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What is Mentoring and How Can it Improve Your Self-Development -- featured image

What is Mentoring and How Can it Improve Your Self-Development

When we start to think about the idea of ​​self-development and broadening our horizons, we often look for new studies, courses, and certificates. It's nothing unusual, but what about just establishing a valuable relationship with an inspiring person? Finding a mentor — not a teacher, coach, or external consultant — can be a good step if you need support in your personal growth. 

For me, as a former mentee in the Dare IT mentoring program, it was a relationship that I haven't had before — used to a scientific approach, a strict hierarchy, and a clear teacher-student position with transmitting knowledge straight forward. This completely new experience has led me to where I am now - while still in the mentoring program, I managed to change the industry and join Monterail as a Junior Project Manager. So then I can be taken as an example that a career path change is possible and one of the crucial elements that can play a big role in this self-development process is a valuable relationship you can build with an inspiring person.

Mentoring -- vector image

Mentoring (vector image) by pch.vector

Mentoring vs. Coaching vs. Leadership 

The final shape of any relationship will, of course, depend on the individuals — first of all on their personalities and then on their arrangements and purpose of mentoring. It can be a mix of different theoretical approaches. The two that are the most often confused and have something in common are mentoring and coaching. However, it's good to be aware of basic principles that distinguish them. 

Who?

Most often, mentoring assumes a relationship between a person less and more experienced in a given professional area, while coaching bases on a less hierarchical relationship with the more partner-like treatment. The coach usually needs to have some psychological background rather than expert knowledge in a given topic or experience in your industry like a mentor. Therefore, the mentor can look at your entire career path and professional development in a broader time horizon, and sometimes — let you discover or fulfill your potential.

What?

Cooperation with a coach is mostly short-term and leads to the solution of a specific task or achievement of a certain goal, while a mentoring relationship is often long-term and assumes almost continuous development, or observing the career path in a wider perspective. A mentoring process is not only about doing an important movement and a transition from 'here' (the place where you are) to 'there' (the place you want to be). The way is the goal. And during this journey, a mentee can get real/valuable rewards — realizing their vision and plans, improving their performance, developing many different skills, both core skills and some related to the job.

How?

For all of this to happen, being relationship-oriented is crucial in mentoring. Without trust and, above all, listening (mutual) with empathy, it would be difficult to build a relationship where knowledge and learning can be truly shared. How to work on it? First of all, regular meetings and monitoring the progress and journey that the mentee is going through (a diary can be helpful) are important, as well as developing this relationship by giving and receiving feedback. 

On the other hand, when we think about coaching, this professional friendship is not so common, and the whole relationship is more focused on performance & tasks-oriented. If you are struggling with a difficult situation or have some big professional challenge, but you lack specific skills or you just want to work on your motivation and mindset to deal better with these situations, then coaching might be the better option. 

Benefits of mentoring (for both sides) 

Whichever you choose as the best solution for your needs, each cooperation and relationship requires an effort from both sides. Firstly determining the formula, then paying attention to organizational details, preparing for meetings, and maybe even doing some homework — it all needs constant commitment and concern from both mentee and mentor side. This work, however, can be worth the effort. Effective communication, matching your expectations and needs can bring excellent results and real benefits.

I applied for the mentoring program even though I had several years of experience as a manager of various levels. There, I chose the person who best suited my professional interests. This allowed me to discuss what I learned from books, courses, etc. with a practitioner and confront my knowledge with real experience. Thanks to this mentoring process I was able to organize better information on project management in the IT industry and detect potential gaps, but most of all I started to believe in myself and my skills.

Łukasz Pawłowski Project Manager
at Monterail

If you are a mentee, mentoring can help you build a particular skill, stimulate discussions on some crucial ideas or just give you the confidence to face challenges. If you aren’t sure about your talents, strengths and potential, it can also help you with choosing the right path and doing the next steps. By encouraging reflections, one of the general outcomes of the mentoring process might be just developing your self-awareness and ability to introspect. And regardless of your age, experience, or profession, these areas are worth developing constantly. 

On the other hand, if you are an experienced and skilled professional, with a long work history in various companies, or just on many tough projects in the past. Do you remember being at the beginning of this path? Full of questions and doubts, analyzing your skills and potencial, learning how to behave and which source of knowledge choose to learn from, what to do to fit the project and the client needs and so on - just discovering everything from scratch. 

We’ve all been there. 

How much easier it would be to learn all of this with the support of other people. Now you can be this person for new joiners in the industry or for just less experienced mentees who want to hear many thoughts you would like to share. Transferring what you have learned can be just thrilling and become a source of appreciation. Hearing mentees say that they admire mentor’s advice or achievements can easily boost confidence and motivation. Apart from that, building and maintaining a mentoring relationship can provide a mentor different perspectives on many topics and reinforce their knowledge when confronted with mentee’s views. It is just always good to meet new people, even if they are juniors or students. Every single connection in our field may be valuable, so being a mentor can also help expand your network. Finally, I would venture to say that mentoring can be the beginning of a professional friendship. 

There is only one conclusion: mentoring truly supports both personal and professional development. My mentor gave me a lot of energy and wisdom, and above all, she convinced me to deeper self-reflection — to analyze my strengths and weaknesses, and develop my potential. And I appreciate even more these lessons which developed me as a human being rather than those related to professional competencies.

How we approach mentoring in Monterail 

The beginnings of mentoring in Monterail date back to 2015, when there arose a need to better rethink and structure the organizational chart as the whole team began to grow. Bearing in mind the values ​​that are key to us, e.g. knowledge-sharing and caring, a new way of treating relations in the company has emerged. At first, only developers were a part of this mentoring experiment, but then this approach extended to other teams in the company — project managers, designers, account managers, marketing specialists, and so on.

When it comes to mentoring in a firm, you may ask: is a mentor the same as a project manager or tech lead? Not exactly. We distinguish a position and a given role — so you can be an expert at the senior level and at the same time a mentor for less experienced developers, but it is not obligatory or necessary. Nevertheless, the basic principles of a mentoring relationship are the same: each person (mentee) has a leader (mentor) who can just help and base on their own experience and knowledge. 

It is worth emphasizing that each mentor has support from the HR partner, especially at the beginning of the mentoring process. People team prepare for the new mentor, an introduction composed of three elements. First of all, this person has to become more aware of their role and start to feel more responsible for others and the whole company. His/her decisions and behaviors will be observed by mentees (and sometimes even by new joiners), so this person should get a wider perspective and remember about values important for the company. Secondly, the new mentor learns how to conduct meetings, how to give and receive feedback, how to propose solutions when a mentee struggles with some difficulties (tips not answers), and how to help in their self-development. And last but not least, the mentor is responsible for some organizational issues as well, e.g. preparing and coordinating the process of collecting peer reviews about their mentee. 

How to become a mentor? You can get such a proposal from the People team or just apply yourself. It's all because we give each person the opportunity to develop in many fields, depending on their potential, possibilities, and, above all, their willingness. 

And as a partnership organization, we support Dare IT — a mentoring program for women who would like to change their career path and join IT.

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