As people accrue a wider variety of skills, they may feel competent to move from a particular area of technical expertise into other general management areas of an organisation.
They are in a position to mentor other people within an organization. The role of a mentor may be described as someone who sponsors or supports other people and for want of a better explanation takes them under his or her wing and ensures they are introduced to the various aspects the organisation life. They will generally be someone who is an experienced employee of the organisation and who assists in others personal growth and provides encouragement to them.
Unlike coaching that might be aimed at enhancing the competence of an employee in respect to a particular area of organization knowledge or the development of new skills, the mentor will seek to develop and expand the thinking of the individual which in turn should generate enhanced personal and indirectly enhanced organization performance by an individual.
Dalton and Thompson1 indicated that there are various roles that mentors may take. These are summarised as follows:
1. An informal, accidental mentor
Mentoring could develop as an informal processes where by personal interested in an individual sees a mentor emerge and a participant responds to the mentor. This approach reflects the nature of organisational learning and learning in general. Much of our learning is informal and inferential. The informal mentor emerges rather than being designated by an organization
2. A sounding board
A second role that could constitute a mentoring relationship is that of a person designated by an organisation that becomes the source and/or the soundboard of ideas across an organisation. The people in the organisation know that this person represents a non-threatening person upon which to try out ideas and clarify understandings
3. The manger as mentor
A third approach is a formal approach that is established within an organization. It is the role assumed by a manger as required by the organisation. The manager is to act not only as a manager but also as leader sharing his or her vision and ideas for the organization and being designated a mentor who is intentionally seeking to develop the individuals under his or her control. The organisation will then hold the manager accountable for the development of the individuals for which he or she is responsible not just for those people reaching required organization outcomes.
This last approach is the most usual but could be the most threatening. Mangers may feel concerned that those people they manage are likely to replace them over time if they share with them their knowledge. They shy away from ensuring personal development opportunities are available to their staff apart from training to do their current jobs better because of the threat to their position.
For the mentor manager approach to work there needs to be a shift in thinking. The manager and the staff must move from purely being that of a manager and staff member to a higher level inter personal relationship involving trust, support for each other. The culture of an organisation must support this situation.
1 G. Dalton, P. Thompson and R. Price, “The Four Stages of Professional Careers: A new look at performance by professionals” Organizational Dynamics, summer 1977