Modern mentorship

Last year I started freelancing and for the first time in my professional career, I asked for help by doing a formal virtual mentorship program with the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD). The structure of the program was based on the work of mentorship guru David Clutterbuck and I would strongly recommend his short book ‘Making the most of Developmental mentoring‘ to anyone considering mentoring or being mentored. He says a developmental mentor:

  • Has wisdom and knowledge, but uses them less to impart knowledge than to help the mentee become courageous and wise
  • Is an expert only in the sense of knowing the limits and narrowness of their knowledge. (An expert is someone whose existing knowledge hinders their new learning)

A mentor’s place in your network

Harold Jarche’s PKM model divides our people networks into 3 groups as shown below. For me mentors in formal programs like the one I participated in fall into the Communities of Practice group but they can also be in the Work Teams or Social Networks group.

Developing Work Team Mentors

Work teams are grouped together in order to get something specific done and are normally structured and hierarchical like a customer success team.

Whenever I work somewhere I cultivate good relationships with the following types of people to collaborate with in order to get that specific thing done:

  • Influencers
  • Taskmasters
  • Technical wizards
  • Role models
  • Connectors
  • Advocates
  • Realists

I look for mutual interests on and off the project and check in with them from time to time. Often they become friends and sometimes I stay in touch after I leave the company and they become part of my Community of Practice or Social Network.

However, they do not have to be friends they just want you to succeed and are happy to assist in some small or large way. The trick is to spot those people and figure out a good way of working with them.

Community of Practice Mentors

A community of practice is a group of people with whom you cooperate to change your working practices. It is a safe place where you can explore ideas and problems that have come from your work teams and social networks.

The mentorship program I attended was 12 weeks long and we met every 2 weeks, during which time I built my website, got my first customer and explored many different ways of working that I would never have considered before. We are still in touch and I consider him a valuable member of my community of practice.

A useful technique from David Clutterbuck that my mentor used to help me resolve issues was using questions from different perspectives:

  • A stepping in perspective is a question looking at the issue from my perspective
  • A stepping out perspective is a question looking at the issue from other peoples perspective

The idea is to move the conversation between the different quadrants – it doesn’t have to be in any particular order, here is an example of how one of my conversations went:

  • When I joined the mentorship program I was worried about getting my first customer. Looking at the diagram above I was in the top right quadrant when I explained this to my mentor – emotional and from my perspective (Emotional, Stepping In)

  • His questions acknowledged my fears from the same perspective (Emotional, Stepping In)

  • His questions then moved to how my lack of customers looked to potential customers (Emotional, Stepping Out)

  • What would my customers ‘to be’ expect to see from a freelancer they wanted to employ (Rational, Stepping Out)

  • What could I do to make this happen (Rational, Stepping In)

Mentorship is a conversation and some people like to talk a lot some less so, I am working towards less formal mentorships as not everyone has the time or inclination to dedicate 12 weeks to my career. That said a lot of lessons can be learned from formal mentorship into less formal co-operative mentorships.

Social Network Mentors

Through the years many people have helped me and it has often been through meeting up in pubs or coffee shops and discussing issues. This has several disadvantages:

  • You only network with people like you like you
  • Limited by geography
  • A tendency towards alcoholism

Social media offers unprecedented access to people but just because you can doesn’t mean you should. This article has some advice about how to reach out:


There are many different ways to mentor and be mentored. I liked the formal program but well aware that it may not be for everyone. In today’s complex world this ancient Greek idea is needed more than ever but for me will take the form of multiple mentors working in a networked and collaborative way.

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