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Mentoring Still Matters

Gary R Collins
This week a newsletter reader sent a note about mentoring. “There is an endless supply of men and women here that long for input from older mentors. So many have never had a father or mother who believed in them.” Perhaps my friend had read the article on mentoring in the January 2008 Harvard Business Review. The HBR writers argue that in a hypercompetitive, hyper busy world, mentoring can become neglected but “young professionals are still looking for mentors who can give them advice, encouragement, and 
space to grow”. Young coaches, counselors, leaders, and students also long for mentoring but mentors are in short supply. Mentors walk alongside the protégé giving encouragement and sharing wisdom.

Here are some HBR conclusions about effective mentoring:
Mentoring must be personal. Standardised, highly structured, packaged mentorship programs are resisted by independent, achievement-oriented younger people. They want a trusted relationship with somebody with experience who genuinely cares, is not threatened by eager protégés, and can give feedback, perspective and encouragement. Formalised mentoring programs often kill that process.
Mentoring is not for everyone. Some people do it well; others do not. The best mentoring relationships are not assigned. Prospective mentors and protégés need to be available for mentoring. Both look for people with whom there is mutual chemistry, interests, and goals.
Mentoring is a two-way street. It is not exclusively top-down. Effective mentoring occurs when two people mentor and learn from each other in a reciprocal, mutual growing experience.

HBR summarised interviews with people who had good mentoring relationships. The interviewees said that a good mentor:
Is a person who is “absolutely credible” and has a high level of integrity.
Listens and responds in ways that show that the hearer has been understood.
Encourages and gives the protégé confidence that he or she can move forward despite inner doubts and fears.
Gives honest feedback but without being demeaning.
Interacts in ways that are respectful and that encourage the protégé to do better and to take risks.
Shares ideas, presents opportunities and gives challenges that the person being mentored may not have seen or recognised as possibilities.
Is not threatened by the protégé’s capabilities and opportunities to succeed and get ahead. Instead, good mentors cheer others on.
Is not too proud to learn from the protégé’s questions and experiences. The best mentoring is two way in which people with different experiences and places in life learn from one another.