Happy National Mentoring Month!

Januar 9, 2024 | Hot Trends & Stats | 4 min read

January is National Mentoring Month, an annual celebration of the people who share their knowledge, experience, and support with individuals in a professional setting. National Mentoring Month was established 21 years ago by the Harvard School of Public Health to expand mentoring opportunities.

My guess is that you have benefited from mentors throughout your professional journey, much as I have. Great mentors have taught me how to lead in a way that builds those around me; how to create a personal brand that reflects both my character and competence; and how to steer my career in a way that makes a meaningful impact and brings me joy.

As you read this article, I invite you to reflect on what you’ve learned from your mentors as well as what impact you might have by mentoring others.

Exploring the Role of a Mentor

Generally, a mentor’s role is to foster their mentee’s growth, development, and success by offering guidance on career-related matters, sharing experiences, providing feedback, and serving as a role model. Mentoring relationships are often characterized by open communication, trust, and a mutual commitment to the mentee’s development. They can take various forms, from formal mentorship programs within organizations to informal, one-on-one connections between individuals.

Mentoring is certainly not new, and you might even be aware of some of the more publicized mentor/mentee relationships:

  • As far back as 400 BC, we know that Socrates mentored Plato. Plato, in turn, mentored Aristotle.
  • Steven Spielberg hired J.J. Abrams when he was just 16 years old to clean and tape old movies to prevent them from getting lost.
  • Bill Gates turned to Warren Buffett for advice on various business-related subjects.
  • And even in fiction, Professor Dumbledore mentored Harry Potter as he progressed through Hogwarts.

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What’s the Difference Between Mentoring and Coaching?

Here at Skillsoft, we often see the concept of mentoring confused with coaching. And while the terms “mentor” and “coach” are often used interchangeably, there are subtle differences in their roles and approaches.

Purpose and Focus: A mentor typically provides guidance, support, and advice based on their own experiences and expertise – taking a more holistic approach to personal and professional development. A coach focuses on specific goals and objectives. Coaching is usually task-oriented, aiming to enhance performance, develop skills, or overcome specific challenges.

Relationship Dynamics: The mentor/mentee relationship is often more informal and may involve a long-term connection. Coaching, on the other hand, offers a more structured relationship and may be short-term or project-specific. Coaches work to facilitate the client’s self-discovery and problem-solving.

Expertise and Experience: Mentors typically have experience and expertise in the mentee’s field or industry. They draw upon their success and challenges to guide the mentee. Coaches may not necessarily have specific expertise in the client’s field. Instead, they use coaching skills to help clients explore and find their solutions.

Goal Setting: Mentoring may involve broader life and career discussions. Goals may be less specific and more focused on overall development. Conversely, coaching often consists of setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals. The coach helps the client work toward these goals.

Feedback and Evaluation: Mentors provide input based on personal experiences and observations. Evaluation is often more subjective. Coaches provide feedback based on observed behaviors and outcomes. Evaluation is often more objective and tied to specific goals.

Initiation of Relationship: Mentoring relationships may develop more organically, often initiated by a senior professional offering guidance to a junior one. Coaching relationships are usually undertaken by the individual seeking coaching or by an organization for specific skill development.

In practice, individuals may exhibit characteristics of both mentors and coaches, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably depending on the context. However, understanding these nuances can help select the most appropriate support for different situations.

View Skillsoft’s Coaching Corner 15-minute webinar series to better understand who our coaches are and what a coaching relationship might look like for your organization.

How Hybrid Work Has Altered Mentorship

At Skillsoft, our coaching program is primarily virtual – which has translated well into this new era of hybrid work. However, mentorship has become more complicated as it must increasingly occur in virtual settings.

Today, it is expected to see mentorship interactions occur through video calls, emails, and other digital communication tools, allowing for flexibility and accessibility. And while this means that mentors and mentees must make a concerted effort to schedule time with each other, the silver lining is that participants can coordinate meetings around their work and personal commitments – making mentorship more accessible and accommodating for both parties.

Hybrid work has also enabled mentorship relationships to transcend geographical boundaries. Mentors and mentees can connect and collaborate regardless of physical location, providing opportunities for diverse perspectives and global networking. And because hybrid work often involves various technologies and digital platforms, mentors may now guide mentees on leveraging technology for professional development, such as virtual training, online courses, and digital networking.

Finally, because hybrid work places a greater emphasis on outcomes and results rather than traditional measures of work based on physical presence, mentors may help mentees set and achieve goals in this results-oriented environment. In some ways, this is reminiscent of coaching, where establishing specific and actionable goals is a crucial component of employee success.

Read more about Adobe’s initiative to provide leadership coaching at scale.

Are you looking to establish a coaching program at your organization? Download our free guide on how to build future-fit leaders through coaching.