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Mentoring: Seeing the Wood for the Trees

It crossed my mind today, in a busy few weeks of mentoring, that I am not sure I have ever explained what mentoring is. Have I? I’m really not sure ... It is probably time I addressed that.

Mentoring and coaching mean different things to different people, and there are many techniques that can be utilised to guide a client to an end goal, but what are the key components of mentoring, what is it really there to achieve?

My gut feeling has always been that we have, within each and every one of us, the answers to our own questions, but when we’re mired in the daily pressures of life: making, selling, writing, making a living – and keeping the ever precariously spinning plates in balance! – we cannot see the wood for the trees. There isn’t space in our minds to step back far enough to look at the bigger picture, to breathe, to take stock. This is where mentoring steps in.

It is the mentor’s job to stand back and take in the vista of a person’s practice, and from that objective and dispassionate vantage point, see the wood that is often standing right in front of the mentee but is simply obscured by all the ‘noise’.

Anyone who knows me knows I can talk for Britain(!), so mentoring is also a process of disengaging the mouth and engaging the ears. Actively listening to what a person is saying and deciphering what is really being said from the many clues. What is the perceived issue? What could the perceived issue be masking? Might a passing comment, something ever so benign, hide a deeper meaning?

Mentoring is being a support to a client, yes, but it is also about being a detective and a codebreaker and it is about being a sounding board, a neutral place where a person can speak openly and in voicing things make discoveries. This last point is key, the mentee must make the discoveries for themselves. It is no use a mentor telling someone what to do. They must guide the client through the fog until the recipient sees, and by seeing make the necessary steps. This is the strongest way to make an impact, and for the work in the mentoring sessions to be long lasting.

And it is about identifying possibilities. Not shoulds (which shut down potential) but coulds (which expand them), and of course the mentor being open at all times to being wrong!

Finally, it is about working with the right person, on both sides. This is paramount. There has to be a connection, one fostering trust. An atmosphere promoting honest exchanges of views (without fear of judgement), and the certain knowledge that the person receiving the mentoring is heard.

So, “seeing the wood for the trees”, that’s mentoring.


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