The Torment over Mentoring; the BiggerPicture Everyone from Iraqi Police to Heads of British Businesses, Seems to Have a Mentor. Jo Ind Asks What Mentoring Involves and Whether It Works

The Birmingham Post (England), March 5, 2008 | Go to article overview

The Torment over Mentoring; the BiggerPicture Everyone from Iraqi Police to Heads of British Businesses, Seems to Have a Mentor. Jo Ind Asks What Mentoring Involves and Whether It Works


Mentoring is a practice that is now so widespread there is no sector that is not affected.

Double Olympic Champion Dame Kelly Holmes has gone from being an athlete to a mentor to young women with sporting potential.

Mentoring is seen as a solution to guns and gang crime, homelessness and lack of participation in the democratic process. The army even provides mentoring to Afghan troops and Iraqi police.

But what is mentoring? Why has it become so popular and what is it all about?

"The definition we use as a kind of benchmark is that it's a one to one non-judgmental relationship which should have some defined or specific goals," says Emma Dobie, marketing and operations manager for the National Mentoring and Befriending Foundation (NMBF).

"It could be within an educational setting in a school, used to improve school attendance, or within a community setting to help refugees and asylum seekers access more services, or within a rural setting to reduce social isolation.

"Befriending is more of an informal relationship.

How it works depends on where you are and what your project is trying to achieve."

The foundation helps more than 3,000 organisations to develop mentoring and befriending programmes, giving advice on matters like recruiting volunteers, training, monitoring and evaluating and providing a bench-mark for safe and effective practice.

"It works because it's one to one," says Emma. "It's just one piece of a support package.

It won't solve all evils, but it is a little bit different to the support services available within the normal services.

"It's non-judgemental. It's a peer supporting that person or someone who has been through it themselves. That's what makes it effective."

If mentoring is taking off in the educational and voluntary sectors, it is even bigger news in business.

Mentoring in some form is used in many industries. It is widespread in the National Health Service, financial services and motoring and pharmaceutical industries, for example.

Phil Ferrar, principal consultant with Momenta, a company which provides training and coaching to clients like banks and insurance companies, says mentoring has taken off in the past five or six years.

"It was being used ten years ago but there were pockets. Now it's much more widespread," he says.

This concurs with the experience of the Coaching and Mentoring Foundation which was set up nine years ago by individuals working in the field who wanted to clarify some of the confusion around the area and share expertise.

"At the time we fully expected the life-span of that service would be a fairly short one - four to five years. Nine years on, it's an area that's still growing," says founder Anna Guest.

Anna says there are several different definitions of mentoring and it does not matter which one you use, so long as you are clear about it.

Confusions can arise as to whether the mentor is instructing the mentee or enabling the mentee to find his or her own solutions, and also over whether the aim is specifically specific business related focus or whether the idea is for the mentee to be prepared to examine home life as part of the relationship.

"Our view in the network is that both are valid definitions but what you need to do is be really clear and not get expectations that are at odds with each other, particularly in a business context," she says.

"For example the mentor and mentee need to know to what extent it is appropriate to discuss issues of home life impacting on their work life. That might not be appropriate in a business context and it might take the mentor outside his own capabilities in going into those areas."

There are a particular set of skills that a mentor needs. The mentor must be able to ask rather than tell, be a good listener, be selfaware so they know why they have been successful, what had worked for them, to know that their style is not everybody's style, to have a genuine interest in helping a person. …

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