The world of female educational leadership is on fire! Over the last couple of years, thanks to the work of #WomenEd and an increasing recognition that the time for female leadership in education is NOW, women and men alike have been looking at ways in which female leaders can be supported through relevant, on the job support mechanism. Mentoring is one of them and here is why and how organisations and individuals should get involved.
Mentoring is as old as humankind. The word transports us back to ancient Greek mythology, to the time when Ulysses entrusted his son to his friend Mentor before leaving for a long war. Ulysses asked Mentor to turn his boy into a man, to teach him the rope of life. Ever since mentoring signifies a relationship with an older and wiser person who ‘has been there, got the t-shirt’ and can therefore share his/her wisdom with a less experienced professional. Mentoring has evolved over time, but its core aspects remain and so does its value. Mentoring and Coaching are not the same thing, although they overlap in some areas, but both types of interventions can be used effectively to develop and support individuals and organisations if qualified practitioners become involved. Sponsoring is sometime the direct consequence of mentoring however, as senior professionals proactively champions the progression of former mentees they have helped develop.
In organizations, embedding mentoring practices encourages learning and development across all levels through a relationship-based, on-the-job process. Experience shows that, mentoring is highly effective because:
· It is a personalised intervention based on effective communication.
· It helps managers improve their ability to listen and question and be questioned by their staff. It helps individuals to develop within the organisation’s framework.
· It helps improve team-working / working relationships across departments at different levels and between specific individuals.
· It helps identify and support talent management and succession planning.
As an individual woman (or man for that matter) one can use a mentor, or more than one, for different personal and professional purposes:
- To address on-going issues and challenges, in one’s personal and professional life
- To help you raise self-confidence, self-esteem and self-awareness
- To help with identifying and pursuing a pathway, whether in relation to work or your private life
- To start new projects, careers, or indeed a business.
There are almost no limits to what mentoring can do for individuals, because it is meant to be a safe yet energising environment in which to discuss ideas within the fear of being judged or assessed in any way. A mentor is there to support you, stimulate your thinking, and stretch you at times. BUT above everything else a mentor is there to help individuals achieve their potential.
As a senior female educational leader put it to me ‘For me it was about having the right mentor that understood the sector, culture and politics. The process helped me navigate my way through some of the complexity’.
Finding the Right Mentor
Mentors can be found in many context: in work, at a club, within professional associations.
Many mentoring relationships are informal and therefore free. These can work very well and suit individual situations if one has clarity about their objectives and they fully trust the mentor. Often work-placed mentors fall in this category, they take the role of sounding board, they open doors, they help us network but we do not expect them to see us every month or to necessarily help us set the agenda. They are slightly more reactive, responding to our needs as and when we raise an issue.
There are however situations in which it is better for the aspiring ‘mentee’ to put some more structure around the relationship. For example, when clarity is missing or when one needs to quickly identify positive and tangible outcomes. In these cases a ‘professionally trained’ or qualified mentor is a better choice. This when mentoring may demonstrate some overlap with coaching. When a mentor is a third party, paid for its mentoring expertise and contracted for a period of time, the relationship begins to resemble a coaching one. Nevertheless there remains some important differences: for example, while coaching in the work place is often seen as remedial, mentoring is focussed on achieving the greatest potential and on moving from ‘good to great’. That is why people are happy to promote their mentoring relationship, as it is seen as highly aspirational!
How Does An Effective Mentoring Relationship Work?
Traditionally mentoring is done on a one to one, face to face basis.
Technology has helped us develop different way to deliver mentoring and it is not uncommon to have a remote relationship, taking place over skype or other such media.
Moreover, mentoring can also take place in a group context, can be reversed (a younger person mentoring a more senior professional), it can be focussed on specific areas (supporting and promoting women in the work place, maternity and returners mentoring and so on). Often these approaches are found within companies who have embedded mentoring in the way they operate.
Whichever way may work for you, I encourage you to look around you to see if you can find a mentor to help you grow in different areas of your life. Through mentoring you will discover opportunities and options you did not know you had.
Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions.