Behind every successful individual, there is a mentor. Even some of the most well-known business leaders today admit they wouldn’t have made it without them. From Mark Zuckerberg who was mentored by Steve Jobs, to Orpah Winfrey and her mentor Maya Angelou, the journey to the top is not necessarily one we make alone.
The idea of mentorship is not a modern invention. The term mentor derives from the Greek mythological figure Mentor, who appears in the Odyssey as a wise and trusted counsellor to Odysseus’ son Telemachus. Fast forward to the 21st century, while (thankfully) we do not have to fight off one-eyed monsters, battling an outdated education system and fighting off competition in a demanding jobs market can be a daunting task without the support of others.
Research has long recognized the contributions of significant others in our own personal development. While parents and family are usually the main focus, there is increasing recognition of the value of non-parental mentors in supporting youth development and education, as well as in opening up new career opportunities later in life.
The power of feedback
Mentors step outside their normal social roles by helping guide less-experienced individuals with advice, emotional support, and by serving as role models. Providing feedback is one of the most important aspects of any mentoring relationship, but it can also be one of the trickiest to get right. With the power to influence future actions and decisions, feedback is valuable information that delivered in the right – or wrong – way, can determine new learning and professional outcomes.
One of the most significant benefits of mentorship is being able to offer more ‘open feedback’. Unlike family members or friends, who may censor feedback to protect your feelings, or traditional educational figures with dozens or even hundreds of students to cater to, a personal mentor can often share feedback that you would not receive in a more formal learning setting – and adds a lot of value.
In the educational space, due to the naturally constricting character of the teacher-student relationship – and by this I mean it is generally restricted to the stipulated learning curriculum – having a third-party mentor who can provide open, honest feedback with your best interests in mind can prove a vital resource that learners can draw from to improve learning outcomes and make better informed decisions about their future career paths.
Indeed, improving learning outcomes is one of the most significant outcomes of any mentoring relationship. But first learning how to learn is an important step in being able to do so. Just the act of proactively seeking mentorship in itself, to then be able to receive mentor feedback and take it on board it, is part of the process of learning how to learn. And that is ultimately the most valuable skill one can attain.
Another reason mentorship is becoming increasingly relevant is that while talent is equally distributed across all sociocultural groups, access and opportunity are not.
Not everyone has parents who are able to support them with their education, nor does everyone have the social network necessary to draw support from friends or colleagues when making important career decisions. Thus, the effectiveness of mentoring on educational performance and career decision-making is even greater for those with few social resources.
This is when the role of the mentor can really make a difference. By having access to experienced, well-connected mentors, learners can tap into their knowledge and network to open the door to new opportunities and ways of thinking they would never have been able to otherwise.
Among these opportunities is the changing employment landscape and the rise of remote work. The pandemic has paved the way for a new approach to distance working and is providing access to talent across the world to remote careers. Recent research from UpWork suggests 62% of companies are planning for more remote work now and in the following years, and by 2028, 73% of all departments will have remote workers.
At Nexford, we believe that when equipped with the right education people should be able to access quality, remote jobs regardless of where they are. Sadly, this isn’t always the case, but this digital shift also means today, learners and any individual can digitally connect to mentors across the world, and benefit from their knowledge, experience, and network, irrespective of their physical location.
With this combination of quality education and personal and professional mentorship, the ability to tap into the virtual global grid becomes a reality.
This necessary shift to a more holistic approach to education that not only addresses learning and skills development, but also supports learners’ development through mentoring, will be vital in transforming access to opportunities for learners today and the talent of the future.