What is Mentoring?

A mentor is someone who takes on the role of a trusted adviser, supporter, teacher and wise counsel to another person. A mentor adopts a primarily selfless role in supporting the learning, development and ultimate success of another person. By ‘primarily selfless’ I mean that while as a mentor you will always benefit in some way from the relationship, these benefits are usually indirect and not your main motivation for mentoring someone. For example, you might enjoy your mentoring sessions and gain skills and insight from doing that. However, mentoring is effective when focused clearly on the needs, goals and challenges of the person you are mentoring – often referred to as the ‘mentee’.

Mentoring can be defined by the nature and intention of a relationship. The term ‘mentor’ has roots in Greek mythology and indicates a relationship of support, help and guidance given from a wise elder to a younger, less experienced person. This idea of passing down wisdom has been embedded in cultures for thousands of years and can be seen in relationships both inside and outside the workplace. Mentor relationships have consistent features based on the original archetype of the role. By archetype, I refer to a typical model or consistent expression of what we instantly recognise to be a mentor, which can inform our understanding. While situations and appearances may vary, the essential qualities remain. Consider the fictional Star Wars character of Yoda offering wise counsel to Luke Skywalker, or The X Factor judges mentoring their performers – can you see common features in those relationships? From community mentors working with youth, to business mentoring, from mentoring in young offender programmes to apprenticeships in skilled trades, the ancient archetype of a mentor is brought to life all around us.

Indeed, the mentor archetype is so constantly present in our lives that its powerful principles can remain unseen. For example, forming a relationship with someone whom we respect and trust, and that relationship becoming a source of guidance, support and learning is something we have all experienced. Think back: did you sometimes listen to the advice of another family relation more readily than that of your parents? Or was there someone else you might say that about? Most of us can recall someone we might now recognise was a mentor for us in the past.

There are countless benefits available in becoming a mentor, many unforeseen and unexpected. From my experience, mentoring someone can be challenging, fulfilling, gratifying, annoying, frustrating, impossible and fun – all with the same person! Reasons that you might consider mentoring others include: