Two ears, one mouth: The art of mentoring

by Iain Hopkins09 Jul 2012

Like it or not, most HR professionals are aware that much of what they hear, see and do is sensitive – but that sensitivity shouldn’t influence a decision not to mentor someone, says Richard Laidlaw, general manager, human resources at Stockland.

“If you are struggling as an HR professional to be a mentor then you are probably struggling as an HR professional,” he says. “To exclude yourself because of your HR role means you miss what is going on in the business and the profession, and it can give you a different perspective of the culture from the user rather than the senior or central point of view.”


It’s not unusual to find coaching and mentoring grouped together, with career counseling often mixed in, but is this definition overlap justified?

“I think that mentoring and career counseling are more aligned with each other, with coaching being a set of skills you could use within a mentoring framework,” Laidlaw says.

Mentoring is usually a relationship between two people for the purposes of developing a career, or skills in a particular workplace or field with the mentor assisting the mentee in reflecting on, planning and managing their career. Mentors are typically more experienced senior colleagues who share their knowledge and experience with mentees; it’s a longer term arrangement and has a broad focus.

Coaching is support for learning and growth that is provided by another person. Coaches use techniques such as questions and reflection to facilitate the learning, with the coachee setting their own goals or topics for learning. Coaching is one of the sets of strategies that mentors can use to increase their mentees’ skills and success, with coaching being shorter term and more focused on skills and knowledge development.

“Executive coaching has gained significant currency in the c-suite and board circles,” says Junita Mushenko, a corporate mentor for young executives through Network Central and 2011 nominee for the Telstra Women’s’ Business Awards. “The aim of coaching is to increase individual performance through teaching, modeling, supporting and informing. The typical outcome of coaching is behavioural change and KPI attainment.”

She adds that mentoring can do all these things but often outside of defined roles. “A mentoring relationship is usually a volunteer agreement – formal or informal – between mentor and mentee with a desired purpose in mind. The outcomes include goal attainment, skills advancement and often career progression. It is often more intimate and customised than coaching.”

Formal vs informal

Laidlaw, who is himself a participant in AHRI’s mentor program, says that in recent years he has become a stronger advocate of structured mentoring programs. “I have a general concern that the use of electronic social media and the glowing rectangles in the palms of our hands to manage friendships, relationships and networks  means that some of the social skills in taking a risk to approach someone else are not as well practiced,” he says. “The success of and eHarmony clearly show that things can work out if you get the motivation and matching process aligned.”

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