Mentoring...What is it?

Origin of the term "Mentor"

In Homer's Odyssey, Mentor is a trusted friend to whom Ulysses leaves the care of his household when he departs for the Trojan War. Mentor was entrusted with the development and education of Odysseus's young son, Telemachus and served as his guardian and overseer until the war's conclusion. He was the consummate teacher, who educated Telemachus in the ways of the world, providing him the knowledge and support he required. Thus , Mentor's name – with a lower-case "m" – has passed into our language as a shorthand term for a wise and trusted counselor and teacher.

A Contemporary Definition of Mentoring

“Mentoring is a collaborative learning relationship between individuals who share mutual responsibility and accountability for helping the mentee work toward the fulfillment of clear and mutually defined learning goals. Mentoring is used to assist individuals at specific stages of development or transition and lasts for a sustained but defined period of time. The mentoring relationship provides a developmental opportunity for both parties and can thus be of mutual benefit.” Source: (Zachary, 2002:28 )

Mentoring is a developmental partnership through which one person shares knowledge, skills, information, and perspective to foster the personal and professional growth of someone else. We all have a need for insight that is outside of our normal life and educational experience. The power of mentoring is that it creates a one-of-a-kind opportunity for collaboration, goal achievement, and problem solving. The personalized nature of mentoring means you can decide to learn about the topics and issues of most relevance to you.

How Mentoring Supports Individual Development

The intent of mentoring is to support individual development through both career and personal functions in the following ways:

Career Functions

Personal Functions

Sponsorship. Mentor opens doors that would otherwise be closed.

Coaching. Mentor teaches and provides feedback

Protection. Mentor supports the mentee and/or acts as a buffer.

Challenge . Mentor encourages new ways of thinking and acting and pushes the mentee to stretch.
Source: (Kram, Kathy, Mentoring at Work, 1988)
Role modeling . Mentor demonstrates the behaviors, attitudes, and values that lead to success in the field.

Counseling. Mentor helps mentee deal with difficult professional dilemmas.

Acceptance and confirmation. Mentor supports the mentee and shows respect.

Friendship: Mentor demonstrates personal caring that goes beyond business requirements.

Click here to watch a video titled "Mentoring, for Better or Worse: It's mutually beneficial, with limits." Business Week's Patricia O'Connell discusses the pros and cons of mentoring, and how one true-life mentee-mentor relationship backfired and caused ill feeling. When you are finished, use your back arrow to return to this page.

As you can see, mentoring involves coaching. While we frequently see the terms coaching and mentoring used interchangeably, they are two distinct practices. It is important for us to understand the differences.

Differences between Coaching and Mentoring

“One of the most important differences between mentoring and coaching is that the coach helps the “employee” do his or her job better and the mentor helps the “employee” make the transition to self-development and the ability to do other jobs, to achieve goals beyond the present job situation.” (Zachary, A Manager's Guide to Mentoring , 2000)

Coaching and Mentoring: How They Differ




Goals To improve performance, correct inappropriate behavior or to impart new skills the employee needs to know. To support and guide personal and professional growth of the mentee.
Initiative for Mentoring Coach directs the learning. Mentee is in charge of his or her learning.
Focus Immediate problems and learning requirements.

Long-term personal career development.

Experience Coach does not have to be an expert in the subject. Mentors are chosen for their knowledge and expertise in a given field.
Roles Telling with appropriate feedback. Listening, providing a role model, and making suggestions and connections.
Duration Concentrates on short-term needs. Administered on an “as-needed” basis. Long-term
Volunteerism Subordinate must agree to accept the coaching, it is not necessarily voluntary. Both mentor and mentee participate as volunteers.

Narrow focus and time restrictions require carefully structured and scheduled meetings.

Flexibility of goals is reflected in the informality of the meetings.
Relationship Coach is “coachee's” boss. The mentor should not be in the mentee's chain of command.

Adapted from: Kram, Kathy, “Mentoring at Work: Developmental Relationships,” 1988

Both coaching and mentoring form a relationship described as a "partnership." However mentoring and coaching are not the same. It is important for both the mentor and mentee to understand the differences.

A coach will help you do what you need to do,
but a mentor will help you do what you want to do.

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