1. What is mentoring?

Mentoring is a widely used term in many personal and professional environments – but what exactly do we mean by this?

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Mentoring is a developmental technique based on the use of one-to-one skills, knowledge and work performance.

It involves the forming of a long-term relationship between an experienced mentor and an inexperienced mentee, with the more experienced colleague using their greater knowledge to support the growth and development of the inexperienced staff member.

A mentor, therefore, is intended to be a responsible tutor, an experienced person who guides, advises, inspires, challenges, corrects and acts a role model.

Mentors should be a source of wisdom, guidance and support but shouldn’t necessarily be someone who observes and advises on specific actions or behavioural changes in daily work. Instead, they should be someone who can be approached as an additional source of support and guidance when workplace problems arise.

On this basis, an employee’s mentor should ideally be someone other than their supervisor or line manager.

Mentors should offer encouragement and advice without specifically telling someone what to do – this, ideally, is something the mentee should be encouraged to think through for themselves, something which should help them develop as an employee.

A mentor is sometimes also referred to as being a critical friend, developing a relationship in which they are prepared to listen, encourage and reflect whilst, if necessary, challenging assumptions and providing critical feedback on ideas.

The most effective mentoring relationships occur when the two parties share common ground - not only do they work in the same field but also have shared experiences (i.e. the mentor may have previously performed the same role now being undertaken by the mentee).

This commonality is something that gives the mentor a better understanding of the issues being faced by the mentee and can be a basis for empathy.

2. The benefits of mentoring