By Suzanne Moore

Mentoring is defined as "the act of helping someone else learn something that would have otherwise been learned less well, more slowly, or not at all." (Bell, 2002) In this brief paper, we will discuss where mentoring is used, the different ways mentoring can be used and delivered, the benefits to mentor and protégé, and the components of a healthy mentoring relationship. Finally, we will discuss one VP's experience with mentoring.

Mentoring is used in authentic settings for the purposes of emerging leader development, retention of knowledge of the about-to-retire generation, succession planning, diversity, career development, new hire orientation, improvement of technical knowledge, and competency development and retention (See ASTD). When we think of mentoring, we typically identify with a person-to-person relationship. However, there are many other types of mentoring available such as e-mentoring, mentoring e-bulletin boards, mentoring e-document vaults, threaded discussions, self-directed mentoring and 24/7 call centers for technical support. This paper will focus on aspects of a person-to-person mentoring relationship.

A mentor, as defined earlier, helps someone else learn. The mentor's goal is to create a safe context for growth (Bell, 2002). In order to be effective, a mentor must know how adults learn and become a catalyst in a process of discovery and insight. A mentor is a giver, and at the same time someone who allows the learner to struggle to find their way, while providing gentle guidance. The mentor must focus on discovery and learner independence. The mentor/protégé relationship must be a balance of power and influence. The relationship should be a balanced alliance, grounded in mutual interests, interdependence and respect (Bell, 2002). Expectations and roles must be communicated early. There must be a spirit of generosity and acceptance versus a focus on rules and rights. The partnership must recognize differences while respecting common needs and objectives. Feedback must be straightforward, filled with genuineness, candor and trust. The mentor must demonstrate courage to take risks with learning and set the example for the protégé. The mentor must truly enjoy the learning process and be a continual fan of the learner.

Both mentor and protégé can benefit from the mentoring relationship. The protégé experiences greater job satisfaction by having a role model to motivate and guide them to reach career goals and objectives. As a result, self-confidence is fostered. The mentor can find the mentoring relationship to be rejuvenating, fulfilling and satisfying. We should also mention that the organization can benefit from a mentoring relationship. Since protégés experience greater job satisfaction, turnover and absenteeism will tend to decrease and company loyalty will tend to increase (See Mentoring Solutions).

There are four components of a healthy mentoring relationship as illustrated in the graphic below:

Letting Go

A mentoring relationship will thrive if both parties can agree on objectives that promote mastering skills, not necessarily total mastery. Mentoring promotes a continual expansion of knowledge. The mentoring relationship should be a partnership. Learning involves risk and the mentor and protégé should be open to experimentation. . . . .a no risk, no reward mindset will help the protégé expand his/her learning horizons. The mentor should create a spirit of connection so the protégé will be able to retain the learning. And finally, a mentor must be willing to set the learner free. The mentoring relationship involves continuous "letting go." If the protégé is dependant, he or she will be uncertain and insecure. It behooves the mentor to encourage growth through teaching and letting go.

I interviewed Mark Hoffman, Vice President of Human Resources at St. Jude Medical. Mark had participated in a number of mentoring relationships during his career. His feeling is that a mentoring relationship must be symbiotic or it feels like "asking the ugly girl to dance." (personal communication, 1/27/04) There must be a connection that works for both parties or there won't be a motivation to learn and share.

Mentoring can be a highly beneficial partnership for the mentor, the protégé and the organization. Used effectively, mentoring can be a viable performance technology tool that may complement the training intervention that has become the hallmark "comfort zone" for corporate America.



Bell, Chip R. (2002). Managers as Mentors. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Mentoring Solutions .

Author Note


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