Surface mentoring and deep mentoring

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Person diving into water to show deep mentoring

What is "surface mentoring" and what is "deep mentoring".

I have heard numerous times people talking about having a one-off mentoring session; whether this was through initiatives like mentor walks or it being part of an offering by their company. I know there is benefit in these one-off sessions but there needs to be a distinction drawn on this when it comes to mentoring.

Let’s call these one-off sessions “surface mentoring”. Why? Because you really are only scratching the surface.

Firstly, and I want to make this clear, any pathway or initiative that helps people grow themselves is fully welcome in my book. Having someone to talk to for an hour is significantly better than having no one to talk to. If that someone happens to be a person with the right level of knowledge & experience to help and the willingness to share this then even better.

My only concern I have with the surface mentoring is that people start to think this is what mentoring is... and there is so much more benefit than that.

We need to go deeper!

People are like Icebergs

With an iceberg you only see a small part of it above the water while the rest of it is hidden below the surface.

People are like that too.

When you first meet someone, you only get to see a small fraction of who they really are. We initially only get to see the top 10% of them and we naturally fill in the remaining parts with our own assumptions.... which are almost always incorrect.

In these one-off sessions you do not have enough time to get to know each other and you subconsciously fill in the gaps with assumptions. Therefore any advice and guidance given by the mentor in these sessions which is now laden with assumptions has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

It is when the time is taken, through regular meetings, that you to start to see below the surface and get to know your mentees beliefs, ethics, values, behaviours and so forth.

Only then can you truly start to understand where your mentees concerns, questions, problems and ideas are coming from and it is where you can bring the most value in guiding them to the next level in their thinking.


Guidance vs spoon feeding

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The other point is that in surface mentoring you want to give maximum value to the mentee in such a short time. So you may end up giving more answers to their problems rather than spending the time to help them to come up with their own answers.

Spoon feeding is not mentoring!

If you happen to be a black belt in mentoring and can stop yourself spoon-feeding answers, you still have no way of following up with the mentee to discuss if their proposed solution worked and what they have done since then (which deepens any learnings).

I have mentored several people and I know if I had a mentee for one hour only I would probably fall into the trap of giving more answers than guidance because I feel like I “want to help”.


What does Shrek have to do with this?

When I think of this topic (surface mentoring) I think of Shrek trying to explaining to Donkey that he is a complicated person... by using onions.


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Shrek: Ogres are like onions.

Donkey: They stink?

Shrek: Yes. No.

Donkey: Oh, they make you cry.

Shrek: No.

Donkey: Oh, you leave em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs.

Shrek: No. Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.

For mentoring to be truly effective you need to have the time to start to peel some of those layers and go deeper. And that takes more than a one-off session.


Summing up

The real power of mentoring is that with each session you have with your mentor, the more you get to know each other and the more effective your mentoring becomes. This naturally leads to an acceleration in your own development.

So please look for deeper mentoring relationships rather than a series of surface one-offs.

Your future self will thank you for it.



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