A developmental relationship whereby, “a mentor oversees the business/career and development of another person (mentee)...through teaching, counseling, providing psychological support, protecting and, at times, promoting or sponsoring.
— Michael Zey, The Mentor Connection

The key words in the above definition are "developmental relationship." Mentoring involves assisting someone to grow both professionally and personally. Mentors and mentees accomplish this by having a relationship built upon trust and mutual respect. 

Differences between Mentoring and Coaching?

Coaching is about acquiring skills or knowledge. Coaching systems provide individuals with experts who work with them to ensure they acquire specific skills or knowledge. The primary focus is professional, not personal. In many ways, being a coach is like being a teacher.

Mentoring systems, on the other hand, are designed to promote professional development by pairing individuals with mentors who will focus on the overall development of the mentees. Mentoring is meant to be transformational and involves much more than simply acquiring a specific skill or  knowledge. Mentoring requires a relationship that is both professional and personal. In many ways, being a mentor is like being a counselor.

Mentoring is relationship oriented. It seeks to provide a safe environment where mentees can share whatever critical issues impact their professional and personal success. Although specific learning goals or competencies may be used as a basis for creating the relationship, its focus goes beyond these areas to include other issues, such as work-life balance, self-confidence, self-perception and how the personal influences the professional. Content expertise is not as critical for the mentor, since the mentor is a facilitator, not a coach.


Mentor expectations

 What do I expect from my mentees?

  • Have a sense of where he or she wants to go
  • Be committed to the program
  • Be willing to listen to what I share
  • Meet with me on a regular basis
  • Understand if I have to cancel an appointment
  • Be honest and open with me
  • Have a sense of humor
  • Won't look to me for investments  
  • Take this seriously

Mentee expectations

What do I expect from my mentor?

  • To be committed
  • To keep our discussions confidential
  • To not judge me
  • Give me honest feedback
  • Assist me in those areas that are important to me
  • Have mentoring skills


Mentor roles

Mentors play an important role in the mentoring relationship.  A mentor facilitates the development of mentees in the ways identified below: 

Mentee roles

The mentee engages in the relationship for the purpose of development. Development takes place in various ways, but it involves the following roles and actions: 

Stages in Mentoring

Mentoring relationships go through various stages as the participants work together to develop the mentees. Understanding these stages helps the participants to assess where they are and move beyond a stage rather than remaining stuck in one and becoming frustrated.

Stage 1 - Creating The Relationship

Critical Task: Determining if and how this relationship is going to work.

  • Mentee looks to mentor for guidance in how this relationship is going to work.
  • Both partners meet wanting to build a connection. 
  • Both partners present "best sides" in getting to know each other.
  • Both are exploring their respective communication styles.
  • Mentee seeks to know the boundaries of the relationship. Is this person approachable, committed, interested and trustworthy?
  • Mentor seeks to find out what areas she or he can be helpful with and whether this mentee is reasonable in his or her expectations, committed to the process and open to honest feedback.
  • The focus of their work together is completion of the Mentoring Agreement.

Stage 2 - Building On The Relationship

Critical Task: Working on empowering the mentee in those identified areas discussed in the Mentoring Agreement. Is the mentor being helpful and is the mentee invested in the effort?

  • Unlike the previous stage which focused more on gaining comfort in the relationship and establishing agreed upon ground rules, this stage focuses on the work the pairs must do in developing the mentee.
  • Mentees begin to practice or learn what they need in order to accomplish agreed upon objectives.
  • Both partners become aware of each other's abilities and limitations. As one or the other partner becomes aware of the other's limitations, the challenge is "Can these limitations be accepted and still allow for a valuable relationship, or are they so great that the relationship cannot continue?" This is also a time when more realistic expectations begin to form.
  • Initially, the mentee may not provide much input into a specific new area, but as she or he begins to gain some confidence and skill, he or she will collaborate more in discussing strategies, options, solutions, etc.
  • Objectives set may need to be refined based upon the mentee’s learning curve and the mentor’s better understanding of the mentee’s learning style.
  • The mentee's confidence begins to build in those areas of focus.
  • Most of the partners' time will be spent in this particular stage.

In some ways, Stage 2 is about providing the basic building blocks needed before a mentoree can gain mastery. As a result, it's quite possible that the pairs will alternate between Stages 2 & 3 throughout most of their time together and complete both stages near the end rather than one following the other. As we stated earlier, we've presented the stages as though they were linear, but they're actually not.

Stage 3 - Achieving Mastery/Confidence

Critical Task: Mentee accomplishes goals established between the mentor and mentee. The mentee exhibits confidence and skill in these areas and feels less of a need for the mentor's active involvement. In response, the mentor assumes a far less active role, remaining available to the mentee at his or her request.

  • Mentee has gained enough experience or knowledge that the collaborative approach to further development, though still used, begins to shift to one in which the mentor becomes less active in suggesting ideas, strategies, solutions, etc.
  • The mentor feels that she or he has done all that can be done to assist the mentee in the specific goal, and the mentee may feel that she or he has learned all she or he needed to learn.
  • One or the other party feels that it's time to move on to another goal. Caution is needed, however, to make certain that this feeling is based upon reality. Both parties need to verify each other’s assumptions.
  • The mentor senses that the mentee needs less direction and coaching.
  • The mentee views the mentor as more of a "sounding board."
  • Roles are reversed whereby the mentee becomes the prime mover in the relationship.
  • Missed appointments on the part of either party can indicate that one or the other feels there's not much left to accomplish.

Stage 4 - Moving On

Critical Task: Assuming independence from the mentor

  • Most of the agreement's goals, if not all, have been accomplished.
  • Mentor believes or feels that she or he has done all she or he can, and the mentee believes or feels that she or he has outgrown the mentor.
  • If all goals have been accomplished yet a great deal of time still exists in the program, this may indicate that the pair set goals that were too broad. The pair should consider revisiting these goals. 
  • The pair discusses creating new goals based upon the mentee's new competencies.
  • The mentor and mentee feel a sense of accomplishment.
  • An opportunity now exists to either end the relationship or transform it into an informal one.

The formal relationship does, in fact, end as part of the program.  This allows each party to communicate his or her desire at this point to:

  • Maintain the relationship on an informal basis
  • Maintain contact only as friends
  • Maintain periodic contact as either sees fit 

Communicating Within the Mentoring Relationship

Adults learn best by exchanging ideas and being actively engaged.  Inviting a mentee to engage in conversation or participate in a learning activity are a couple of ways that can enhance the mentoring experience.  This requires a mentor to also be actively engaged.  One of the ways of doing this is through active listening.

Active Listening involves being an active participant in the communication exchange by: 

  • Using Open-Ended Questions to Encourage More Information: Asking What? Where? How? When? Why? are always good ways of beginning a question because it requires more than a "yes" or "no" response. 
  • Clarifying and Restating when Appropriate: Taking the time to repeat in your own words what someone has said is a powerful way of making certain that you understand. This provides both parties with an opportunity to make any corrections before getting too deeply involved in the conversation. 
  • Summarizing at Various Points to Confirm Your Understanding: Taking the time to summarize what has been discussed or agreed upon thus far is a technique which helps ensure that you’re both on the same page so that any conclusions or decisions made later on will not come as a surprise to either party. 

Active listening takes effort. It's important to be fully present during the exchange and not allow yourself to be distracted by outside noises or your own thoughts and concerns. In active listening, you're not thinking about how you'll respond; instead, you listen first, communicate you understand and then consider your response.    

Framing the mentoring conversation