What is Mentoring?

What is Mentoring?

Over the last few years mentoring has become a ‘buzz’ word in the world of work, as well as in church circles. It is a much talked-about and much written-about topic. But what is it?

At the most basic level, mentoring concerns a relationship where one person (normally more experienced, or senior, or with particular skills or wisdom to impart) seeks to guide the life of another with the aim of personal or professional growth, by mutual agreement.

Robyn Claydon, who for many years mentored women who were leaders in evangelism, wrote this:

Mentoring is rather like running an Olympic relay race.  The older, more experienced leaders running the Christian race are – or will be – in the process of handing the baton on to those coming up behind.  They don’t suddenly hand the baton on, for the other person may not be ready and drop it.  For a time, as in the race, one runs alongside the other, giving him or her strength and encouragement and handing on the baton when they know they are ready.

Mentoring is running alongside someone else for as long as it takes.

In both business and secular contexts, the words ‘mentoring’ and ‘coaching’ are used frequently, sometimes meaning the same things. The European Coaching and Mentoring Council tried for many years to define the two activities and distinguish them from each other, but abandoned the attempt, thus the line between them will always remain blurred.

Both terms are used in business for career development of those seen as high flyers aspiring to senior posts. In this context, coaching usually involves a relationship between an executive and an outsider that is focused on personal as well as professional and leadership development, while mentoring involves a relationship between an executive and (usually) a senior insider, focused on career development. In other words, a mentor’s role is to help a mentee to advance his or her career in the organization to which they both belong.

Writers on women in leadership emphasise the importance of mentoring as a tool for developing leadership skills, and progressing in an organization. Mentors can be especially important in helping women early in their careers: to provide contacts, give key information, and teach valuable skills. Women [link to 12]] sometimes struggle to establish an identity as a leader, to understand church politics and power, to find support, and mentoring can be helpful in all these areas.

Mentoring is more than two people spending time together. It is:

  • a mutual relationship: it flows in both directions
  • with an intentional agenda: there is an end in mind
  • filled with meaningful content: it combines theory and reality, thinking and practice
  • from one individual to another: it involves understanding that one person has resources and experience, while the other is eager to learn from someone who has already travelled down a similar path

However, much of this can happen in an informal way. There needs to be intentionality, but if mentoring is too structured, it won’t be any fun!

There are many definitions of mentoring. The one given here is the one used in the Arrow Leadership Programme (from CPAS), and which draws on other definitions:

Christian mentoring is a
dynamic, intentional relationship of trust
in which one person (mentor) enables another (mentee or mentoree)
to maximize the grace of God in their life
through the Holy Spirit,
in the service of God’s kingdom purposes,
by sharing their life, experience and resources.