Matching the Mentor and Mentee

By Bob Crosby

Mentoring is an intervention that has proven highly effective and has become especially popular in recent years.

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Historically it has its roots in Greek Mythology and it has much in common with the apprenticeship as practiced before the Industrial Revolution.

There are many different definitions available all focusing on the importance of "relationship." The most concise came from Jan Cummings, a consultant in Fullerton California that specializes in developing mentor programs for her clients. Her definition is "Mentoring is a relationship. Through this developmental partnership, the Mentee, with assistance from the Mentor set goals for the key purpose of the development of the Mentee. Enhancing skills, gaining new knowledge and implementing new behaviors are the intended targets of a Mentoring Program."

Here some examples of others:

  • Mentoring is "A mutual relationship with an intentional agenda designed to convey specific content along with life wisdom from one individual to another. Mentoring does not happen by accident, nor do its benefits come quickly. It is relationally based, but it is more than a good friendship…mentoring is not two people who just spend time together sharing". - Thomas Addington and Stephen Graves
  • "Mentoring is an intense work relationship between senior and junior organizational members. The mentor has experience and power in the organization, and personally advises, counsels, coaches and promotes the career development of the protégé" - Anne Stockdale

In addition, you can read several definitions online.

Mentoring is used successfully in all kinds of organizations including industry, and education as well as assistance programs like Big Brothers and Sisters. Big Brothers and Sisters is based totally on a mentoring concept.

Mentoring is often used in organizations to prepare lower-level and mid-level managers to move up the ladder. It is a leadership training program that goes beyond the training class to teach and model the desired skills/knowledge and behavior. Of course it is also used in aide/student, beginning teachers/senior teachers, and undergraduates/graduates at the university level.

It is important also to recognize what a mentor/mentee relationship is not.

  • While it is a close relationship, it is not a friendship
  • The mentor is not a psychiatrist there to solve personal problems
  • It is not just two people hanging out and spending time together

Jan Cummings tells the story of a woman of Chinese heritage with and MBA who worked in a large bank. No matter what she did she couldn't get a way from a position that only used her financial and technology skills/knowledge. She wanted to become more involved with the business of the bank. She was assigned a mentor who was an expert in Credit. Through the relationship she was not only able to learn more about credit issues but she was able to become more visible. Later on she was able to transfer to a lending area that targeted the Chinese community. After that she moved to another bank in charge of an international development division.

In another company where mentoring was not working, it was discovered that all the mentees were woman and all the mentors were men. It was determined that male-female issues produced problems that were not resolved at the first meeting. These issues may have contributed to keeping the relationships on a superficial level.

Matching the Mentor and Mentee
The success or failure of mentoring is closely tied to how well the mentor/mentee are matched. Most sources agree that a mentor should not be the direct supervisor of the mentee or that they even be from the same department if that is possible. If the personality types are tremendously different, there may be problems with the relationship. In addition there must be a sense of win-win in both the mentor and the mentee. Both should want to participate. This relationship can stretch over months or even years.

Special care at the beginning in matching the mentor and mentee, as well as the use of written Mentoring Agreement signed by both parties and clear evaluation expectations at specific times are all vital to the success of a mentoring program.

The Value of Mentoring
There are advantages for both in the relationship. The mentee will certainly benefit both personally and professionally from the intervention. The mentor will learn or refresh their knowledge simply by having to teach and answer questions about it. In addition the mentee can provide knowledge about other areas of the organization as well as provide a useful way to spot future talent for the mentor.

Mentoring has proven to be a useful tool in retention of employees. (Holloway, J.H., 2001) It has also shown to strengthen. It is also a form of recognition and reward to the mentee. It helps both the mentor and mentee recognize their abilities and limitations and highlights areas for future development. It can increase motivation in both mentor and mentee Performance has been significantly improved by all these outcomes.

There is empirical evidence of the value of this intervention. A New Jersey study found that first year teachers attrition rates without mentoring was 18 percent, whereas the attrition rate for first year teachers in a program that included mentoring was only five percent (Gold, 1999).

Another study cited in Holloway reported that 96 percent of beginning teachers and 98 percent of experienced teachers benefited from the relationship. The experienced teachers were especially enthusiastic stating "…they believed that mentoring allowed them to help others, improve themselves, receive respect, develop collegiality, and profit from the novice teachers' fresh ideas and energy.

In business, female executives found that a mentor had been significant in giving them confidence and self-image to seek advancement, making them visible to top management and helping them to learn organizational politics (Clutterbuck, D. & Megginson, D., 1999)

When Mentoring Could be Advised

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Mentoring is usually an internal intervention, but the guidance in advising and setting up a program can easily fall to the performance technologist. There are a number of excellent reasons to advise a mentoring program. It is an excellent way to build the talent bench in succession planning. It supports diversity programs so minorities can learn unspoken rules and norms. Mentoring is an excellent vehicle for general corporate career development. It also allows the participants to build relationships across functional departments and up and down the corporate ladder. Finally it helps to increase the retention of employees, especially "high potential" employees.


Clutterbuck, D. & Megginson, D. (1999) Mentoring Executives & Directors, (pp. 16-17) London, Butterworth- Heinemann,
Cummings, J. (2004), Telephone Interview, January, 27, 2004, Career Management Strategies

Gold, Y. (1999), Beginning teacher support. In J. Sikula, T. Buttery, & E. Guyton (Eds.), Handbook of research in teacher education (2nd ed.) (pp. 548-594). New York: Macmillan Available online at

Holloway, J.H. (2001) Research Link / The Benefits of Mentoring, Educational Leadership 58(8), 85-86 Available online at

Author Note

Contributor: Bob Crosby,


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