What is mentoring?

What is mentoring?
What is mentoring?- Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

What’s all this talk about mentoring? You might recently have been asked to mentor others or to be mentored by someone. Maybe you’re wondering what exactly mentoring is and why it matters.

It depends whom you ask. Maybe there have been times when you have wanted the advice and guidance of others whom you respect and look up to. That’s mentoring.

Perhaps there have been times when people have wanted you to help direct them based upon your personal experience, achievements and shortcomings, That’s mentoring too.

Let’s define mentoring

Let’s look at some straightforward definitions of mentoring to help you understand what mentoring is and what it isn’t

Eric Parsloe – Author of Coaching & Mentoring suggests that:  ‘Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be’

Yetunde Oshinkale at Capella University decribes mentoring as: ‘a relationship between two people where the individual with more experience, knowledge, and connections is able to pass along what they have learned to a more junior individual within a certain field. The more senior individual is the mentor, and the more junior individual is the mentee.’

What is coaching versus mentoring?

The key point is that mentoring facilitates the support of an inexperienced person by someone with more experience, It is an activity that is designed to enhance both performance and potential.

Is mentoring like coaching? Mentoring can be delivered in a coaching style. But coaching and mentoring are fundamentally different.

A mentor has usually been down the road that their client wishes to travel. They have done what their client wishes to do. The mentor thus draws on her/his experience to pass on to others.

On the other hand, a coach does not have to had the direct experience of the situation their client finds themselves in. Instead, the coach works with her/his client to help them find their own path,

“Mentoring is designed to attract talent, retain talent and develop talent to take on greater responsibilities…”


What does mentoring do?

At the heart of mentorship is a trusted relationship where the person being mentored can share their perspectives and problems with someone who uses their own experience to shepherd them.

The right mentor can help selected individuals (and groups) through:

  • exploring their goals with them
  • addressing their challenges together
  • improving their decision-making  

In a workplace setting, mentorship helps the mentee to develop an approach to career success. These can be dynamic and/or scheduled conversations covering key themes. 

“At the heart of mentoring is the relationship between the mentor and mentee…”


Why organizations need mentors

Many organizations have formal mentoring programs. Organzations that instigate mentoring programs tend to be those that recognize their people to be their greatest asset.

For this reason, mentoring is designed to attract talent, retain talent and develop key employees to take on greater responsibilities. 

At its heart is the relationship between mentor and mentee. The right mentor voluntarily takes someone ‘under their wing’ to help them reach desired outcomes by being a:

  • Sounding board for thinking
  • Role model to emulate
  • Confidante to be trusted
  • Advisor to provide feedback
  • Guide through challenges

When to use mentoring

If you are wondering about the context in which you can use mentoring or can benefit from it, here are some situations where mentoring might be the right approach:

1 Leadership development

People who display the traits of potential leadership can be fast-tracked through being mentored or shown the ropes by their seniors.

2 Induction / OnBoarding

Individuals can accelerate time to productivity by better acquiring and developing competencies with the help of more experienced colleagues.

3 Succession Planning

Indidivuals can be guided to take on strategic roles through 1:1 guidance by incumbents. Mentees can step into the shoes of their mentors when they are intimate with their mentor’s role and responsibilities.

4 Diversity and Inclusion

Members of under-represented groups can be elevated to management level quicker. This can help to create an culture of inclusion and greater trust with leadership. 

Types of mentoring

Just as there are multiple styles and classes of leadership, there are various types of mentoring. Here are some common types in practice:

1 Group Mentoring

A cohort of individuals sharing the same challenges are guided on a collective path towards a common goal. Many organizations use this type of mentoring with intakes of new employees. 

2 One to One Mentoring

A senior individual delivers customized guidance to someone who is ‘matched’ with them. Unlike group mentoring, this type is designed to facilitate personal trust and discretion. 

3 Mastermind Mentoring

A group of mentors meet to facilitate regular discussion of shared challenges. Individuals are encouraged to take turns sitting in the ‘hot seat’ where their peers all provide guidance to them. 

4 Reciprocal Mentoring

Mentors and mentees swap roles in order to recieve and provide mentorship to each other. This works when both are able to perform both roles competently. 

The benefits of Mentoring  

1 Benefits to the Mentee: 

From the perspective of the person being mentored, they stand to benefit from the expertise of a more experienced individual. When the right mentor-mentee relationship is in place, you can expect to see:

  • Development of competencies is prioritized 
  • Assistance and expertise is available on-demand
  • Brainstorming and ideation can be facilitated 

2 Benefits to the Mentor: 

From the perspective of the person doing the mentoring, there can be significant personal satisfaction to you as a mentor including:

  • Strengthened interpersonal relationships
  • Opportunities to demonstrate commitment to talent development
  • Chance to network and connect with promising people

LEARN MORE: Listen to Kay Littlehales tell you why she decided to enlist the help of two separate mentors to help her with her learning & development consultancy.

Why would you become a mentor?

You might feel stretched right now. But even if you feel overloaded or under pressure, there is a lot of reward in taking on the responsibility of shepherding someone on their career path. 

1 Get closer 

You can learn more about your client’s business by being given a chance to work with people who are facing important and current challenges.

2 Enhance your value 

You can increase the worth of what you do as a service provider by adding value to your client at higher levels. 

3 Elevate your brand 

You can increase your visibility across your client organization and at different levels similtaneously. 

“Mentoring is all about reaching out to someone who is need of guidance so you can help them find the way…”



Ellen Ensher author of Power Authoring suggests that mentoring provides you with ‘a chance to share your knowledge and wisdom with someone less-experienced’. 

If you already derive joy and a sense of accomplishment by leading, training and developing others, learning how to mentor can give you even greater satisfaction. 

Mentoring is all about reaching out to someone who is need of guidance. People need empathy from someone who is willing and kind enough to show them the way.

Does that sound like the kind of mission you want to take on?

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