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Mentoring can be wide-ranging from offering guidance to advice and support. Approaches can vary, from the very informal to a fully documented structured program. Different approaches have their merits, the correct one will depend on the goal of the mentorship and the people involved. It could be said that any approach is better than none, but that’s not true if a particular style of mentorship harms the mentor-mentee relationship.

Before starting any form of mentorship there needs to be a clear understanding of the reasons for doing it. Only once these are understood can a program be put together. Good mentorship needs to careful thought as no one program will suit everyone. It sounds a lot of effort, that’s because it is! Without the effort, the true value of any guidance may be missed. But there is so much to gain, this is one reason why I believe that mentoring people is not only important but essential.

So where do you start? What types of mentoring are there? I watched John Contad’s talk – The Story of Mentorship, and Why It Matters, which I highly recommend. He presents three approaches to mentorship using movies to help explain each one (which does make the talk quite humorous!) John used these approaches while working in DevOps but they can be applied more broadly. (You’ll have to watch the talk understand the names used!)

Bildungsroman – a person who transforms through experiences. This is the “Sink or Swim” and “Learn on the job!” approach, it puts people into situations and lets them learn from there. People will pick up things quickly but you have to be careful the overload of information isn’t overwhelming. In the tech world, a lot of knowledge is gained through this approach as opposed to a classroom, but the right support mechanisms need to be in place so they can ask questions and/or know where to get information to help them.

Iatrogenesis – experience is gained by a process trying to fix something. This is a structured approach using a syllabus to modularize each section. Most of the emphasis would be on the theory so lack practical skills need consideration. An advantage is that it does give a structured approach that can be consistent across the team. Trello boards one way to track this as modules to learn can be clearly visible. A good idea mentioned is a Trello board of books to read, this will offer recommendations and give the opportunity for review sessions either during reading or after.

Koan – a riddle with multiple solutions. With this approach, goals are set at the beginning with a target to reach. Goals could be to build something or learn a skill, but the means to achieve each goal are the focus. Understanding that there is “no one solution for everything” puts the emphasis on looking at options and choosing the best one for the job. This provides more opportunity for the mentee to speak to others and make connections while they investigate different methods.

There are more pros and cons for each one but I think this gives 3 good approaches to mentorship. Each one may suit a particular person or a combination could be preferred depending on the need. Good preparation is needed to get the program that suits both the mentee and mentor. There could be other approaches to adopt as long as the focus centres on the output value. Not everything will go according to plan so an open dialogue throughout the process allows for any necessary adjustments.

So, who really benefits? Both the mentee and mentor do! You would expect the mentee to grow but a bonus of good mentorship is that the mentor learns too. Through the interactions with each person, the mentor discovers what they don’t know (or areas of weakness) giving them the opportunity to improve those skills.

I’ll finish with a fitting quote from the talk:

Be who you needed when you were younger

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