Mentoring may be one of the latest buzzwords that is capturing attention on whiteboards all over the country but it is anything but new in the business environment. What is new is the utilization of mentoring to help women, visible minorities and people with disabilities and the fact that mentoring is no longer an informal activity but one that is actively encouraged and supported by senior management.
At its most basic level a mentor is simply a person who has more experience than someone else, usually younger or newer in the workplace, and is willing to share that experience with them. In business a mentor can pass on what they have learned and how they achieved success, and sometimes stumbled, in their career so far. They can also help introduce someone to their friends and network and provide encouragement and advice as their mentee learns and grows.
A mentor however is not a coach. A coach acts as a facilitator to help their client find the answers and the wisdom within themselves. A mentor on the other hand will share their personal insights and provide advice and guidance to their mentee. Coaches may offer advice and suggestions about getting in the door but mentors help push the career doors wide open.
Mentoring can be a particularly useful tool for women, visible minorities and people with disabilities because the emphasis of mentoring is on being inclusive and in bringing the mentee further inside the workings of an organization. In many cases the doors to the executive boardroom are not as easily accessible to these groups because of old systems and even older old boys networks. This can become a barrier to advancement especially for women and having someone who has been there before is a great encouragement to aim and reach higher than without this support.
It is easy to understand how a mentee would benefit from having a mentor but what does a mentor get out of this process? According to many who have participated in a mentoring program there are just as many benefits to the mentor. First of all they get acknowledged by the organization for their particular expertise. Secondly they realize that even if they have but a few more years of active work that they are still a valuable asset to the organization.
But most of all mentors also grow through the mentoring process. Sometimes this comes from looking at the organization or problems from a younger, less experienced, but also perhaps less jaded eyes that are open to new solutions to old problems. And sometimes it is just from the synergy that is created when two very different heads work on the same issues. Both learn from the process.
Mentoring works. For everybody.
Mike Martin is a freelance writer and workplace wellness consultant. He is the author of Change the Things You Can: Dealing With Difficult People.