Mentorship is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. However, true mentoring is more than just answering occasional questions or providing ad hoc help. It is about an ongoing relationship of learning, dialogue, and challenge.
The person in receipt of mentorship may be referred to as a protégé (male), a protégée (female), an apprentice or, in recent years, a mentee.
"Mentoring" is a process that always involves communication and is relationship based, but its precise definition is elusive. One definition of the many that have been proposed, is
Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé)".
Mentoring in Europe has existed since at least Ancient Greek times. Since the 1970s it has spread in the United States of America mainly in training contexts and it has been described as "an innovation in American management".
The roots of the practice are lost in antiquity. The word itself was inspired by the character of Mentor in Homer's Odyssey. Though the actual Mentor in the story is a somewhat ineffective old man, the goddess Athena takes on his appearance in order to guide young Telemachus in his time of difficulty.
Historically significant systems of mentorship include the guru - disciple tradition practiced in Hinduism and Buddhism, Elders, the discipleship system practiced by Rabbinical Judaism and the Christian church, and apprenticing under the medieval guild system.
The focus of mentoring is to develop the whole person and so the techniques are broad and require wisdom in order to be used appropriately.
A 1995 study of mentoring techniques most commonly used in business found that the five most commonly used techniques among mentors were:
- Accompanying: making a commitment in a caring way, which involves taking part in the learning process side-by-side with the learner.
- Sowing: mentors are often confronted with the difficulty of preparing the learner before he or she is ready to change. Sowing is necessary when you know that what you say may not be understood or even acceptable to learners at first but will make sense and have value to the mentee when the situation requires it.
- Catalyzing: when change reaches a critical level of pressure, learning can escalate. Here the mentor chooses to plunge the learner right into change, provoking a different way of thinking, a change in identity or a re-ordering of values.
- Showing: this is making something understandable, or using your own example to demonstrate a skill or activity. You show what you are talking about, you show by your own behavior.
- Harvesting: here the mentor focuses on "picking the ripe fruit": it is usually used to create awareness of what was learned by experience and to draw conclusions. The key questions here are: "What have you learned?", "How useful is it?".
Different techniques may be used by mentors according to the situation and the mindset of the mentee, and the techniques used in modern organizations can be found in ancient education systems, from the Socratic technique of harvesting to the accompaniment method of learning used in the apprenticeship of itinerant cathedral builders during the Middle Ages. Leadership authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner advise mentors to look for "teachable moments" in order to "expand or realize the potentialities of the people in the organizations they lead" and underline that personal credibility is as essential to quality mentoring as skill.
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There are two broad types of mentoring relationships: formal and informal. Informal relationships develop on their own between partners. Formal mentoring, on the other hand, refers to a structured process supported by the organization and addressed to target populations. Youth mentoring programs assist at-risk children or youth who lack role models and sponsors. In business, formal mentoring is part of talent management addressed to populations such as key employees, newly hired graduates, high potentials and future leaders. The matching of mentor and mentee is often done by a mentoring coordinator or by means of an (online) database registry.
There are formal mentoring programs that are values-oriented, while social mentoring and other types focus specifically on career development. Some mentorship programs provide both social and vocational support. In well-designed formal mentoring programs, there are program goals, schedules, training (for both mentors and protégés), and evaluation. In 2004 Metizo created the first mentoring certification for companies and business schools in order to guarantee the integrity and effectiveness of formal mentoring. Certification is attributed jointly by the organization and an external expert.
There are many kinds of mentoring relationships from school or community-based relationships to e-mentoring relationships. These mentoring relationships vary and can be influenced by the type of mentoring relationship that is in effect. That is whether it has come about as a formal or informal relationship. Also there are several models have been used to describe and examine the sub-relationships that can emerge. For example, Buell describes how mentoring relationships can develop under a cloning model, nurturing model, friendship model and apprenticeship model. The cloning model is about the mentor trying to "produce a duplicate copy of him or her self." The nurturing model takes more of a "parent figure, creating a safe, open environment in which mentee can both learn and try things for him-or herself." The friendship model are more peers "rather than being involved in a hierarchical relationship." Lastly, the apprenticeship is about less "personal or social aspects... and the professional relationship is the sole focus".
Contemporary research and practice in the US
Research in the 1970s, partly in response to a study by Daniel Levinson, led some women and African Americans to question whether the classic "white male" model was available or customary for people who are newcomers in traditionally white male organizations. In 1978 Edgar Schein described multiple roles for successful mentors.[clarification needed]
Two of Schein's students, Davis and Garrison, undertook to study successful leaders of both genders and at least two races. Their research presented evidence for the roles of: cheerleader, coach, confidant, counsellor, developer of talent, "griot" (oral historian for the organization or profession), guardian, guru, inspiration, master, "opener of doors", patron, role model, pioneer, "seminal source", "successful leader", and teacher. They described multiple mentoring practices which have since been given the name of "mosaic mentoring" to distinguish this kind of mentoring from the single mentor approach.
Mosaic mentoring is based on the concept that almost everyone can perform one or another function well for someone else — and also can learn along one of these lines from someone else. The model is seen as useful for people who are "non-traditional" in a traditional setting, such as people of color and women in a traditionally white male organization. The idea has been well received in medical education literature. There are also mosaic mentoring programs in various faith-based organizations.
Corporate mentorship programs
Corporate mentoring programs are used by mid to large organizations to further the development and retention of employees. Mentoring programs may be formal or informal and serve a variety of specific objectives including acclimation of new employees, skills development, employee retention and diversity enhancement.
- Formal mentoring programs
Formal mentoring programs offer employees the opportunity to participate in an organized mentoring program. Participants join as a mentor, protégé or both by completing a mentoring profile. Mentoring profiles are completed as written forms on paper or computer or filled out via an online form as part of an online mentoring system. Protégés are matched with a mentor by a program administrator or a mentoring committee, or may self-select a mentor depending on the program format.
Informal mentoring takes places in organizations that develop a culture of mentoring but do not have formal mentoring in place. These companies may provide some tools and resources and encourage managers to accept mentoring requests from more junior members of the organization.
- New-hire mentorship
New-hire mentoring programs are set up to help new employees acclimate more quickly into the organization. In new-hire mentoring programs, newcomers to the organization (protégés) are paired with more experienced people (mentors) in order to obtain information, good examples, and advice as they advance. It has been claimed that new employees who are paired with a mentor are twice as likely to remain in their job than those who do not receive mentorship.
These mentoring relationships provide substance for career growth, and benefit both the mentor and the protégé. For example, the mentor gets to show leadership by giving back and perhaps being refreshed about their own work. The organization receives an employee that is being gradually introduced and shaped by the organization's culture and operation because they have been under the mentorship of an experienced member. The person being mentored networks, becomes integrated easier in an organization, gets experience and advice along the way. It has been said that "joining a mentor's network and developing one's own is central to advancement" and this is possibly why those mentored tend to do well in their organizations.
In the organizational setting, mentoring usually "requires unequal knowledge", but the process of mentorship can differ. Bullis describes the mentoring process in the forms of phase models. Initially, the "mentee proves himself or herself worthy of the mentor's time and energy". Then cultivation occurs which includes the actual "coaching...a strong interpersonal bond between mentor and mentee develops". Next, under the phase of separation "the mentee experiences more autonomy". Ultimately, there is more of equality in the relationship, termed by Bullis as Redefinition.
- High-potential mentorship
High-potential mentoring programs are used to groom up-and-coming employees deemed to have the potential to move up into leadership roles. Here the employee (protégé) is paired with a senior level leader (or leaders) for a series of career-coaching interactions. These programs tend to be smaller than more general mentoring programs and mentees must be selected to participate.
A similar method of high-potential mentoring is to place the employee in a series of jobs in disparate areas of an organization, all for small periods of time, in anticipation of learning the organization's structure, culture, and methods. A mentor does not have to be a manager or supervisor to facilitate the process.
- Matching mentors and protégés
Protégés are matched with mentors by a designated mentoring committee or mentoring administrator usually consisting of senior members of the Training, Learning and Development and Human Resources departments. The matching committee reviews the mentoring profiles and makes matches based on areas for development, mentor strengths, overall experience, skill set, location and objectives for the mentorship. Mentoring technology can be used to facilitate matches allowing mentees to search and select a mentor based on their own development needs and interests. This mentee-driven methodology increases the speed in which matches are created and reduces the amount of administrative time required to manage the program. The quality of matches increases as well with self-match programs because the greater the involvement of the mentee in the selection of their mentor, the better the outcome of the mentorship. There are a variety of online mentoring technology programs available that can be utilized to facilitate this mentee-driven matching process.
Mentorship in education
In many secondary and post-secondary schools, mentorship programs are offered to support students in program completion, confidence building and transitioning to further education or the workforce. There are also many peer mentoring programs designed specifically to bring under-represented populations into science and engineering. The Internet has brought university alumni closer to graduating students. Graduate university alumni are engaging with current students in career mentorship through interview questions and answers. The students with the best answers receive professional recommendations from industry experts build a more credible CV.
The blended mentoring is a mix of on-site and online events, projected to give to career counselling and development services the opportunity to adopt mentoring in their ordinary practice.
In the reverse mentoring situation, the mentee has more overall experience (typically as a result of age) than the mentor (who is typically younger), but the mentor has more knowledge in a particular area, and as such, reverses the typical constellation. Examples are when young internet or mobile savvy Millennial Generation teens train executives in using their high end Smart Phones. They in turn sometimes offer insight in business processes.
The concept of mentoring has entered the business domain as well. This is different from being an apprentice, a business mentor provides guidance to a business owner or an entrepreneur on the entrepreneur's business. An apprentice learns a trade by working on the job with the "employer".
A 2012 literature review by EPS-PEAKS investigated the practice of business mentoring, with a focus on the Middle-East and North Africa region. The review found strong evidence to suggest that business mentoring can have real benefits for entrepreneurs, but highlights some key factors that need to be taken into account when designing mentoring programmes for this to be the case, such as the need to balance a formal and informal approach and to appropriately match mentors and mentees.
- Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
- Maybach Foundation
- Father complex
- New Teacher Center
- Peer mentoring
- Youth mentoring
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