As an aging baby boomer, I'm reminded of that old television show To Tell The Truth whereby three people, claiming to be the same person, would sit before a panel whose job it was to determine which of the three was the real person in question.
Today, it occurred to me how relevant this example is to mentoring. If you did a Google search you would find thousands of articles on the internet supposedly dealing with this topic. At the end of reading a few of these you're likely to be scratching your head and saying: "Will the real mentoring definition please reveal itself!"
Part of the fault for this, I think, lies with consultants who often confuse terms to maximize sales and from authors who write articles without really knowing what they are talking about. Since I have been a consultant in mentoring for over 20 years and exclusively so, let me attempt to briefly define mentoring and the terms most often used as substitutes.
Mentoring is about developing someone through a trusting relationship. Coaching is about acquiring knowledge or skill with the assistance of an expert. Networking is about linking with others for the stated purpose of assisting me in accomplishing a specific goal. Although there is clearly some overlap between mentoring and coaching, I beg to differ with those who claim that they are basically the same. And don't get me started on those who use the term Mentworking...that term, combining mentoring and networking, is simply a misapplication of both terms.
Why is it important to know the difference? Because unless you're clear about what you want and use the right terminology, you're likely to end up with something other than what you wanted. Clearly if someone asks me what I want and I reply, "food," I may get food but it may be the kind that I'm allergic to or exacerbates an existing health condition; whereas, if I reply, "I would like fish with brown rice and a green salad," I can determine whether I get that or not. So if you want a mentor or you want to create a mentoring program, review materials with a discerning eye and begin with the correct definition. This will allow you to sift more easily through the misinformation to get to a true mentor.