Saturday, June 2, 2007

Mentoring the mentee/intern

Mentoring appears to be the twenty first century answer to the old system of apprenticeship. In theory, it is the simplest way of building skills capacity as well as transferring skills. In a country like South Africa where skills are lacking in many sectors, this is certainly the quickest and most practical solution. Earlier today, at the Mentoring Workshop organised by the World of Work (WOW), Wits Alumni, Career Counselling and Development Unit (CCDU) and Center for Learning Teaching and Development (CLTD), I was able to understand better the role of the mentor, mentee and intern.
The most important thing I took away from this workshop, was that the mentoring process does not only benefit the mentee/intern but the mentor as well. It is a learning process for all parties. The relationship between the mentor and the mentee is like a marriage on the one hand and a parent/child relationship on the other. One participant at the workshop referred to a mentor as a ''professional parent''. The mentor and mentee/intern have to be committed to making the process successful. There has to be a level of understanding between the two parties with regards to the aims and objectives of the process. The mentor has to be willing to share knowledge and expertise, as well as steer the mentee in the right direction professionally. As Hilary Geber (CLTD) pointed out, the purpose of mentorship is not to produce ''clones'' of the mentor but to provide guidance and challenges that focus on promoting the mentee/intern's professional development.
I believe that all of us have gone through one or more forms of mentoring. Mentors are not only necessarily individuals in mid to top level managerial or executive positions. Parents can also provide mentorships in a professional capacity, by steering their children in the direction of a prospectively ''successful'' career path. In an academic capacity, your supervisor or head of department could steer you towards an academic career in research and/or lecturing.
In my country (Nigeria) for example, it is very common to have a ''mentor'', someone who tracks your professional development, providing career-building opportunities and giving advice on career-related matters. A ''godfather'' of sorts. It would appear that this practice is not readily accessible to graduates and young professionals in South Africa. As was raised by Mbuso Moyo (WOW Team 2007) and underscored by Lesley Emanuel (WOW) and Des Patel (Conemara Consulting), self-mentoring is also essential to a mentee/intern's personal growth and professional development. The World of Work programme has been relatively successful in this regard, building capacity in self-mentoring as well as providing mentorships through internships. As was pointed out by one of the speakers at the workshop, there is a need for interns from the WOW programme to make that transition from academic thinking to learning to apply and translate that training in practical terms in the work place.


Valentin said...

Dear Ijeoma,
you illustrate very well the idea of what the relationship between the mentor and the mentee (the intern) should be.
Indeed, as we discussed already, it should be a process of mutual teaching and training. Respectively, both parties involved should learn from one another in the process of mentoring.
I still remember my last day at highschool in Sofia, Bulgaria. The principal of our school (she was also a teacher) gave a speech to all of us the same day.
At the end, with tears in her eyes, she said that she has learned so much from her students and the experience of teaching students has taught her a lot about people, life and herself as well.
She also added that in her opinion, she has been given by all her students much more than what she has actually given them (in terms of direction in life, life-experience and knowledge).
At least, she said she felt that way!
I wish that more teachers (mentors, coaches) and their mentees (students) establish this kind of relationship nowadays.
At the next seminar, I am particularly interested to hear how indeed the mentor and their mentee(s) establish this bridge of personal trust somewhere along the line. In other words, how do they transfrom this relationship from a profesional one (academic also) into a personal one?
On the other hand, how could they overcome sometimes the constraints of gender-based differences, racial differences, ethnic differences or differences in terms of proffesional norms, ethics and standards?
Thus, I will ask these sorts of questions during our meeting this Saturday. I hope it will make a valuable contribution to the discussion around mentoring, its use and purpose!

Thomas Blaser said...

The most important aspect of mentoring is the will to share and the personal engagement behind it. It is here that lines between private and public merge. I believe that in all of my friendships, we engage in mutual mentoring. That is, we discuss issues that are important to us and how to deal with them. To care for the other is one of the most important things in life.

Ijeoma Uche-Okeke said...

Valentin and Thomas, both of you raise some very important issues around mentoring. As was mentioned by a participant last Saturday, mentoring is an organic process. It is not a rigid or formalised process. Ultimately, the value to the mentor/mentee depends on the kind of relationship they form as individuals during the process. The longevity depends on that as well. Hilary Geber, in her presentation mentioned that the mentor needs to be equipped with 'tools' that will help him/her through the process. Tools are good in terms of helping mentors/mentees to get good results professionally. But the relationship formed during the process is more important, I believe.