What is Mentoring? The Role of a Mentor
Mentoring is about one person helping another to achieve something. More specifically, something that is important to them. It is about giving help and support in a non-threatening way, in a manner that the recipient will appreciate and value and that will empower them to move forward with confidence towards what they want to achieve. Mentoring is also concerned with creating an informal environment in which one person can feel encouraged to discuss their needs and circumstances openly and in confidence with another person who is in a position to be of positive help to them.
The need or even the necessity to achieve is present in all stages of life. At school and higher education there are standards to attain and examinations to be passed. If we have a hobby or a spare time interest, it is likely that we will be keen to get to grips with it as quickly as possible. When we start work we need to know the ins and outs of our job and what we are expected to do. In time, we may wish to consider the career prospects that exist in our current job and what we might aspire to. On a personal level, we may have set goals for achievement in the medium and long term. Clearly, we need help, advice and support in many aspects of life.
There are many sources of help that are linked to the attainment of goals. The formal structures within education, for instance, are designed to help students to complete their studies successfully. In the world of work, most organizations have systems of training and in-service development. Frequently, these are linked, and rightly so, to formal strategies for training and development, supported by processes of appraisal and performance review. Many of these approaches, however, have a common element - they take place in-house within the line management structure. Formal training and development structures are intended to be supportive and helpful. It is a fact of life, however, that some people do find it difficult, and possibly embarrassing, to discuss matters of a personal nature and their true career development intentions with those with whom they are in a line management relationship. In such cases, some other type of help and support is desirable.
Mentoring is an approach to people development that introduces an independent and objective source of help outside and independent of the line management relationship. It is being introduced, increasingly, into many different organizations and circumstances. Common examples are found during formal periods of training, in preparation for vocational or professional qualifications, in the introduction of new employees to new jobs and, at the opposite end of the structure, to help senior members of staff to prepare for their next posts. Mentoring also features within the academic sector - in the staff development processes of some colleges of further and higher education - and is also being used in schools to foster the development of gifted schoolchildren.
Whatever the circumstances, mentoring is an exclusive one-to-one relationship, is completely confidential and can be a useful complement to other staff development tools.