Mentoring programmes are implemented to improve learning on the job, to support the development of female executives, to integrate ethnic groups, to support newly appointed leaders, to develop project managers, to introduce new employees to the job and the company culture, etc.
However, in most programmes the focus is on developing the mentee! Sure, that is the original meaning of the word: that a wise old person (usually a man) supports, guides and sponsors a younger and less experienced person.
But is that really the best definition of mentoring today, and is it really true that only the mentee achieves development through the mentoring relationship?
Mentoring is a two-way street
The mentee benefits from a more experienced person’s attention, experience, feedback, opinions, coaching etc. and the mentor benefits from seeing problems and challenges from another person’s perspective, from having to communicate own experiences and opinions in a specific but not authoritative way, from giving feedback in an atmosphere where the mentor has no power over the person, and also from listening to the other person’s perceptions of the world, the company culture, and ambitions and wishes for the future and for his/her life.
How mentors benefit
Here are just a few of the ways in which mentors can benefit from a mentoring programme:
Personal development - Mentors help mentees understand challenges, evaluate what happened, explore intentions, develop alternative solutions and prepare action plans. This process enables mentors to develop their ability to listen, observe, ask useful questions, withhold judgement, be empathetic, and influence when they have no formal authority and power. These are all extremely important leadership skills.
Professional competencies - When mentors and mentees come from different professional backgrounds and mentors describe their own experiences in handling professional tasks, they become more conscious of their own competencies and more skilled in communicating these in other contexts.
Networking - All mentoring relationships create at least one new network: the mentor/mentee relationship. Mentors and mentees can also help each other to develop new networks and to open their networks to each other.
Career Development - Mentors learn what motivates mentees to consider a career and how mentees view the organisation. In today's labour market, where good employees are in great demand, it is useful to understand what attracts and encourages these employees to stay. Listening to mentees' stories and ambitions about jobs and careers can also give mentors valuable inspiration to focus on their own career and professional future.
Cultural Understanding - To support mentees in navigating in the corporate environment, mentors become more conscious about how political life evolves in the organisation. For example, a new subculture or new informal power structures may have emerged within the organisation that the mentor may not have noticed. Mentors can use these insights to enhance their own leverage within the organisation.
Why this lack of focus on the mentor’s learning opportunities?
Most often the organisations focus on how to achieve results for the mentee and do not even think of the mentor. Why is that? Do they think that mentors have finished learning? Or do they believe that mentors are simply repositories of knowledge that can be easily transferred to the mentees? I believe that it is neither of the above – I believe that it is not a conscious decision or assumption, but that we have found a “blind spot” – since we do not know it exists, we do not know how to ask the question!
Mentoring is a learning partnership between two people with different backgrounds and experiences – it is a mutually beneficial partnership where both achieve new learning, new insights and grow as human beings – it is synergy in action and can affect positive change in both mentor and mentee.
The more the mentors become aware of their own potential benefits and learning points from the mentoring relationship, the more mentors can consciously take this learning away and bring it into action. And the more the organisations take the aspect of the mentor’s learning into account when designing and implementing mentoring programmes, the more effect the programme will have for the mentors, for the mentees and for the organisation.