The figure of a mentor has been around since the days of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Nowadays, people often talk about the importance of mentoring in personal development and career contexts, with ‘get a mentor’ being a key piece of advice from successful business people the world over.
In the search to find a mentor, you may find yourself asking what is a mentor, really?
What is a mentor?
A mentor is a person who can support, advise and guide you. They typically take the time to get to know you and the challenges you’re facing and then use their understanding and personal experience to help you improve.
This relationship is additional to a manager or boss and benefits from a more personal and confidential structure. Mentors have the potential to become lifelong friends, or the relationship might only last until you’ve achieved a goal, there’s no one size fits all.
Many celebrities have publicly discussed the impact their mentors had on their success, including Christian Dior, Richard Branson, and Oprah Winfrey.
What a mentor isn’t:
❌ While a mentor can provide invaluable support and guidance across a range of topics including mental health, they are not a therapist. It is important to establish this to all parties participating in mentoring.
❌ A mentor is not the same as a coach. Coaches are paid for and provide time-bound teaching on specific topics. You can find out more about the difference between mentoring and coaching here.
❌ Mentoring is not a magic cure. While mentoring can support a range of development goals and has many benefits for both parties and organisations, it isn’t going to fix everything. There are many complementary ways to develop your people alongside mentoring.
Definition: The act or process of helping and guiding another person to support their personal development.
Note that we’ve said ‘personal’ development here rather than ‘career’ development – and that’s because ultimately, mentoring is about people. If someone helps you improve your confidence or self-awareness, that’s going to translate beyond your day job.
What is the difference between mentoring and mentorship?
You may have heard the term mentorship used in various contexts and be unclear about what it means. Mentorship is simply the word for a mentoring relationship (mentor + relationship = mentorship). It can be used to reference both the act of mentoring and the relationship you have with your mentor or mentee.
What is the role of a mentor?
The purpose of a mentor is to help you grow as a person and become the best version of yourself.
This may involve helping you achieve your personal or career goals, introducing you to new ways of thinking, challenging your limiting assumptions, sharing valuable life lessons, and much more.
A mentor is someone that guides you and you may have several throughout your life and career. In fact, there are many different types of mentoring, from peer to peer, to group. You can find a mentor in many different ways.
Why do people become mentors?
People choose to mentor others because it’s an incredibly valuable experience; seeing somebody grow and succeed as a result of your advice is highly rewarding. There are many benefits of mentoring for the mentor as well as the mentee, such as improving communication and developing leadership skills.
Harvard Business Review conducted a study researching the positive effects of mentoring, and found that people who served as mentors also experienced lower levels of anxiety, and described their job as more meaningful, than those who did not mentor.
What makes a good mentor?
“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” — Bob Proctor
When asking, what is a mentor, it’s important to understand the difference between good mentors and… not so good ones. This quote highlights the essence of a good mentor: somebody that does not tell you what to do, but guides you to figuring it out for yourself.
When looking for a mentor there are certain characteristics to keep in mind. The traits of a good mentor include:
- Being a good listener
- Asking good questions
- Showing empathy
- Being encouraging and supportive
- A personable demeanour
- Giving constructive and honest feedback
Read our guide on How To Be A Good Mentor
Misconceptions about mentoring
There are a few common misconceptions about mentoring that affect the way people think about what a mentor is.
We want to set the record straight in this mentoring myth-busting:
- “Mentors have to be old” – Mentoring has no age requirements, and older people can benefit from being mentored by younger people, such as in reverse mentoring. What’s important is relevant experience and chemistry.
- “Mentoring only benefits mentees” – Mentoring has heaps of benefits for the mentor as well as the mentee, including; improving communication and leadership skills, increased fulfilment, likelihood of promotion and more. Read all the benefits here.
- “Mentoring is elitist” – It’s not about senior managers taking prodigies ‘under their wing’. Modern mentoring is fair and inclusive (when established right) and can break down unfair hierarchies.
- “You’re either a mentor or a mentee” – In fact, 89% of people with a mentor go on to be a mentor themselves. You can be both a mentor and mentee, and even switch between the two in a peer mentoring relationship.
- “My mentor has to be similar to me” – Familiarity is nice, but the best learning happens when you’re exposed to different ways of thinking. It can be better for your development to seek out opinions from outside of your usual spheres of influence.
How do you find a mentor?
If you have somebody that you admire in mind to be your mentor, we recommend you reach out to them for a coffee or a video call. Say you’d love to pick their brains about a certain topic and have some questions ready – don’t ask them to be your mentor straight away!
It’s important to build a relationship with them before making the ask. If you have good chemistry and you can see their experience being valuable to you in your career journey, then ask them if they’d be happy to meet more often and mentor you.
Read our full guide here: How To Find A Great Mentor
Sometimes it’s hard to find mentorship on your own. You might not know the right people, or feel intimidated to reach out to someone. In that case, speak to your organisation. More and more companies are running formal mentoring programs than ever, so there’s a good chance your company can support you. You can also find support through ERGs (employee resource groups).
So, there we have it! Everything you need to know about what a mentor is, and isn’t. If you want to learn more about mentorship download our e-book ‘Introduction to Mentoring’ to find out more!
If you’re an employer looking to establish or scale mentoring, get in touch with us by booking a demo.