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As mentoring gains in popularity organisations need to consider carefully this powerful tool for developing employees. The traditional models of mentoring however have failed to keep up with trends in business and we have witnessed a number of mentoring initiatives and relationships that falls short of being profitable. Mentors themselves often lack the fundamentals of mentoring and should consider to be more intentional in their efforts.

Mentoring refers to the process where a person with a serving and inspirational attitude, (the mentor) sees development and leadership potential in a still to be developed person (the protégé). The mentor is able to support, advise and guide, eventually significantly influencing the protégé along in the realization of potential. Mentoring could also be described as a dynamic, shared personal relationship in which a more experienced person acts as an adviser, guide and role model for a less experienced person.

Before getting involved in such a process mentors must carefully consider the intention of a mentoring relationship. The question "Why are we (organisation) involved in a mentorship endeavor?" and more specifically "What is the intention of my involvement in this relationship" ensure that mentors are not just incidentally involved.

A mentorship relationship should be well planned (intentional) around development. Mentors should invest time and energy in getting to know their protégé, increasingly ensuring independence through confidence building, even carefully considering the ending of the relationship. Mentors should also intermittently evaluate how "profitable" the relationship is.

A "profitable" mentorship relationship is an association that is rewarding for both parties. It consists of meaningful and valuable discussions. Not only do these discussions add value to challenges and problem solving but they provide noticeable and significant contributions towards learning and the growth and development of the protégé. A profitable relationship is characterized by common ground, high levels of trust and openness, substance in discussions and reciprocal outcomes over time for both parties.

What are the outcomes of mentoring? For a mentored protégé, the benefits are enhanced promotion rates, accelerated employability and career mobility, greater professional competence, better acceptance within and alliance to the organisation and also, of course…possible higher salaries.

The benefits for the mentor are personal satisfaction and fulfillment, enhanced professional career identity, personal renewal and development and recognition by the organisation and followers for developing talent. Possibly one of the greatest benefits that you could have as mentor is the pleasure associated with shaping future generations!

There are two fundamentals that managers should consider before they make themselves available as mentor. These fundamentals are at the core of an intentional mentorship relationship.

Mentors should fist recognize the challenge as mentor and then become acquainted with themselves.

Recognize the challenge as mentor

Mentorship is all about creating a profitable relationship with a protégé. Such a relationship takes time, commitment and a notable effort. When mentors dedicate and commit themselves to such a relationship, it can be compared to making an investment on the stock exchange. We make such investments because we have high expectations for our return on investment. A mentoring relationship should also pay dividends for both the mentor and the protégé. This would mean that as mentors (and protégés) we need to be selective with whom we are prepared to enter into such a relationship. As mentor we should also challenge our own thinking on the consequences of serving in a mentor role.Mentors should ensure their own competence as mentor but also hold themselves accountable for their behavour as role model and mentor.

Five thought-provoking questions that mentors should answer

1. "How successful can I be as a mentor if I question or doubt the significance of mentoring?"

Outstanding mentors are intentional about their mentor role. They understand the importance of raising up talent and ultimately ensure the future of their organisation. Mentoring is an act of bringing into existence and passing on a professional legacy. This requires individuals with the right heart, not the right resume!

2. "What if I am coerced or forced to mentor someone?"

No one should be forced into mentoring or into any particular relationship. Such mentors have the influence to dilute the power of mentoring in the lives of their protégés ultimately having a negative impact on the life and future of a talented individual. Seasoned mentors acknowledge that they cannot mentor everyone! Chasing numbers is a sure way to compromise on the quality of a mentoring relationship but also reducing the enjoyment of the mentoring experience.

3. "What are the potential risks of a mentoring relationship? What should I understand right at the start of the relationship?"

The greatest concern that mentors have prior to the start of the relationship, is the issue of time. Mentors must be realistic: mentoring is hard work and it does take up time and resources often beyond the normal working hours. Mentors should therefore safeguard their personal and private time as the relationship potentially could have repercussions for their professional and personal life. A deep mentoring bond could create perceptions of favoritism from other professionals or colleagues who are threatened or even reverberate into the mentors' marriage. Considering these threats mentors should use their mentoring relationship as an opportunity to model to their protégé how to balance a professional and personal life. They need to honor the commitments of the relationship (keeping to appointments and promises) but also how to set boundaries for their personal life.

4. "How important is it to be passionate about the development of people?"

The greatest joy for a mentor should be to see the person that he has guided/advised, achieve great heights, career success or accomplish set out goals. When mentors are passionate about the development of their people, they make time, they set high expectations for their protégé and ultimately inspire and encourage the right behavior.

5. "Would I succeed as a mentor if I hold low expectations for someone who has approached me to be their mentor? - Can our expectations for others have a measurable impact in real life?"

The power of our expectations plays a vital role in the success of our mentoring relationships. We must understand that what we expect from one another often turns out to be what we get from one another. Johann Wolfgang van Goethe explains "Treat a man as he appears to be and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he were already what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be"

When a mentor sets high expectations for their protégés, it can have a direct impact on the protégé's performance, development and ultimately career success. Protégés that are treated as high performers often perform better because their mentors brought about the very behaviour they expected from their protégés. Remember this very important principle… we teach more to those from whom we expect more!

The opposite is also true…When mentors hold low or negative expectations for their protégés; the unfortunate result may be that they might negatively impact the protégé's performance.

Be acquainted with…you / Be self conscious

One of the most essential qualities of a great mentor is not perfection, but credibility. The purpose of mentoring is for a mentor to share his/her wisdom and knowledge, often also an understanding of life, ultimately developing the protégé's potential to become the best they can be. How do we build this credibility as mentor when there is no such thing as being perfect? Not by pretending to be perfect, but by being honest. And that honesty should start by being honest with yourself!

This self- consciousness of one's own values, believes, motivation, moods, dreams, weaknesses and fears is a vital component of effective mentoring. When we know ourselves we can appreciate our strengths and talents in various situations but also discover our own limitations and areas for further growth. We all have weaknesses. In fact we have physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual limitations. Own up to these imperfections. As a matter of fact make a list of them. When mentors recognize their own weaknesses it prevents arrogance. Most of all, weaknesses increase our capacity to have empathy with our protégés. This allows "self conscious" mentors to relate in various relationships as they are non defensive. They have the ability to connect in delicate relationships with protégés; they are willing and able to explicitly share their own life stories. When mentors become self conscious there is no need to "put up a front" or to "pretend to have it all together". If protégés only see our strengths, they get discouraged and might believe that their mentors would not be able to understand their situation or problem.

Self conscious mentors have the confidence to say "I don't know" or "I can't help you on this". Their honesty enables them to act consistently and act congruently. They make time to answer to themselves and then to others.

In conclusion, building the capacity around mentorship as a tool for developing and retaining people is vital. Managers need to embrace this tool and grasp the fundamentals of profitable mentoring relationships. They should be encouraged to be intentional in their efforts as mentors - and in so doing, make a much greater contribution and a significant impact in and on the lives of others.

This is an extract from Niël Steinmann's book called "Fundamentals for effective mentoring: Raising giant killers"

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