Soft Skills

Mentoring—Outstanding Benefits for All, for Little Effort

A search for “mentoring” on the Internet shows how common mentoring is in many professions (research, education, psychology, social work, accounting, business), in schools (university, high school), and in the community (business startup, troubled teenagers). SPE recognizes the importance and benefits of mentoring for professionals in the oil and gas industry as well. The eMentoring section of the SPE website at www.spe.org gives information on the mentoring program and how you can search for a mentor or volunteer to become a mentor. In Bill Robb’s article this month, he describes his impression of mentoring and the benefits of participating and provides some top tips on how to mentor well and how to gain the most from your mentor.—Natalie Pestana, TWA Interim Soft Skills Editor


When it comes to improving the performance of people, progressing a career, and ensuring the growth of a company or department, mentoring comes close to being that elusive “magic bullet.”

From a company perspective, mentoring is an in-depth, very relevant, practical, and cost-effective way of developing the next generation of leaders. You can take relatively inexperienced people and bring them up to speed quickly. In addition, existing managers can be taken quickly and with full confidence to the next rung of senior management. Not only that, but because the basis of the mentoring relationship is a helping one, if enough relationships are established, an even better working environment develops.

From the perspective of the “mentee”, it is wonderful to have a more experienced and knowledgeable person to guide you through not only the technical requirements of the job but also the often “hidden” political and social culture of the organization.

The benefits to the mentor might not be so obvious. Of course, you get the “brownie points” for doing what your company has asked you to do. Also, the mentee could be an additional resource to delegate to. However, many mentors report much deeper human benefits—the satisfaction of seeing another human being progress and succeed.

So What Is Mentoring?

Don’t get bogged down in playing with words. Many books and courses spend time trying to be precise about the difference between mentoring, coaching, counseling, and educating. For me, mentoring involves the others at some time or other, and I define it as follows:

A one-to-one relationship based on trust, in which the mentor, usually someone more experienced and knowledgeable and often more senior, helps the mentee in confidence to know more about the job and organization and to develop his/her capabilities and potential faster than he/she would if left to his/her own devices.

Some people worry that there is some kind of magic in mentoring and that they don’t have it. If you have real concern and interest in seeing people become the best they can become and the willingness to take the time to guide without instructing, the rest will come with training. Mentoring is a relationship—a dialogue—and it takes two to ensure that the benefits are realized.

How To Mentor Brilliantly

  • Right at the first meeting, set expectations—what you can do and what you can’t, and what the mentee expects from you.
  • Generate a liking for your mentee. Find the person’s good qualities; it’s easier to help and guide when you like someone.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of instructing or lecturing. You are there to guide.
  • In mentoring meetings, allow the mentee to talk more than you do.
  • Fulfill promises. If you agree to do something, do it, or have a very good reason for not doing it.
  • Keep a short record of each mentoring session with a note on progress, what advice you offered, and what you and the mentee agreed to do for next meeting.
  • Insist that the mentee keep a record book to record progress and what has to be done next.
  • Watch out for getting too involved in personal problems. If you feel any discomfort, direct the mentee to professional help if required.
  • If you feel the relationship is not working, end it sooner rather than later.

How To Gain the Most From Your Mentor

Often, we humans take good things for granted; we come to expect them. However, not many companies are prepared to go to the trouble of setting up a mentoring scheme. If yours is, here are some suggestions for getting the most from it.

  • Be proactive in arranging sessions with your mentor. Arrange as many sessions as the mentor will give you. Although there will be no objection to telephone calls, e-mails, and short meetings between mentoring sessions, don’t overdo it.
  • The mentoring sessions are for you, so bring problems or issues you wish to discuss.
  • Show respect. Turn up on time, and if you cannot attend, inform the mentor and arrange another time. Question and debate as much as possible, but don’t argue—listen.
  • If you agree to do something for your next mentoring session, do whatever it takes to complete that task.
  • Keep a short record of what you learned in each session.

In rare instances, a mentee and mentor, for whatever reason, may not get along. Do not worry about this—people differ! If you feel, as a mentor or mentee, that you are not getting any benefit from the mentoring sessions, it is very acceptable to ask for a change. Naturally, there will be a gradual buildup of dissatisfaction, so raise the issue earlier rather than later.

Do you want to know more about this topic or comment on this article? Visit the Young Professionals Network at www.spe.org.


Bill Robb is Managing Director of Profit Improvers Ltd., an Aberdeen-based management and safety consultancy. Glasgow-born, he grew up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and has been helping companies in the oil and gas sector improve the performance of their people, teams, and departments. Robb is a regular contributor to SPE events and enjoys interaction with participants in the Emerging Leaders Program.


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