Mentorship is a personal development a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger, but have a certain area of expertise. It is a learning and development partnership between someone with vast experience and someone who wants to learn.
The person in receipt of mentorship may be referred to as a protégé, an apprentice or, in recent years, a mentee.
"Mentoring" is a process that always involves communication and is relationship based, but its precise definition is elusive. One definition of the many that have been proposed, is
Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé)".
Mentoring in Europe has existed since at least Ancient Greek times. Since the 1970s it has spread in the United States of America mainly in training contexts, with important historical links to the movement advancing workplace equity for women and minorities, and it has been described as "an innovation in American management".
The roots of the practice originated in antiquity, as seen with Apollo and his relationships with Hyacinth, and Cyparissus as well as the young Orpheus. The word itself was inspired by the character of Mentor in Homer's Odyssey. Though the actual Mentor in the story is a somewhat ineffective old man, the goddess Athena takes on his appearance in order to guide young Telemachus in his time of difficulty.
Historically significant systems of mentorship include the guru - disciple tradition practiced in Hinduism and Buddhism, Elders, the discipleship system practiced by Rabbinical Judaism and the Christian church, and apprenticing under the medieval guild system.
The focus of mentoring is to develop the whole person and so the techniques are broad and require wisdom in order to be used appropriately.
A 1995 study of mentoring techniques most commonly used in business found that the five most commonly used techniques among mentors were:
- Accompanying: making a commitment in a caring way, which involves taking part in the learning process side-by-side with the learner.
- Sowing: mentors are often confronted with the difficulty of preparing the learner before he or she is ready to change. Sowing is necessary when you know that what you say may not be understood or even acceptable to learners at first but will make sense and have value to the mentee when the situation requires it.
- Catalyzing: when change reaches a critical level of pressure, learning can escalate. Here the mentor chooses to plunge the learner right into change, provoking a different way of thinking, a change in identity or a re-ordering of values.
- Showing: this is making something understandable, or using your own example to demonstrate a skill or activity. You show what you are talking about, you show by your own behavior.
- Harvesting: here the mentor focuses on "picking the ripe fruit": it is usually used to create awareness of what was learned by experience and to draw conclusions. The key questions here are: "What have you learned?", "How useful is it?".
Different techniques may be used by mentors according to the situation and the mindset of the mentee, and the techniques used in modern organizations can be found in ancient education systems, from the Socratic technique of harvesting to the accompaniment method of learning used in the apprenticeship of itinerant cathedral builders during the Middle Ages. Leadership authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner advise mentors to look for "teachable moments" in order to "expand or realize the potentialities of the people in the organizations they lead" and underline that personal credibility is as essential to quality mentoring as skill.
- Eight Types of Mentor: Which Ones Do You Need?. MasteryWorks.
- Bozeman, B.; Feeney, M. K. (October 2007). "Toward a useful theory of mentoring: A conceptual analysis and critique". Administration & Society 39 (6): 719–739. doi:10.1177/0095399707304119. http://aas.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/39/6/719.
- Parsloe, E.; Wray, M. J. (2000). Coaching and mentoring: practical methods to improve learning. Kogan Page. ISBN 978-0-7494-3118-1.
- Laird, Pamela Walker (2006). Pull: Networking and Success since Benjamin Franklin. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674025530.
- Odiorne, G. S. (1985). "Mentoring - An American Management Innovation". Personnel Administrator (30): 63–65.
- Daloz, L. A. (1990). Effective Teaching and Mentoring. San Francisco: Jossey Bass. pp. 20.
- Aubrey, Bob and Cohen, Paul (1995). Working Wisdom: Timeless Skills and Vanguard Strategies for Learning Organizations. Jossey Bass. pp. 23, 44–47, 96–97.
- Posner, B. and Kouzes, J. (1993). Credibility. San Francisco: Jossey Bass. pp. 155.