What is mentoring?

Mentoring is a formally structured, non-reporting relationship undertaken to enhance professional practice, personal knowledge, and organisational development. 

Mentoring is often described as a one-to-one relationship where the mentee can draw from expertise and experiences of the mentor. It gives mentors the opportunity to share their professional and personal skills and experiences and to support mentees to grow and develop in the process. A good mentoring relationship is based on encouragement, constructive feedback, openness, mutual trust, and respect.

Role of the mentor

As a mentor, you have a responsibility to guide the mentee to the best of your ability, drawing from your experience and insight, and prioritising the skills, knowledge, and goals that the mentee has identified for themselves.

In this role, you may find that you must act as a counsellor, coach, advisor, connector and/or advocate.

As a mentor, you will:

  • Share knowledge, experience and expertise
  • Ensure the mentee's aims and needs are at the centre
  • Focus on development – help the mentee build their own judgement, knowledge and skills
  • Manage the balance of listening and talking, advice-giving with questioning
  • Make connections – provide access to people, resources, and information.

Potential benefits of being a mentor

Being a mentor isn’t just beneficial for the mentee. Mentors benefit in many ways – both personally and professionally – and these can include:

  • Satisfaction in serving altruistically and supporting the development of others
  • Satisfaction of being able to transfer skills and knowledge accumulated through extensive professional practice
  • Increased enthusiasm and self esteem
  • Opportunity to enhance mentoring, coaching and communication skills
  • Opportunity to re-examine your own practices, attitudes, and values
  • An expanded network of colleagues
  • Learning from the mentee’s experience and knowledge
  • Professional recognition for skills and expertise while gaining fresh perspectives
  • The opportunity to stay abreast with emerging issues for a younger or less experienced workforce.

Characteristics of a good mentor

At the heart of successful mentoring is listening. You must take the time to understand and consider the priorities outlined by your mentee and evaluate what you can bring to the relationship to help them succeed. Their success will help determine your own success as their mentor. Some important characteristics of being a successful mentor include:

  • Self-awareness and behavioural awareness
  • Willing to commit to and make time for the mentoring relationship
  • A genuine interest in mentee’s growth and development
  • Specific job-related skills and expertise
  • Being prepared to share knowledge and experience (including lessons learned and mistakes made where relevant)
  • Discretion and adherence to strict confidentiality
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Objectivity, supportiveness and honesty
  • Treating a mentee as a colleague
  • Recognising and clear communication of the limits of your own expertise and experience, referring the mentee to other professionals when appropriate
  • Seeking to understand and being respectful of the beliefs, personal attitudes and values of others
  • Takes initiative in raising problems and difficulties with the partnership, however elementary they may seem
  • Is on time and uninterrupted for meetings with the mentee, giving adequate notice if the meeting is to be postponed
  • An awareness of different learning styles.

Role of the mentee

As a mentee you need to work with your mentor to identify the skills, knowledge and goals you want to achieve. You need to have a strong desire to undertake professional growth and take full advantage of the mentoring relationship to learn.

This includes:

  • Defining your objectives
  • Taking responsibility for setting up meetings
  • Acting on suggestions made in your discussion
  • Actively looking for opportunities to apply the ideas that have come out of your meetings.

This does not include:

  • Expecting your mentor to do the work for you
  • Expecting your mentor to have/know all the answers
  • Continuing to work with someone you can’t develop a suitable relationship with.

Characteristics of a good mentee

As a mentee you must be willing to put time and effort into the mentoring relationship. Your mentor has volunteered to take part in the mentoring scheme as they have a genuine commitment to assist you in your development. One way to show your appreciation for the time and assistance your mentor provides is by being committed to the relationship.

During the mentoring relationship you need to accept that your mentor will challenge your approach. You will need to make changes e.g. analyse problems in new contexts and new ways, try solutions that you have never tried before.

Having a positive attitude and maintaining a positive outlook will help you tackle difficulties that arise during the mentoring relationship and stay on course to achieve your goals.

A desire to learn new skills and knowledge with an ability to develop existing skills and knowledge is paramount to the success of mentoring.

A good mentee is open to constructive feedback. In order to grow and develop professionally it is critical that you endeavour to accept feedback and not get defensive about it. Your mentor is there to give you another perspective on your situation. To make the most of this, you need to have an open mind and allow the mentor to help you appreciate a range of perspectives. You don’t have to agree with everything your mentor says, but you should give it fair consideration and know why you disagree.


Download: Sample mentor/mentee agreement