Before we talk in detail about how mentoring can benefit personal development, let’s explain exactly what mentoring is. It’s worth doing this because often there is confusion between mentoring and coaching and between people giving general advice and mentoring. There are some grey areas, but we can simplify these down, such that you can decide what might benefit you most.
What is mentoring?
Simply put mentoring can be described as someone helping you out. This someone is a person who has knowledge or experience of a subject of interest to you and is willing to share his or her know-how, such that you can learn from it and use it to develop or better manage your own situation. Done well it is different from someone offering you more general advice or giving you their opinion – however well-intentioned!
Mentoring takes many forms. It can be informal and brief – such as an expert giving you advice via a TED Talk, or more formal and longer-term – such as a leader in business supporting you in the transition to a new, more senior role. It can also take the form of reverse mentoring – when a more junior individual with expert knowledge offers advice to a senior person unskilled in the same area.
Mentoring can help you build a skill or support you through a period of uncertainty and change. It can give you the confidence to face a difficult challenge or lean into an unexpected opportunity. It can help stimulate ideas about what actions to take or which path to choose. By encouraging reflection and working on your capacity to solve problems, one possible outcome of mentoring is that it can help you arrive at high-quality decisions, faster. Helping you make decisions, however, is not the sole purpose of mentoring.
Mentoring can help you become more capable and motivated to manage your own situation or development on a continual basis. Effective mentoring builds your ability and encourages desire for independence and self-reliance, even if this takes time. A mentoring experience should help you emerge wiser, more confident and informed about how to tackle whatever it is you are facing.
Mentoring can be offered in a more traditional way in the workplace by partnering managers and leaders with a skilled mentor. In this scenario the mentor might come from a long and established background in business, perhaps having worked at the highest levels of their profession, having been exposed to a wide range of experiences and learning. In other instances your mentor might have a very specific skill (such as knowledge of technology) – their job might be to support you to develop in this same technical area, even if they are of a similar age to you or are more junior in the hierarchy.
Sometimes mentoring takes place when as an individual you simply look to learn from others. This might be true if you avidly listen to a Podcast of someone you admire who knows things you want to know. Perhaps you are reading an autobiography because that person’s experience speaks to you or is similar to the circumstances you find yourself in? In the case of Notebook Mentor, we pour our know-how, experience and expertise into our journaling workbooks. Think of this type of mentoring as having an expert ‘on hand’ to guide you as you self-develop through a problem, opportunity, or piece of learning.
How is coaching different from mentoring?
Both coaching and mentoring concern learning – or put another way, the idea that you gain knowledge and skills in order to develop. In this sense, they are the same.
Mentoring generally assumes that the person providing the insight is older, wiser and knows best. A mentor offers trusted advice based on experience. If you are being mentored you are likely to be interested in the tacit knowledge of your mentor and are voluntarily seeking their support. Coaching assumes the coachee knows best. The coach is not there to offer you advice but to encourage you, the coachee, to wrestle with the problem yourself. Coaching is therefore more about an equal relationship and doesn’t assume the coachee lacks knowledge or insight.
Of course in the cold light of day, both these definitions are oversimplifications. Some mentors may undertake coaching practice, helping you reach your own conclusions. Coaches may find themselves drawing on past experience to support you in solving a problem.
What is personal development?
Personal development also concerns learning. Where workplace skill development might have something specifically to do with the job you undertake, personal development could be job-related, but equally, it might just be about your own growth as an individual. If you work as an accountant you might undertake professional training to gain an accountancy qualification. You may also see a guitar tutor because you want to personally develop your playing capability.
Personal development doesn’t have to be social or non-work related. You might personally develop to become a better manager, coach or leader. Perhaps you might personally develop to close a gap in your understanding of how to write strategy or be good with people?
Think of personal development as any activity that helps you improve yourself, your talents, employability, or quality of life.
Both mentoring and coaching can be extremely valuable when it comes to personal development, but let’s take a look at just how mentoring can be of benefit.
Check out our Notebook Mentor free downloadable resources on personal development planning.
The benefit of mentoring for personal development
In an ideal world, you would have all the help you need to develop. Your employer would provide you with the right training, just at the right moment when it was needed. You might be offered financial support to assist you in attaining an academic qualification or professional certificate or perhaps to attend a course at a prestigious business school. Perhaps there is a workplace programme to support your career progression or mental health and wellbeing?
Then there is the reality of high unemployment, struggling employers, budget cuts, redundancies and restructures. Perhaps the training that was once offered face to face, now takes place ‘live’ over a webinar? Perhaps the webinar has been replaced by material that is just accessed through a portal on your company intranet? Maybe all training and development has dried up? Or perhaps you are self-employed or in a small business – there are no funds for personal development and instead, you have to rely on the wisdom of others and your own ingenuity to get by?
Mentoring is particularly good for times when traditional learning and development might be hard to come by. While personal one on one mentoring can be expensive, there are ways to access it cost-effectively. Delivered through a system like Notebook Mentor, mentoring is cost-effective and therefore accessible to almost anyone. Alternatively, it might simply be a case of you viewing; listening or reading material that is free or perhaps there is someone at work who is willing to give you a little bit of their time and wisdom?
Mentors will often ask you to reflect on your circumstances. This means spending quality time with your thoughts, having open and deep conversations with yourself. This requires the ability to tune into you. To help you tune in to you, you might undertake reflective practice and personal inquiry. Reflective practice is a structured technique to help you study your experience and the thoughts and feelings that arise as a result. By evaluating and analysing experiences you can draw conclusions and be planful about any actions required. When you write down your reflections this becomes reflective writing – also known more commonly as ‘journaling’. Journaling has been a growing trend for a number of years now and has proved particularly useful for young men, who may be less willing to talk about their circumstances and concerns face to face. Personal inquiry requires you to ask important questions about yourself – questions about the type of person you are and want to be. It requires an examination of your personality, thinking, desires and ambitions beyond the superficial.
Our experience suggests that when it comes to mentoring people are often looking for:
- A sounding board – someone who will challenge assumptions or ideas
- An inspirer or motivator to encourage reflection and action
- Support that is non-judgemental
- A credible expert of role model
For all these reasons there are clearly many benefits to mentoring as a form of personal development.
- Help you get clear about what you are aiming for
- Help you find the self-motivation to tackle something, grow or personally develop
- Encourage personal reflection and inquiry into your situation, hopes, desires and ambition
- Help you hold back from immediately jumping into action – instead considering the situation from multiple perspectives
- Help you problem-solve and get creative
- Develop skills and personal attributes that make you more employable
- Support an improvement in your performance
- Build personal confidence in a safe, supported, private environment
- Help you get noticed (if that’s what you want)
And the benefits aren’t just for you:
- More inquisitive, thoughtful thinkers help creativity and innovation to flourish
- Sharing skills and knowledge helps an organisation to learn
This enables you to:
- Practice, evaluate and adapt in a thoughtful, less exposed way
- Grow your confidence and competence
- Enhance your self-awareness, self-evaluation and interpersonal skills
- Become autonomous
How can I start my mentoring journey?
To get into mentoring for personal development we strongly suggest you try journaling first. It doesn’t matter what form this journaling takes. It could be as simple as keeping a diary about your thoughts and feelings, or perhaps it could take the form of a ‘goals and dreams’ workbook – these are very popular and can be found online or in most large bookstores.
If you want more structured mentoring then try one of our Notebook Mentors. ‘Getting to know me better’ from the Getting Started category is a great place to start.
In this personal development workbook, use our expertise, challenges and handy hints to learn more about where your motivation and energy comes from. Undertake an assessment of your image and brand. Summarize your skills, knowledge and know-how, learning how to write impactful statements about what you might bring to a prospective employer. And think about the things you value most in life, and at work – being sure to join an environment that supports you bringing your whole, authentic self to work.
If you are an accomplished networker, consider someone you know, who might make a suitable mentor. What kind of mentoring would you be seeking from them? Why might it be of benefit to them to help you out? What could you offer them in return? How could you pique their curiosity and impress them enough to get them involved?
Above all, hold on tight to the idea that personal development is very possible – in all aspects of your life. You don’t need expensive training courses to improve yourself (not that they aren’t nice to haves!). Mastery of your situation, practice and focus will help you overcome the most stubborn of life’s challenges. If a mentor can help make it just that little bit less daunting – why not give it a go!