Mentoring is About Relationships
The essence of any mentoring relationship is the relationship itself. It is the relationship that determines whether anything of value is transferred between the mentor and the partner. Whether the mentor acts as a teacher, guide, catalyst, role model or any of the other dozen roles that have been enumerated, the key factor as to whether there is a transmission of knowledge or wisdom depends on the quality of the relationship.
And while the quality of the relationship may need time to develop, there are innumerable examples where such a relationship develops instantly. In addition, there are many times when the mentoring relationship can occur without ever having physically met or had a conversation with the other person. This is why so many people can have a mentoring impact, that is, provide lessons for others that last a lifetime, without actually knowing each other.
Certainly, factors such as trust, rapport, and caring (and a sense of humour) are important in any helping relationship, particularly to ensure effectiveness in today’s formal mentoring programs, but such factors are not relevant in many informal mentoring relationships because the quality of the mentoring connection is based on a spiritual relationship. I’m not referring to a cognitive or intellectual connection, but instead to something beyond cognition, often something that is beyond memory, and resides more in a higher level of consciousness—a spiritual memory.
Mentoring is About Paying It Forward
Almost every person who has been involved in an effective mentoring relationship perceives mentoring as a gift, and they often demonstrate their appreciation and gratitude by passing on some aspect of their mentoring experience to others. Whether it is the life lesson, a particular piece of wisdom, a way of being, or the desire to act as a mentor to others, the gift is more often than not passed on to others.
This experience of paying it forward, and particularly the willingness to act as a mentor to others, is one of the most powerful reasons that mentoring has continued to grow exponentially throughout society. William Gray, founder and president of Corporate Mentoring Solutions, a British Columbia-based mentoring consulting firm, was among the first to recognize that the “The proteges of today are the mentors of tomorrow.”
While the following anecdote about the gift of mentoring and paying it forward may be unusual, it demonstrates the unexpected outcomes and influence of mentoring.
A high school math teacher in Seattle, Washington was gathering his materials at the end of the school day as he prepared to leave for home. Appearing at his classroom door was a former student who had since become one of the most highly successful dot-com entrepreneurs in the computer software industry. They both recognized each other immediately, and embraced while expressing great appreciation for seeing each other again.
The dot-com entrepreneur stated that he recalled during his days in that high school math class that his mentor had talked about how much he wanted to have a real sports car, but couldn’t really afford one on his teacher’s salary.
The former student handed his mentor a set of keys and said, “Look out the window.”