Mentoring is when someone with lesser knowledge and someone with more form a relationship to help the one with lesser knowledge learn more.
That's a simple definition.
Demystifying mentoring (Amy Gallo, HBR)
Mentoring is about the transfer of wisdom. It’s deeper than knowledge alone. And mentoring relationships come in all shapes, colors, ages, and sizes. The only real requirement is that one person has greater knowledge/wisdom than another. Some would even question that and point to peer mentoring. True. Sometimes we have relationships that are pretty much a dead-even swap.
But in a traditional mentoring relationship there’s usually a gap and someone is seeking to close the gap. Both people stand to gain, but one typically stands to gain more, at least on the surface.
All mentors are not called mentors. Sometimes we learn a great deal from people we never formally name as a mentor. Sometimes we learn a great deal from people who are actually younger and less experienced than we are. So let me define that in this section of my blog, I’m talking about a traditional mentoring relationship that is intentional.
In other words, one person intentionally approaches another for the purpose of building a relationship to close whatever gap exists in knowledge/wisdom.
The 3 types of mentors everyone should have (Business Insider)
If you've done any reading on the topic of mentoring, you know the term originated from Homer's Odyssey. Mentor was a character put in charge of training Telemachus when Odysseus was away for twenty critical years of the young lad's life. I doubt Homer constructed Mentor from thin air. He likely observed real people serving in such roles.
The Bible offers several examples of mentoring relationships: Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Barnabas and John Mark, Paul and Timothy, Christ and The Twelve.
Literature, the sports world, celebrity, and politics are all littered with examples of mentoring relationships.
One well-known mentoring story is the relationship between Jackie Robinson, recently highlighted in the film 42, and Pee Wee Reese. Some might not categorize it as a mentoring relationship, just a friendship. But Pee Wee Reese offered a very public display of support to Jackie Robinson at a critical time in the new-to-professional-ball player's life. That's exactly what a mentor does.
All mentoring relationships are not formal and named. Each of us learns from others every day. We can have relationships with more knowledgeable folks and never call them our mentors.
On this blog, when I talk about mentorship, I’m talking about more formal relationships, not casual ones where learning is a happenstance, through simple osmosis or even accident. I believe that if you desire to grow and develop in some way--personally, or for career purposes--then intentional, formal mentoring relationships are worth the benefits of cultivating.
Mentorship is a powerful concept. Mentors can help protégés grow and develop a stronger skill set at a faster pace, with fewer career-damaging mistakes in their wake.
Mentoring is a term I predict we’ll continue to hear about in the coming years. With gaps in the Gen X workforce numbers, one of the best ways to get Millennial workers up to speed is through mentoring relationships. More and more organizations are creating mentoring models, but not all mentoring programs are created equally. Many are lofty in theory, but fall short in execution.
It's hard to argue against the benefits of mentoring. But for all the mentoring success stories, there are a lot of "could-have-been" and "should-have-been" stories, too. Mentors can abuse their power. And proteges can break trust.
Mentors are good. Sponsors are better. (NYTimes)
Healthy mentoring relationships offer multiple benefits, so it pays to learn how to build healthy mentoring relationships.
There is also a concept called "sponsoring" that has benefits. A mentor focuses on development. A sponsor is someone who helps you gain recognition--someone willing to position you, or put in a good name for you. Historically, female mentors have focused more on development and male mentors have sponsored, which can actually lead to more opportunities. So in recent years, there has been more discussion about the need for sponsoring, particularly for females and minorities who haven't always received sponsoring in the past.
Mentoring is best done face-to-face, forged over time. A true mentoring relationship, in my opinion, is a face-to-face relationship. There are a growing number of mentoring databases and online opportunities to seek advice from more experienced professionals, and while you might be able to establish a deep and meaningful relationship with someone this way, I think most mentoring relationships are best forged over time--breaking bread, drinking coffee, and having lots of Q/A.
Still...you can learn a great deal from folks you don’t have a face-to-face relationship with. As I seek self-improvement and personal development, there is a growing list of thought leaders helping me on that journey that I may never personally meet. The same is probably true for you. But I think of them as influencers and thought leaders instead of mentors.
Develop your own list of intellectual contributors and spiritual advisors. Find your people, those who help you become your best self. As one gentleman who has mentored several students in my courses recommended one time, build yourself an "inner circle"--a group of people you deeply respect to advise you through critical decisions in your life.
Mentoring helps the world go round. Herman Melville said, "We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results."
In a similar vein, John Donne said “No man is an island…each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
Mentors can have a powerful influence for good. So can proteges. I encourage you to consider building formal, intentional mentoring relationships if you're not already doing so. It's a good cycle--a great way to pay it forward and ensure the maturity of coming generations.
Additional mentorship Content