Mentoring...Why does it work?

Reasons why it works

Effective mentoring relationships are reciprocal: Both parties gain access to information, ideas, and new ways of doing things.

Experience is the best teacher
Mentoring survives because having another person explain something to you and answer your questions is a preferred way of learning values, skills, and information over seeing it on video or reading about it.

Synergy: Result is greater than the sum of individual capabilities
Synergy is the ability of two or more people to achieve an outcome that each is incapable of doing alone. The energy and confidence that comes from a mentoring partnership are powerful forces.

Perpetuation of positive influences
How many secrets that would benefit humankind have been lost with the passing of the discoverers? Mentoring allows the tips and tricks of an accomplished master to be passed on to the upcoming generation without the information becoming part of the public domain. It ensures that the positive effects of the mentor's actions will continue without him or her.

Natural transition of life
Often it is a person in the mid-stages of their career that is interested in becoming a mentor. Not only does it provide them with an opportunity to pass on the wisdom they have learned over the years, it affords them a chance for introspection and reassessment of their career.

The Focus of Mentoring has Changed

We have recently seen a resurgence of interest in the concept of mentoring. Perhaps it is because the focus of many of the elements mentoring has changed to better align with what we know about adult learning principles. For example:

Adult Learning Principle

Mentoring Element

Change in Focus

Adults learn best when they are involved in diagnosing, planning, implementing, and evaluating their own learning.

Mentee role

From: Passive receiver

To: Active partner

The role of the facilitator is to create and maintain a supportive climate that promotes the conditions necessary for learning to take place.

Mentor role

From: Authority

To: Facilitator

Adults have a need to be self-directing.


Learning process

From: Mentor directed and responsible for mentee's learning

To: Self-directed and mentee responsible for own learning

Readiness for learning increases when there is a specific need to know.

Length of relationship

From: Calendar focus

To: Goal determined

Life's reservoir of experience is a primary learning resource; the life experiences of others add enrichment to the learning process.

Mentoring relationship

From: One life = one mentor; one mentor = one mentee

To: Multiple mentors over a lifetime and multiple models for mentoring: individual, group, peer.

Adult learners have an inherent need for immediacy of application.


From: Face-to-face

To: Multiple and varied venues and opportunities

Adults respond best to learning when they are internally motivated to learn.

Adapted: Zachary, A Manager's Guide to Mentoring, 2000


From: Product oriented: knowledge transfer and acquisition

To: Process-oriented: critical reflection and application

Different Career Stages:
Different Reasons to Have a Mentor

The decision to acquire a mentor can be supported by different reasons, depending on the stage in the one's career.

For someone just entering a field , whether directly out of school or changing their career focus, mentoring is effective in accelerating their integration into the field and their organization. A mentee is concerned about developing competence, skill level and a professional identity in their field. The mentor is challenged to treat the mentee as a novice colleague and not as a “student.”

Mid-career , a mentor may inspire the mentee to re-energize the enthusiasm and accelerate the development needed to improve their long-term career opportunities. At this stage the mentee needs to be nurtured and guided. The mentor is able to provide this support as their experience often leads them to focus on generativity, a concern for establishing and guiding the next generation.

Those nearing the end of their career may seek a mentor to help them define a strategy for pursuing new career options outside their current work environment. A mentor will aid the mentee in examining their career accomplishments thus far and how various career options fit into desired life-style. The mentor may even suggest that the mentee serve as a mentor to a new person in their field, thus creating a true cycle of generativity.

Click here to read "Levels of Mentoring," an article that discusses the three levels of mentoring; Information, skill and advocacy and how mentees and mentors can begin to decide which of the levels will best suit their needs.

Your Past Mentors
Before going further, it is a good idea to think back on the relationships that you have had in the past . Who in your past acted as a mentor to you? Take the time to think about a boss, a teacher or a family member who significantly influenced you when you were beginning your career. You will gain more from your future mentoring relationship if you take time, before you begin, to learn from your past. Chances are you've had mentors in the past and possibly didn't realize it at the time. It doesn't matter whether the person was referred to as a mentor, what is important is how the person influenced you and gave you special attention.

Take the time to think about the following questions: Have you had a mentor in your past? What did this individual do that you found particularly helpful?

Go to your Mentoring Workbook and locate and complete the worksheet entitled "Your Past Mentors." This activity invites you to look back on your life to identify past mentors and give thought to what characteristics each person possessed that helped establish your mentoring relationship and what behaviors you exhibited that made the mentoring stick.

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