What is Mentoring?

Mentoring is a collaborative partnership that involves the exchange of ideas, knowledge and skills to facilitate the professional and personal development of the individuals involved.

In the workplace, it typically involves a more experienced and senior individual acting as mentor to a less experienced mentee. The mentor uses a range of skills such as questioning, listening, clarifying and reframing to encourage learning and development, and to enable the mentee to gain insights, make decisions, plan, take action, and, ultimately, progress in their careers.

Mentoring is not about telling someone how to do things or what is best. It is about the sharing of perspectives and experiences to empower the mentee to discover and implement their own solutions.

The Benefits of Mentoring

Mentoring can bring many positive benefits to the mentee, mentor and the organisation as a whole.

Mentee benefits

The mentee in a mentoring relationship has the opportunity to gain a wide-ranging set of new skills, knowledge and behaviours, as well as grow in confidence. It has been reported that 97% of mentees feel that their mentoring relationship is valuable and that mentees are five times more likely to be promoted than those who don’t have a mentor.

Mentees can:

  • Develop skills and competencies
  • Improve working relationships
  • Gain new experiences
  • Develop leadership and management skills
  • Increase career progression opportunities

Mentor benefits

It is not just the mentee who benefits from a mentoring relationship. Mentors have the potential to:

  • Develop active listening and other mentoring skills
  • Grow their people management capabilities
  • Gain knowledge and understanding from a colleague at a different level within the organisation
  • Influence workplace culture and perceptions

Organisational benefits

A structured mentoring programme within an organisation has the potential to transform working relationships and culture. In government research it was found that 76% of UK businesses said mentoring had been one of the keys to business growth and 60% said it helped them boost their business strategy. Many organisations experience:

  • Improved recruitment with a more attractive offer to prospective employees
  • Improved staff retention and building of internal talent pipelines
  • Better staff development and filling of skills gaps
  • Increased collaboration and a more inclusive, supportive workplace

You can read more about the benefits of a specific coaching and mentoring programme in our St Andrew’s Healthcare case study.

Being an effective mentor

Being an effective mentor requires reliability, persistence, respect, vulnerability, good humour and patience. For those new to mentoring, some of these qualities and skills may come easily, while others may take more practice.

As you prepare to start working with a mentee, it is helpful to have good self-awareness. You might want to spend some time thinking about your own strengths and weaknesses and what you will bring to the mentoring relationship.

It is important to allow the mentoring relationship to build over time and to make the effort to get to know your mentee – their goals, aspirations, challenges, strengths and weaknesses. You need to understand what the mentee wants to learn and get out of the mentoring relationship. This will allow you both to set expectations and objectives (and how these will be measured) at the start of the process and also check that their needs align with what you will be able to offer as a mentor.

In order to full understand your mentee, listening will clearly be critical and mentors need to avoid the temptation to dominate the conversation. Effective listening practices and communication skills are one of the key elements of being an effective mentor, and techniques such as using open questions, reframing and reflecting are useful.

You should allow the mentee to take the lead in the relationship. Give encouragement and share ideas but don’t become prescriptive or didactic in your approach. Your role is to guide and empower, not to tell them what to do. Remember that this is a reciprocal relationship and be open to the idea that you might learn things from them as well.

In terms of more practical matters, make sure you turn up on time, keep your scheduled meetings as much as possible, do what you say you will do and keep any shared information confidential. Set out a mentoring plan at the beginning of the process to include when and where you will meet, the frequency of meetings, channels of communication and the expected duration of the relationship. Many mentors and mentees also choose to keep a mentoring diary during the process, to record mentoring activity and reflect on the relationship and their own performance.

Being an effective mentee

A lot of the advice for mentors also stands for mentees. For example, it is useful to spend some time reflecting on your own challenges, strengths and objectives before starting, and remember that it takes time and effort to build trust and a good mentoring relationship.

Mentees should be open-minded and willing to learn. You may not always agree with your mentor’s perspective, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t still gain insights from their experience and skills.

As much as possible, be honest – about areas where you lack confidence or situations where you find it difficult to make a decision. Trying to put on a brave face and hide any vulnerabilities will limit the guidance your mentor can provide and the amount you can get out of the relationship. Remember that they were in your position (or similar) once too and have probably faced comparable challenges.

Do not rely on your mentor to always take the lead. You need to show initiative and be proactive in the relationship. Make sure that you keep in contact with your mentor regularly or as agreed at the outset, follow through on any agreed actions, and think about questions or topics you want to cover in your next session. You may even want to email your questions to your mentor ahead of your meeting, to give them the opportunity to reflect.

Most of all, it is critical to be a good listener. Your mentor will provide guidance and feedback, much of which will be positive but some may be more constructive. Try and not be defensive or dismissive and remember that they are trying to help you. Your mentor’s perspectives and past experiences can provide you with opportunities to reflect and allow you to consider how you can improve yourself and your performance.

Want to find out more?

If you are interested in becoming a mentor and developing your mentoring skills, one option is to consider undertaking a mentoring qualification. At ILM we offer mentoring qualifications at levels 2 and 3, as well as level 5 and 7 programmes in coaching and mentoring. You can read more about our coaching and mentoring qualifications, and for individuals, you can also use our search function to find an appropriate training provider.