The Mentoring Discourses

21 Jun 2017

As part of our A-Z of Coaching campaign Lis Merrick, Managing Director of Coach Mentoring Ltd, explores what we really mean by mentoring and what it can offer. 

So what do we mean by ‘mentoring’? In some organisations, mentoring is seen as an activity within the line of command; in others mentoring relationships are ‘off-line’ because it is difficult to be fully open in a relationship where one person has authority over the other and it is seen as incompatible with the fundamental openness of the relationship. Some people view mentoring as synonymous with coaching, or teaching, or even a godfather type relationship; others see it as a form of counselling. There are so many different perspectives out there and often the terms mentoring and coaching get bundled together and cause further confusion.  To me these are just labels and the ‘contract’ between the learning partnership is what defines the relationship and its activities.  They are all forms of developmental dialogues at the end of the day.

However, what is useful to be aware of, are two broad competing models of mentoring that exist and the formal mentoring programmes I develop fall into one of these two approaches:

  • The first emphasises sponsorship and hands-on help from the mentor. The mentor’s power and influence are important to the relationship and the more junior partner is typically referred to as a protégé
  • The second model emphasises helping people to do things for themselves. It is concerned with co-learning and helping someone make better decisions and grow in wisdom, as a result of deeper self-awareness. Instead of protégé, this kind of mentoring uses the term mentee, to place less emphasis on any difference in power. I like to define this model of developmental mentoring as:

“The role of the mentor is one of support to the mentee. The mentor will listen and give advice and guidance, when it is appropriate. Mentoring focuses on developing capability by working with the mentee’s goals to help them realise their potential. The mentee is responsible for their learning and development and setting the direction and goals for the relationship. The flow of learning is two-way in a mentoring relationship and the mentor often gains as much as the mentee.”

What can mentoring offer?

  • Developing deep insights so individuals can discover their own authenticity and break away from any “group think” culture
  • Building resilience to cope with the vast uncertainty and rapid change that is commonplace daily
  • Supporting great problem solving and decision making under extreme pressures
  • Understanding how to manage the 24/7 barrage of communication and developing healthy work/life balance practices
  • Providing the opportunity for deep reflection and honest conversation which is absent in so many “rushed lives”
  • Being a conduit for open and challenging feedback which is critical for personal learning
  • Creating a forum to develop personal courage and confidence where individuals can make hard choices about their futures
  • Becoming more globally and virtually savvy, it is crucial to feel comfortable with and embrace these developments, whatever your age or background.
  • Learning to build speed and agility in your career, whether it is developing like-minded people around you or becoming an expert in your field, understanding the career strategies of this decade so you can engage in meaningful work and be assured of a future.
  • Finally, developing cross-functional leadership i.e. not just contributing to the effectiveness and engagement of their own people, but to the organisation as a whole, maybe the biggest contribution is to an area outside of someone’s own responsibility – different thinking but broader organisational efficiency.

Other benefits such as employee retention, leadership and behavioural development, growth in EQ and faster talent development are just a few aspects I see most frequently in my work. 

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