While we often talk about what mentoring is, and what good mentoring looks like, we often fail to explain what mentoring is not.
And sometimes what something isn’t is just as important as what it is. So in the interest of clarification, here are 5 things that mentoring is not.
Mentoring is not coaching or training.
There is a place for both coaches and mentors in the world, but it’s not the same place.
Some of the main differences when comparing coaching/training to mentoring include:
- Money – a coach is remunerated for their services, where a mentor’s reward is altruistic.
- The outcome – A coach is usually engaged to assist with a particular problem thereby being more task oriented. In contrast, mentoring is relationship focused.
- Time – A coaching engagement is generally time bound. This may be a pre-determined deadline or based on reaching a particular outcome. A mentoring relationship can be guided by time (e.g 6 months), but it can be re-ignited at any point and certainly isn’t constrained to a set period of time.
- Initiative – In a coaching scenario, learning is directed by the coach rather than the student. Within a mentoring relationship, the expectation falls to the mentee to cultivate and drive the relationship.
Mentoring is not a passive endeavour.
Good mentoring doesn’t just happen; it requires conscious effort and commitment on the part of all parties involved: the program coordinator, the mentor, and the mentee. You can’t expect great output with poor inputs.
In fact, great mentoring and mentoring programs involve initial goal-setting, frequent communication, and a consistent desire on the behalf of the mentee and mentor to learn and connect.
Mentoring is not therapy.
A mentor is not a therapist. While a great mentor will help advise you through tough professional (and potentially personal) situations like job struggles and troubles, it’s important not to treat a mentor like a shrink.
There should be a constant undercurrent of positivity in mentoring; you should be talking about moving forward and making progress, not dwelling on your issues and troubles in a way that bogs the mentorship down.
While many of us do need a therapist type person in our lives (someone who listens to us non-judgementally), it’s not the role of your mentor. In fact, it’s not productive or inspiring for the mentor or the mentee.
Mentoring is not a one way street.
Historically, mentoring has been a pretty hierarchal affair. A relatively senior mentor would pass on their knowledge, expertise and experience to a more junior/younger mentee.
However, as the world has changed and evolved, so has mentoring. And today, mentoring is more of a two-way street than ever before.
It’s a two way street in the sense of both mentor and mentees must come to the table to share and connect. And it’s a two way street in the sense that both the mentor and mentee have valuable information to share (see: the rise of reverse mentoring (mentoring the mentors)).
A rapidly evolving consumer and business landscape, as well as the incessant march of technology means that we all need to lean on each other for specific knowledge, expertise, networks, and increasingly important soft skills.
Mentoring is not a cure-all.
Finally, mentoring is not a cure-all.
Mentoring can do amazing things for organisations including:
- Increase leadership development
- Improve culture
- Recruit better talent
- Increase employee retention
- Promote diversity and inclusion
It can also do amazing things for individuals:
- Increase the likelihood of getting a promotion
- Increase confidence
- Help with a career change/transition
- Increase leadership skills
But no matter how good a mentoring program, or how great your mentor is (Elon Musk or not), progress and success are a product and concoction of all of the ingredients in your life or organisation – guided by the desire to change and progress.
Mentors are there to guide you and help people, but it’s still down to each individual to take this advice, understanding and knowledge, and apply it to their own endeavours through task-setting, goal-setting and activity in general.
A great mentoring program can help drive real business results and impact at an organisational level, but it is just one component of a great developmental and inclusive culture.