If you think of mentoring as 'giving backí youíve missed the boat!
By Dr Phil Renshaw
January 6 2021 - A good mentor doesnít just "give back". With the right mindset, they should be learning too. Now, particularly during the challenging times of COVID-19, is the ideal time to put this into practice.
When I was younger, I used to hear people talking about mentoring as a way of "giving back". It was the idea that they could share their wisdom and experience to help others. Whilst the logic seems sound it hugely misses the real point of effective mentoring and whilst the model is definitely changing, it is still not unusual to hear people speaking this way. Itís time to challenge those assumptions and encourage people to think differently.
If we think of mentoring as an act in which we tell other people how they could benefit from our experience, we completely miss the fact that every experience is and will be different. It also misses that all of us, as individuals, are different and hence what might work for one person may not work for another. Also, if you are older and wiser, you might very well be out of date too. Whilst we can share our experiences as mentors it is important to let others interpret them in whatever way they see fit. If it is useful and helps them find an approach that suits their position, then this is fantastic. Otherwise, they should be allowed to bin it!
The critical thing is that effective mentoring is done in such a way that the mentor gains as much from the experience as the mentee. The mentor gains in different ways, but gains nonetheless. This happens because the mentor has been given the opportunity to practice how to support others effectively. This involves helping others find their own solutions and taking action to change; motivating others and helping them identify their own weaknesses and strengths in ways that they can build on. And which work for the mentee.
All of this requires skill, particularly, skills of leadership. There is absolutely no reason why an older, experienced senior individual should have this particular skill - unless they have practised it. One great way to practice this is by becoming a mentor much earlier in life. Many large organisations already recognise this and recommend "reverse mentoring". This is the idea that somebody junior and yet with different valuable experience (most obviously perhaps in the world of the digital world and technology) can mentor somebody who is their senior.
Iím not convinced by the term "reverse mentoring" and prefer "peer-to-peer mentoring", because it recognises that both sides benefit from effective mentoring. Nonetheless if using this term helps encourage people to practice mentoring earlier in their careers in order to develop their leadership skills, then Iím all in favour.
But what about working during the COVID-19 pandemic? Currently, weíre all reading about the importance of wellbeing, the importance of maintaining and building relationships through unusual virtual mechanisms and the importance of onboarding new joiners who do not have the usual processes available to learn. This means that there is a large opportunity to address this through building mentoring relationships.
Of course, these do not have to be named as mentoring relationships. Iím of the view that it doesnít matter what we call this relationship, provided it happens. Indeed, my best and most important mentor was never named in that way. It was simply how they supported me that mattered.
So, if you have read this far, I urge you to take a small action by reaching out and contacting at least one person to offer your help and support in whatever way makes sense. You might specifically ask to set up a peer-to-peer mentoring relationship. Alternatively, you might suggest that by talking regularly you think you could help each other in both your learning and development. If you are the senior party then take a moment to share and explain how youíre also looking to learn from this experience. This honesty will develop you both even more.
Go mentor! Now is the time. Bite that bullet!
About the author
Dr Phil Renshaw is Senior Lecturer at London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) Executive Education and has delivered leadership development and coaching courses for many years. He is the co-author of Coaching On the Go. The skills of coaching in leadership directly support effective mentoring.