What is Mentoring Anyway?

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Last week I had the opportunity to lead a discussion board on mentoring which was a great opportunity to make some of my implicit ideas about, exactly what is mentoring more explicit. Here are some quick thoughts on how to mentor.

My assumptions about mentoring: Mentoring defined

I thought it might be helpful to make a few implicit assumptions I have about mentoring more explicit

what is mentoring Ellen Ensher1)       Monogamy is required in a marriage but not in mentoring programs! In other words, develop a network of different type of mentors.  I define a mentor as One of a network of helping relationships who provides instrumental (task), psychosocial (emotional) support and serves as a role model. Please don’t get freaked out about the idea of having a network or feel more pressure—like geez Ellen I can barely find one- now you are telling me to have a network?! Instead, think of it this way- you don’t have to find the perfect mentor who does everything- instead one person can mentor in one task or provide valuable psychosocial support so it takes the pressure off.   If you have a network of helping relationships then you can calibrate your expectations for each person accordingly. For more on different types of mentoring, see my book with Susan Murphy, Power Mentoring.

2)      Everybody who makes it has a mentor!  With apologies to Sister Barbara, my high school writing teacher, who always cautioned us against using absolutes… I am going to boldly state that I believe this is true. If you study the biographies of successful people, I have an ongoing wager with my students and workshop participants that they would be hard pressed to find somebody who was successful who did not have some mentoring at some point.  Bill Gates had his high school teachers and looks to Warren Buffett for mentoring (in fact, I believe their relationship is probably more akin to peer mentoring now).  There was a interesting article in WSJ recently about wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg reaching out to established CEO’s for career advice and the list goes on….).

3)      Mentoring can benefit us, no matter our age or success level!  I believe that in order to be fully alive we have to keep growing, changing, and learning new success strategies. Students do this naturally as they have an established educational trajectory to help them.  As adults, we have to sometimes push ourselves or intentionally put ourselves in situations to do this. I think what is mentoring to me can be helpful anytime you learn something new, take on a new role, or make a change. So, when I became a mom, I found some mommy mentors. When I decided to jump into social media, I found some social media mentors. I think you will find it helpful to do the same.