by mutual agreement, focused on a specific area of work, career, or life.
Third, mentoring is focused on growth.
The power of a mentoring relationship makes intensified learning possible. The experiences shared by the mentor help in this process, because the mentor is, in most cases, regarded as more experienced than the mentee.
Not always, though. The field of peer mentoring is gaining traction too, whereby peers can learn how to listen and give each other feedback about what they are learning from the challenges they have taken on, and from new perspectives and knowledge explored. In such cases, the benefit of learning from a more experienced person is not there. Peer mentoring can therefore make use of basic coaching skills.
What are essential skills for you to benefit optimally from mentoring, or to let your mentee benefit optimally?
In my experience, active listening is at the top of the list. In stead of talking ‘at each other,’ successful mentoring is about discovering more about each other in the relationship, and to explore ‘what is not yet there.’ Being curious, asking lots of questions to show your curiosity, and experimenting to create new learning, are key.
Start Mentoring Now
When you ask someone to mentor you, make sure your candidate is a good listener rather than a constant talker. And, because most mentoring relationships are focused on a specific area of your work, career, or life, why not engage more than one mentor?