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Transitioning from mentee to mentor


Published: 19 December 2022

Version: December 2022

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As the mentee and mentor come to the end of the formal mentoring period, the mentee may consider transitioning into the role of mentor. Transition can be a result of inner changes, such as a deepening social awareness or self-image, or external changes such as work, role and profession. Transitioning from the role of mentee to mentor, requires a heightened understanding of the repertoire of enabling strategies and skills within a mentoring relationship, which mentors draw from to assist their mentees. 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. Research studies on mentoring in specific sectors, such as medicine, academia and early-career teachers have identified a set of core competencies for mentors, including:

  • 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 mentee’s 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.

In addition to the above, based on many years of research and practice, Professor David Clutterbuck describes the most significant mentor qualities as follows:

  • wisdom – Athena, the archetypical mentor in the Odyssey (the first mention of the term “mentor”) was the Greek goddess of wisdom. Great mentors have reflected deeply on their life and work experiences and they apply those insights by “using their wisdom to help another person develop wisdom of their own”. 
  • the ability to listen deeply and attentively – great mentors listen four or five times more than they talk.
  • the ability to ask really powerful questions – because they are more focused on what the mentee has to say than what they want to say, they have time to draw on their experience to ask questions that will stimulate deep thinking.
  • being a critical friend or sounding board when needed – they recognise the difference between giving advice (which is generally far less helpful than the giver thinks) and giving context (which provides just enough information for the mentee to find new perspectives and solutions on their own).
  • having a good store of concepts and models they can draw upon to communicate ideas and stimulate new thinking.
  • knowing when and how to use anecdotes and stories – they choose carefully when to share experiences.
  • being a proactive role model – they understand how the mentee may absorb both their good and bad traits and help the mentee think through what they want to emulate and why, and how to remain authentic to themselves.
  • compassion – they care about and believe in the potential of their mentees.

Mentors often adopt a variety of different roles in a mentoring relationship, depending on the context, situation and needs of the mentee. Transitioning from mentee to mentor requires a heightened focus on the breadth and depth of roles and the degree of dynamism within the mentoring relationship. The roles can be summarised as follows:

  • guide: helps the mentee to think through their options and provide appropriate advice and guidance on a range of topics to the mentee; often helps the mentee 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 concerns that colleagues and line managers, speaks openly and without embarrassment or fear.
  • sounding board: supports the mentee in thinking through situations and whose reactions to suggested thoughts, opinions and ideas by the mentee are used to test their validity, likely success, effectiveness or acceptability.
  • challenger: uses a consistent level of challenge and critical debate to enable the mentee to access a point of new self-awareness, which is sometimes uncomfortable, but which helps the mentee to transform their views, knowledge and learning.
  • performance coach: supports their mentees in a specific and focused area in order to improve their performance or productivity in their career.
  • reflector: holds up a mirror to the mentee, helping the mentee to reflect and make sense of the situation.
  • Making the transition from mentee to mentor requires a heightened focus on the qualities, competences and roles required to effectively support others.

Questions for reflection

  • reflecting on the outline above, what support do you need to grow into the role of the mentor?
  • reflecting on the European Mentoring and Coaching (EMCC) Global Competency Framework (2015), where are the areas of most and least comfort?