By Roberta Attanasio, Forever Leaders Editor
Mentoring is becoming more and more popular, but it’s not clearly conceptualized—and why should it be? We need a variety of mentoring models, based on different and continuously evolving structures and functions, and adapted to different organizations and situations. The classical definition of mentoring describes a relationship—in this relationship, an individual with limited experience, called a mentee or protégé, interacts with a more experienced individual, known as a mentor.
However, conceptualization of mentoring calls for additional definitions, as for example those related to the role of the mentor, the activities in which mentor and mentee engage together, and the distinctive characteristics of a successful mentor. While such conceptualization could be helpful in selected mentoring programs and mentoring relationships, it risks to hinder the success of the mentor/mentee relationships by locking in selected features that may not apply to larger groups and changing social structures. Successful mentoring requires an “outside the box” approach.
Let’s explore a case in point: mentoring millennials. Mentoring relationships are of special value to millennials, as they appreciate frequent feedback. However, the classical mentoring approach needs to be changed—indeed, it has been changing.
Millennials favor a team approach. Therefore, they do not rely on “a mentor”. Rather, they prefer a group of mentors, so to choose the best one for a specific situation. In addition, millennials like to participate to the mentoring relationship as “equals”—gone is the senior/junior dichotomy, or the top to bottom approach. Something good is coming out of it: knowledge flows in both directions, and the more experienced mentors can learn a great deals from the less experienced ones. In other words, the talent and knowledge brought to the partnership by the mentee are fully recognized.
Furthermore, millennials like time-efficient mentoring relationships that involve numerous interactions. Thus, they count on face-to-face meetings, as well as virtual ones, and prefer to include frequent, shorter “check-ins.” They aspire to security while seeking diversity of options in their career, and expect to be stretched and stimulated—group mentoring can help them rise to the challenges they actively look for.
In 2010, millennials surpassed baby boomers as the largest demographic cohort in U.S. history. Not surprisingly, their needs, preferences, and desires are changing the way we conceptualize problems and approach them—mentoring relationships already reflect the millennial blueprint and, in their changing version, will support the intriguing combination of optimism and realism that characterize this up and coming generation.
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