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Exploring career mentoring and coaching
Exploring career mentoring and coaching

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1.1 Defining mentoring

Before you look at some academic and business definitions of what mentoring is, use Activity 1 to consider your own perception of mentoring.

Activity 1 Brain, ear or push?

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes
A photograph of John C. Crosby.
Figure 2 John C. Crosby, a US politician in the nineteenth century, said: ‘Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction’.

Consider the following questions:

  • a.Think about people you’ve come across in the past, either in the workplace or during leisure, voluntary or educational activities, who have provided a brain, an ear or a push. Did you think of them as mentors at the time? Make a note of them in the box below.
  • b.With those people and experiences in mind, use the box to write a sentence or paragraph that describes your own definition of mentoring.
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Mentors come in all shapes and sizes. The relationship might be deliberately set up or develop organically. Usually, a mentor will have more experience than you in a relevant area, whether that’s your occupation, the organisation you work within or even a group or committee that you’re about to join. Read on to explore how your own definition fits with those of academics and business professionals.

In their online document ‘What is mentoring?’ (2014), Keele University chooses four definitions that ‘capture the variation in models and approaches to mentoring’:

  1. ‘Off-line help, by one person to another, in making significant transitions in knowledge, work or thinking.’ (Megginson and Clutterbuck, quoted in Keele University document, 2014).
  2. ‘Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be.’ (Eric Parsloe, quoted in Keele University document, 2014).
  3. ‘Mentoring is a long-term relationship that meets a developmental need, helps develop full potential, and benefits all partners, mentor, mentee and the organisation.’ (Suzanne Faure, quoted in Keele University document, 2014).
  4. Mentoring is a partnership between two people built on trust. It is a process in which the mentor offers on-going support and developmental opportunities to the mentee. Addressing issues and blockages identified by the mentee, the mentor offers guidance, counselling and support in the form of a pragmatic and objective assistance. Both share a common purpose of developing a strong two-way learning relationship.’ (Jenny Sweeney, quoted in Keele University document, 2014).

The emphasis of these definitions is on help and support, and the relationship between two people – common themes in almost all definitions of mentoring. Maybe you also highlighted those aspects in the sentence or paragraph that you wrote in Activity 1.