What is mentoring?

You have probably been mentored at some point in your life. Think back to a time when someone took an interest in your welfare, shared their own experience and knowledge with you and enabled you to develop. In essence this is what mentoring is all about – an enabling relationship based on an exchange of knowledge, experience and goodwill. According to David Clutterbuck, a global authority on mentoring, “A mentor is an individual who is willing to help someone less experienced gain confidence, clearer purpose, insight and wisdom”.

What is the difference between managing, mentoring and coaching?

At the University of Bristol we are promoting a developmental approach to mentoring, this is based on a high level of two-way learning and on helping the mentee with the quality of their thinking around issues that are important to them. It is not about fast tracking the mentee in their career, a talent management approach or about identifying developmental needs or working on performance. It is about supporting the mentees learning and development, particularly as he or she experiences some sort of change.

The guidelines here are based around David Cluttebuck’s book “Making the most of Developmental Mentoring” and are here to support you to develop your own mentoring relationships.

When might a mentor be useful?

 The most common applications of mentoring are at times when there is a need for the mentee to significantly change how they think and behave and how they identify and solve problems, examples would be:

  • For new starters, to support them in navigating the new environment.
  • Major transitions of role, for example when taking on management responsibility or moving from PhD student to Postdoc.
  • To support diversity management and equal opportunity programmes.

The key function of the mentor is to help people find their way through these changes, sharing when appropriate their own experiences of the same transition.

Overall benefits of mentoring relationships include:

  • increased motivation, productivity and performance,
  • improved interpersonal relationships, communication and networks,
  • more awareness for both mentees and mentors of their own personal impact,
  • clearer idea of career path or goals,
  • better understanding of what is required in their role,
  • greater confidence,
  • easier integration into a new role, institution, culture, or country.

The basis of any mentoring relationship is that:

  • Participation is on a voluntary basis.
  • Mentoring conversations are confidential and private.
  • The mentor is outside the mentee's direct line management chain, with greater experience in one or more areas.
  • The conversations are not about performance.