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Before embarking on a mentoring relationship


Published: 14 May 2021

Version: 1.0

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What is mentoring?

Typically, mentoring is a one-to-one learning relationship designed to support you with the quality of your thinking, decision-making and growth, facilitated by purposeful interaction with a mentor.

Mentoring is increasingly viewed as an individual learning and development tool for individuals with a wide range of capabilities and needs.

Mentoring can focus on career and professional development, in addition to psychosocial aspects for example:

  • Career and professional development focus might include transition, change, navigating the ecosystem system, politics and conflict, stretch and challenge opportunities. This may lead to the exploration of psychosocial needs.
  • Psychosocial focus might include exploring self-identity, resilience, confidence, and self-esteem which may ultimately have positive career and professional outcomes.

Research shows that through mentoring, we frequently become more aware of our potential; gain greater clarity about ourselves and our ecosystem; and achieve greater self-belief, self-motivation, confidence and support to achieve our aspirations. Critical conversations between a mentee and their mentor are often pivotal in creating shifts in perspective, knowledge and understanding.

Often, successful mentoring relationships enhance personal and career development. Mentoring can help and support mentees to manage their learning to maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be.

Questions to consider:

  • Reflecting on the outline above, how might mentoring assist you with a shift in perspective, knowledge or understanding?
  • Reflecting on any previous experience you have of mentoring, either as a mentor or mentee, how did you benefit most?
  • To what extent do you think mentoring might benefit you? What will you do next?

To find out more you may wish to consult the following resources:

  • Ragins, B.R. and Kram, K.E. (2007). The roots and meaning of mentoring. The handbook of mentoring at work: Theory, research, and practice, pp.3-15.
  • CIPD Factsheet. (2020). Coaching and Mentoring

How is mentoring different to coaching?

The terms mentoring and coaching tend to be often interchanged; both come from a long history of helping people to learn, develop and grow. The first recorded mentor was Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Athena took on the appearance of Mentor, to guide Telemachus and his father Odysseus. Mentoring was, and is, used to to help another build their own wisdom. Coaching from a performance perspective has been central to elite sporting performance for generations and has transitioned into the organisational context, coaching senior executives and the wider workforce to enhance performance. Today, we see mentoring and/or coaching applied in all contexts, including  ethics, education and entrepreneurship.

There are many definitions and approaches to mentoring and coaching as they mean different things in different parts of the world. As the fields of mentoring and coaching have evolved, practitioners and organisations have developed different definitions and interpretations of mentoring and coaching.

Coaching and mentoring are personal and professional development approaches based on the use of one-to-one conversations to enhance an individual’s knowledge and insight, skills or work performance. The primary difference is context; mentors tend to have context specific knowledge, such as knowledge of the mentee’s profession or area of work, whereas coaches do not; therefore, mentoring is often described as ‘coaching-plus’.  Mentors are often chosen because of their professional background, expertise and the contextual insights they can provide.

Historically, mentoring in the workplace tended to describe a relationship in which a more experienced colleague shared their greater knowledge to support the development of an inexperienced member of staff. Recently, the trend has shifted towards reverse or reciprocal mentoring (mentoring from a more junior colleague) and peer mentoring. However, common to all approaches is the ability of the mentor to assist and encourage mentees to engage in reflective learning, explore options and opportunities, bolstering the mentee's confidence, and in many cases their skills and capabilities.

Mentors and coaches often draw on shared knowledge, skills, competencies and behaviours; they call on the skills of questioning, listening, clarifying and reframing. Mentors however tend to have the organisational and contextual experience relevant to the mentee’s work and career-related systems, and typically mentoring relationships tend to be longer term than coaching relationships. Many practitioners consider themselves to be both mentors and coaches. The underpinning philosophies and practices vary depending on the context, purpose and formality of the mentoring and coaching.

Questions to consider:

  • Reflecting on the outline above, how do you distinguish between mentoring and coaching?
  • Reflecting on your previous experience of mentoring, either as a mentor or mentee, how much did contextual knowledge feature in your relationship?
  • Do you think you could benefit from working with a mentor? If so, what will you do next?

To find out more you may wish to consult the following resources:

What makes an effective mentor?

Successful mentors draw on a broad repertoire of enabling strategies and skills within a mentoring relationship. Research studies on mentoring in sectors, such as medicine, academia, early-career teachers have identified a set of core competencies for mentors. In addition, professional bodies, including the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) Global, have developed an evidence-based competence framework to identify the knowledge and skills required as a mentor develops into the role. A summary of knowledge and core competencies includes:

  • Interest in developing others: mentors will be committed to developing others, helping mentees to develop and grow, achieving their ambitions.
  • Committed to developing self: mentors will be committed to their own self-development and continuing professional development; role model self-managed learning.
  • Contextual awareness: mentors will have an awareness and appreciation of mentees’ context.
  • Self-awareness: mentors need a high degree of self-awareness to recognise their own behaviour and emotions within the relationship.
  • Communication competence: this includes the application of multiple skills including listening, questioning, reflecting and summarising.
  • Relationship management: mentors should be confident and comfortable to manage the dynamics of the mentor-mentee relationship, including role clarity, expectations, contracting and boundaries.
  • Behavioural awareness: mentors should have a reasonable insight into behavioural patterns, observation and reflective skills to support.

Questions to consider:

  • Reflecting on the summary above, what are your strengths and areas for further development?
  • Reflecting on the European Mentoring and Coaching (EMCC) Global Competency Framework (2015), where are the areas of most and least comfort?

To find out more you may wish to consult the following resources:

What makes an effective mentee?

Mentoring is regarded by many as a two-way relationship and there is clear evidence to suggest that mentoring is of mutual benefit to mentees and mentors. As a two-way relationship, the following mentee characteristics and competencies have emerged which are known to contribute to a successful mentoring relationship:

  • Understand purpose and context: mentees understand the purpose and context of the mentoring programme; what mentoring is and is not
  • Clear expectations: mentees understand the expectations of the key stakeholders within their given context – organisation, programme, mentor and self
  • Take ownership of the learning: mentees take on responsibility for their own development
  • Openness: a willingness to engage and learn; to be open to exploration, questioning and challenge
  • Organisation: mentees take responsibility for contacting the mentor, arranging the meetings and setting the agenda
  • Enthusiasm and commitment: mentees show a drive for learning, commit to actions and next steps, follow-up on the commitments made
  • Respect: mentees recognise the value of the mentor’s experience, commitment and contribution
  • Self-awareness: mentees understand their own emotions, responses and reactions to situations.

Questions to consider:

  • Reflecting on the summary above, what are your strengths and areas for further development?
  • Reflecting on your previous experience of mentoring, either as a mentor or mentee, what key characteristics and competencies were evidenced in the relationship?
  • To what extent are you ready to embark on a mentoring relationship and what will you do next?

To find out more you may wish to consult the following resources:

What are the different roles of the mentor?

Mentors often adopt a variety of different roles in a mentoring relationship, depending on the context, situation and needs of the mentee.

The roles can be summarised as follows:

  • Guide: Helps mentees to think through their options and provide appropriate advice and guidance on a range of topics; often helps mentees to navigate and access institutional resources.
  • Confidant: Provides unconditional support, where mentees can share their deepest thoughts and feelings.
  • Professional friend: Provides a safe space to enable mentees to discuss issues and challenges that they may have regarding the work context, colleagues and line managers. Mentees are able to speak openly and without embarrassment or fear.
  • Sounding board: Supports mentees in thinking through situations and whose reactions to suggested thoughts, opinions and ideas by mentees are used to test their validity, likely success, effectiveness or acceptability.
  • Challenger: Uses a consistent level of challenge and critical debate to enable mentees to access a point of new self-awareness, which is sometimes uncomfortable, but which helps mentees to transform their views, knowledge and learning.
  • Performance coach: Supports mentees in a specific and focused area in order to improve their performance or productivity in their career.
  • Reflector: Holds up a mirror to mentees, helping to reflect and make sense of the situation.
  • Role model: Provides an example to be copied and imitated. The mentor can share stories of what they have experienced in their lives to support mentees.

Questions to consider:

  • Reflecting on your previous experience of mentoring, what roles did you adopt most and least? Why was this?
  • Going forward, how might you identify the role/s most suited to your mentee’s needs?

To find out more you may wish to consult the following resources:

What to consider when choosing a mentor or mentee?

When considering choosing a mentor, you may wish to think about the following:

  • Compatibility: Someone that will put you at ease, you can talk with freely and establish rapport
  • Contrast: Someone that is different to you and will help you to step out of your comfort zone, for example, someone with different personal and professional background and expertise
  • Challenge: Someone that will challenge you, asking challenging and powerful questions which have the potential to change your perspective
  • Context: Someone with the knowledge and expertise to guide and support you on your journey
  • Care: Someone that is compassionate and has emotional intelligence, self-aware and empathetic.

When considering whether to work with a mentee, you may wish to think about the following:

  • Openness to learn: Someone who is curious to learn, develop and grow
  • Committed: Mentoring can often be a long-term relationship, therefore committing to the mentoring relationship and subsequent actions is important
  • Willing to be challenged: Someone that is open to challenge, curious and welcomes challenging and powerful questions
  • Receptive to feedback: Someone willing to hear, accept and act on feedback
  • Respectful: Someone mindful of time, energy, boundaries and the contractual agreement.

Questions to consider:

  • Looking back to your previous experience of mentoring, when considering a mentor or mentee, what were the deciding factors, if any?
  • Going forward, what might you look for in a potential mentor or mentee?
  • What action will you take now to move forward with a mentoring relationship?

To find out more you may wish to consult the following resource:

What makes an effective mentoring relationship?

Research shows that several key indicators are associated with mentor and mentee perceptions of what makes an effective mentoring relationship. In this guide, we focus on two: rapport and clarity of purpose.

Rapport: Rapport is often referred to as ‘chemistry’, the extent of similarity and difference between the mentor and mentee and their ability to establish an open and trusting relationship. During the initial phase of the mentoring relationship, the degree of rapport will determine if the mentor and mentee wish to work together.

Rapport occurs when:

  • Mentees and mentors share common values, have a shared purpose, are genuinely attentive and interested; there are no hidden agendas
  • Both the mentor and the mentee can be confident that whatever is said will remain confidential between them; they are able to say what they think without worrying about being criticised or judged
  • They have mutual respect and positive regard and trust each other to do what they say they will; they trust each other’s goodwill
  • The relationship is liberating/empowering (as opposed to confining/ disempowering).

Clarity of purpose: Clarity of purpose determines direction, focus and aids in the navigation of the relationship.

High clarity of purpose occurs when:

  • There is a long-term direction and defined purpose for the relationship
  • There is an agenda for each meeting to focus the conversation on the long-term direction
  • The relationship and mentoring outcomes are emergent and organic, aligned to the overall long-term direction.

Questions to consider:

  • Reflecting on your previous experience of a mentoring relationship, to what extent would you describe it as effective?
  • What were the indicators that influenced the degree of effectiveness?
  • Consider the ways in which you develop rapport in conversations. How could you build on these in a future mentoring relationship?

To find out more you may wish to consult the following resource:

Introduction to the EMCC Global mentor profile descriptors

The European Mentoring and Coaching Council Global provides mentor profile descriptors at four levels: Foundation, Practitioner, Senior Practitioner and Master Practitioner.

Foundation – at this level you are likely to be:

  • Engaged in the practice of mentoring and have the core skills of mentoring.
  • Working with others using mentoring conversations to support and encourage development of skills/performance.
  • Using a mentoring approach within your own field/role and understand how your mentor role integrates with your vocational role.

Practitioner – at this level you are likely to be:

  • Using mentoring as a significant part of your main job or a recent external mentor.
  • Working with a small range of mentees or contexts, possibly within your own area of experience, to improve performance, build confidence and stretch capability.
  • Application of a coherent model based on one or more established models.
  • Using reflective practice with supervision to identify, implement and evaluate specific behavioural changes to your practice.

Senior Practitioner – at this level you are likely to be:

  • Drawing on a range of models/frameworks, connecting new ideas in your approach.
  • Role-modelling good practice.
  • Working with a range of clients, contexts and organisations.
  • Focusing your work on building capacity for progression, managing complex and challenging relationships, working with ambiguity and change.
  • Working fluidly in the moment, with varied and often complex mentee issues in demanding contexts.
  • Using reflective practice with supervision to identify, implement and evaluate specific behavioural changes to your practice.

Master Practitioner – at this level you are likely to be:

  • Professional, experienced and an expert mentor; you create your own innovative approach based on critical evaluation of a wide range of models and frameworks.
  • Working with mentees using your skills/experience flexibly to widen mentees’ perspectives, thus stretching their learning and development.
  • Creating innovative approaches tailored to the requirements of each mentee.
  • Actively contributing to the professionalisation and the evolution of the mentor field.
  • Using reflective practice with supervision to identify, implement and evaluate specific behavioural changes to your practice.

Question to consider:

  • Reflecting on the mentor role descriptors above, where might you currently position yourself and how might you continue to develop in the mentor role?

To find out more you may wish to consult the following resource:

Introduction to the EMCC Global mentor competency framework  

The latest version of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) Global Competence Framework was created in 2015 for mentors, coaches and training providers. The purpose of the Competence Framework is to provide a description of a mentor at four distinct levels of development to help mentors understand their level of development. The Competence Framework includes a number of capability indicators which provide examples of behaviours or principles of the mentoring profession that meet the eight competence categories.

The EMCC’s mentoring competence categories:

  • Understanding Self
    Demonstrates awareness of own values, beliefs and behaviours; recognises how these affect their practice and uses this self-awareness to manage their effectiveness in meeting the client’s, and where relevant, the sponsor’s objectives.
  • Commitment to Self-Development
    Explore and improve the standard of their practice and maintain the reputation of the profession.
  • Managing the Contract
    Establishes and maintains the expectations and boundaries of the mentoring/coaching contract with the client and, where appropriate, with sponsors.
  • Building the Relationship
    Skilfully builds and maintains an effective relationship with the client, and where appropriate, with the sponsor.
  • Enabling Insight and Learning
    Works with the mentee and sponsor to bring about insight and learning.
  • Outcome and Action Orientation
    Demonstrates approach and uses the skills in supporting the mentee to make desired changes.
  • Use of Models and Techniques
    Applies models and tools, techniques and ideas beyond the core communication skills to bring about insight and learning.
  • Evaluation
    Gathers information on the effectiveness of own practice and contributes to establishing a culture of evaluation of outcomes.

Questions to consider:

  • Reflecting on the core competencies above, what are your areas of strength and opportunities for further development?

To find out more you may wish to consult the following resource: