“A fundamental form of human development where one person invests time, energy, and personal know-how assisting the growth and ability of another person.”
This is how American author and communications expert Gordon Shea defines mentorship in his bestselling Mentoring: How to Develop Successful Mentor Behaviors. Indeed, the benefits of mentorship in the work environment have been well documented, but do these advantages translate in a wider context? Can mentorship be used to uplift whole communities? We put the question, and a few others, to George Phipps of GLC Consulting, an educator at SACAP with over 30 years’ international experience in developing leaders.
Q: Please define mentorship. How does it differ from coaching, for instance?
A: Both coaching and mentorship are support systems that help people get from where they are now to where they want to be. The key difference between the two disciplines is that mentoring is directive and coaching is non-directive. This means that the coach believes the coachee to be “whole” and have the answers they need within themselves. The coach’s role is to support coachees to reach their own conclusions, plan their own goals, recognise what might get in the way and to hold themselves accountable for their own decisions. While mentoring takes many forms, essentially, the mentor shares his or her wisdom and knowledge to help mentees in their personal and professional development. The mentor will also assist with goal setting and accountability.
Q: Why is mentorship of particular significance in a South African context?
A: Mentoring is an amazing approach to dealing with diversity. For the first time in history, we have five generations working side by side in the workplace. Mentorship can support people to break down generational and hierarchical structures in order to promote workplace wellness. It encourages individuals to question their assumptions and biases. In a country where there is much transition on the go, mentorship can play an important role in helping people understand cultural differences and in promoting understanding and relationship building across race, age and experience. It is even being applied successfully in schools (where older and younger pupils are paired up as a support system) to address bullying and provide a safer and more comfortable environment for children. Crucially, mentorship is also a low-cost way of facilitating knowledge and skills sharing.
Q: What is the most important question to consider when implementing a high-impact mentoring programme?
A: Start by asking, “What outcome are we looking for from this programme?” If people understand what they want to achieve they are more likely to be supportive and to plan appropriately and effectively. It’s about educating people on the power and effect mentorship can have on others and within their group.
Q: One of the biggest challenges for the mentoring field is the often large gap in socio-economic status between those who are mentoring and those receiving services. How can a prospective mentor best prepare him- or herself for working with those in underprivileged communities?
A: Mentors should start by reaching within and asking themselves why they are doing this in the first place. They should be honest about their comfort levels and boundaries when entering into a mentoring relationship. Many mentoring relationships fail because of poor matching systems. A productive mentor will be sure of him- or herself and prepared to stretch his or her comfort zone. Mentors should also have high levels of emotional intelligence. Ultimately, the mentoring relationship has to work both ways for it to be effective, so the mentor needs to “check-in” with the mentee at regular intervals to ensure this is happening. Before starting on the mentoring journey, both the mentor and mentee should agree to a plan and a desired outcome to be achieved within a certain time period. The more planning and open discussion done upfront, the greater the chance of attaining a successful outcome. Planning and open discussion also assist in the development of trust, which is a key component of a successful mentoring process.
Q: While the advantages of mentorship to the mentee are well documented, what advantages are there to the mentor?
A: Mentorship opens the mind to new ideas and creates a model for collaborative leadership. It also assists in the development of trusting relationships with increased communication. It helps the mentor develop his or her own leadership skills while at the same time identifying rising talent within a group, organisation or community. Above all, though, it brings the personal satisfaction of knowing that you helped someone else.
But perhaps Dr Lois Zachary, an internationally recognised expert on mentoring, puts it best in her Creating a Mentoring Culture:
“Mentoring relationships offer an opportunity for individuals to nurture seeds in others so they might become blossoms and blossoms might become fruit, which then nourishes others. When mentoring relationships are rooted in the fertile soil of a mentoring culture, they also enrich the quality of organizational life. The lessons learned there transcend specific mentoring relationships and blossom into fruit in other relationships, both inside and outside the workplace. In its wider scope, mentoring ultimately enriches humanity by helping people connect to a higher purpose that has the potential to change the world.”
If you believe in the power of mentorship to enrich lives and empower the nation, the SACAP Graduate School of Coaching & Leadership offers courses that will qualify you for a career in professional coaching. To find out more, just click here.