Mentoring benefits everyone involved. It is an ancient form of one-on-one education. Yet, for many Americans, the concept is relatively new. Wikipedia reveals that while mentoring has existed in Europe at least since ancient Greek times, it came to the United States in the ‘70s as “an innovation in American management.” Has our tradition of classroom education in this country robbed us of an important teaching and learning method?
Mentoring can take on many different forms, each appropriate to the situation and the individuals involved. Typically, it involves someone with advanced knowledge, experience or skill set imparting that information to another person, one-on-one, over a period of time. It is relationship-based and requires clear communication skills.
The mentor and mentee (or protégée or apprentice) may work together for a short period of time, until an agreed upon skill level has been reached or they may have a longer term involvement such as in a work setting where one person’s learning builds on previous learning with multiple skills, both tangible and intangible, involved.
The Mentee Benefits
Mentoring benefits to the mentee are obvious and include:
- Acquiring the practical application of theories studied in classrooms
- Receiving supportive feedback so that mistakes become meaningful learning experiences
- Understanding of the nuances of communication within the corporate culture
- Uncovering sometimes undiscovered talents because of the nurturing and encouragement of the mentor
- Becoming an individual who is empowered by the validation from someone with more experience
And the Mentor Benefits
The mentor benefits as well. She or he gets to pass along years of accumulated wisdom derived from work experience in particular and life experience in general. Mentors know they are expanding their profession by imparting their knowledge to (usually) younger people. They have the opportunity to nurture new talent and to watch that talent blossom into an exceptional leader, manager or journeyman who is also learning how to be a mentor when that time comes. The mentor is creating a legacy.
Mentoring benefits can be measured but program success depends on many factors, including the training of mentors and the commitment of the organization to the success of the endeavor. The mentor and mentee have to match and to click in order to maximize the relationship. They should have clear, measurable goals that they discuss and agree upon from the beginning and that are attainable. The amount of time they maintain the mentoring relationship has to be known at the start. Mismatched expectations can wreak havoc while shared ones make for an effective bond.
Research: Evidence of the Effectiveness of Mentoring
Measuring the effectiveness and efficacy of mentoring programs has given rise to numerous studies. While some research provides statistics and percentages in clean, quantifiable results, these findings may or may not be getting at the lasting meaning of a mentoring experience for the individuals involved. Mentoring benefits are based on the relationship between two people which can be effectively measured qualitatively, by observing how the mentoring experience affects both individuals. The University of Massachusetts at Boston hosts The Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring with the stated goal of “creating the open and efficient exchange of research and ideas for the advancement of youth mentoring practice and policy.” (www.umbmentoring.org) The National Mentoring Partnership focuses on youth from the ages of 6 to 18. (www.mentoring.org) The latter group focuses on providing tools, programs and support to groups developing mentoring programs for underprivileged youth while the Center focuses on tracking research in the field.
Evidence so far tells us that companies that have formal mentoring programs have a higher appeal to young college graduates than those that do not offer mentoring. These graduates seem to be aware that individuals who are mentored are more likely to succeed to higher levels in their chosen profession than those who are not mentored. Mentees have more loyalty and commitment to the organization. Mentoring programs help build the corporate culture as well as profits. Wouldn’t the same be true of community-based mentoring programs and their effect on the whole community?
The Key Effect: Empowerment for Mentors and Mentees
One word that seems to be underused on web sites devoted to mentoring is “empowerment.” Yet this is a key effect of mentoring. The mentees become empowered as their skill levels rise, their decision-making becomes fine-tuned, their communication skills improve, and their confidence in all aspects increases. Mentors become empowered with the knowing that they are making a significant difference in the life of another person. (More on empowerment in the next article.)
Since antiquity, mentoring has mattered in the advancement of cultures. Now mentoring matters even more. We need a system that can help spread advanced skills and life knowledge beyond our traditional educational system to create community for all age groups in all social statuses and to encourage life-long learning. Mentoring simply matters; it answers these needs.
For more information on some of the research into different aspects of mentoring, check the following:
- For information from the standpoint of the mentor, check http://www.corwin.com/upm-data/17421_Chapter_5.pdf.
- For mentoring in the U.S. military, read http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2009-04/how-make-mentoring-work.
C Diane Ealy holds a Ph.D. in behavioral science. She specializes in the creative process and devotes her life to facilitating personal growth and empowerment. She is the author of five books including The Woman’s Book of Creativity, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Spirituality in the Workplace, Our Money Ourselves and Your Creative Soul.