MarioFor the last 11 years Mario Alonzi has been working in the Public Sector delivering business start up advice through various government contracts. These have included Scottish Enterprise, Business Gateway, DWP Training for Work and various New Deal and Work Choice contracts through Job Centre Plus. At present he is working as a freelance Business Consultant alongside being a volunteer Funding Panel Chairman for the Princes Trust Youth Business Scotland, (PTYBS), a Business Mentor with the Young Enterprise Scheme, Lothian and a part-time Adult Education teacher, teaching Business Start Up.

Mentoring is supporting and encouraging individuals to manage their own ideals and learning so that they can maximise their potential, develop existing skills, learn new skills, build confidence and become the person they want to be or achieve desired goals.

The word “mentor” originates from the Greek myth in which the legendary King Odysseus went off to fight in the Trojan Wars, entrusting the care of his son to a friend called Mentor. The word mentor actually means “enduring” and is usually used to describe a sustained relationship between an experienced person and someone who is in the initial stages of their development. The Oxford English dictionary defines a mentor as an “experienced and trusted adviser”. The word mentor has also become synonymous with the idea of a trusted adviser, a friend, a teacher or a wise person.

Mentoring can take many shapes and forms but fundamentally focuses on the outcomes of the mentee, a common by-product of successful mentoring is that the mentor achieves almost as much as the mentee. There are many words associated with mentoring which are useful to understand the process such as, “Accompanying”, taking part in the learning side by side with the mentee. “Showing”, demonstrating, using your own examples. “Sowing”, laying the foundations of trust and mutual understanding in the early stages. “Harvesting”, making sure the mentee is aware of what they have learned along the journey. “Catalyzing”, gently nudging the mentee into changing circumstances where the learning takes a different path and leads to increased pressure levels.

What mentoring is not?

It is important to keep a clear focus otherwise a lot of time can be wasted on activities that aren’t strictly part of the process. It’s the mentor’s responsibility to perform a very specific role for the mentee and to be aware of what is and is not part of that role. How formal or informal the format is, is very much up to the mentor and the mentee to decide, but there are some things that are definitely not part of the mentor’s role.

Becoming the parent. The mentor realises that the mentee would like them to take control and lead the way, in which case the mentor should make it clear that the responsibility lies with the mentee. The mentee should be the one holding the reins not the mentor.

Becoming the councillor. The mentor should not be the person who fixes things when things go wrong for the mentee. The mentor is the one to signpost the mentee in the direction of “those who can” and they can return to the process of mentoring.

Becoming an Agony Aunt. The mentor’s job is not to listen to the mentee’s list of problems and issues but be able to steer them around and back on to dealing with the session as planned.

Becoming a friend. Maintaining a clear set of boundaries is paramount, the mentor should not be completely detached and the relationship should be a friendly one. The mentor must be in a position to be completely honest and perhaps even blunt at times, in a way that would be difficult for a friend.

Dishing out discipline. Just as the mentor is not there to look after the mentee, they are not there to be disciplinarians should they not be pulling their weight, they should simply tell them so. The success or failure of the mentee is not the mentor’s responsibility but their own.

Being god-like. No matter how much knowledge and experience a mentor has, they are not expected to have all the answers. The mentor’s role is not to tell the mentee what to do but to advise, guide and encourage them to progress towards their desired goals.

There are many types of mentoring available these days, the vast majority of mentoring is done face to face on a 1-2-1 basis. This allows the mentor to focus 100% on the individual mentee’s opportunities. The advantage of face to face interaction is that both the mentor and the mentee can gather more information from verbal and non verbal communication.

Face to face group mentoring is more popular in business mentoring. This allows a group of people to create a sounding board and form focus groups with each of them assuming the role of peer mentor. The advantage of this type of mentoring is that the group can offer different experiences from different perspectives, and in such situations the actual mentor becomes a facilitator to the group.

Telephone mentoring is usually used in tandem with face to face mentoring, it is delivered on a 1-2-1 basis so has the advantage of being focused on the mentee’s specific issues.

Similar to telephone mentoring, e mentoring is used as part of the face to face mentoring or on its own. It also is delivered on a 1-2-1 basis and allows the mentor to focus on an individual’s needs. The mentee is also able to provide much more information in the written form and this allows the mentor more time to consider the information before providing guidance and advice.

All in all a mentor’s role is to “Pull” and not “Push”.

PULL-Helping someone solve their own problemsPUSH- Solving someone’s problem for them
Listening to understandGiving advice
Asking questionsInstructing
Paraphrasing and summarisingTelling
Suggesting options
Giving feedback
Offering guidance

“Push & Pull” is an extract from the Coaching Spectrum Scale.

2 Comments on Mentoring

  1. sergio rubiales // November 6, 2013 at 7:06 pm // Reply

    Hi Mario. I’m totally agree with your comment. Right now I’ m working in a proyect helping young people to develop and create an start up.
    I think We have to ilustrate them how they can achieve a goal through racional and common thinkings as well as pull strategies .

  2. I think it is useful to be clear on what mentoring is not, as laid out in your article. Mentees’ expectations need to be realistic and they also need to understand that there has to be a certain amount of structure and a degree of formality to the relationship to allow it to work well.

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