“Mentoring is a two-way process with the mentor having as much to gain as the mentee. The crux is to encourage both partners to contribute freely and operate as equals.” Hay, 1995
Definitions of a mentor vary. Consider the following:
- “influential individuals with advanced experience and knowledge who are committed to providing upward mobility and support to their protégés’ careers” — Ragins, 1997
- “guide, counselor, and sponsor” — Levinson et al. (1978)
Some definitions distinguish mentoring from other developmental relationships, such as counseling and coaching, by the emotional components of the relationship — the need for trust between the mentor and the mentee — or the hierarchical distance between the mentor and the mentee.
Although the terms are often conflated, there are significant differences between mentoring, coaching, and counseling. The differentiation is important because for mentoring to produce the desired results — better-skilled, more knowledgeable employees — the mentoring strategy should follow a best-practice model and not become a coaching or counseling exercise. A mentoring relationship that morphs into general counseling can lose sight of the initial goals as the involved parties inevitably segue into other areas.
The graphic, below, from the Mowgli Foundation shows how mentoring (positioned on the far left, highlighted in yellow) is one component of the entrepreneurship ecosystem and a subset of human resources development. It is separate from coaching or training (positioned at the bottom, under capacity building).
Source: Mowgli Mentoring, 2014
According to the American Psychological Association, a mentor fulfills two main functions for the mentee: 1) a career-related function, providing advice to enhance the mentee’s professional performance and development, and 2) a psychosocial function, as a role model and support system for the mentee.
Mentoring is distinguished by its long-term impact in a broader learning context and by its influence on a company’s ability to gain competitive advantage through personnel development. Mentoring is a long-term investment in human capital development.
The Institute for Clinical Research Education at the University of Pittsburgh describes five different mentoring models: one-on-one mentoring, team mentoring, multiple mentoring, peer mentoring, and distance mentoring. And these models are distinguished by the following factors, explored in greater detail, below: breadth of perspective, mentor-mentee relative experience, and members’ proximity.
Breadth of Mentor Perspective
Each model varies in terms of the proximity of the players involved and the breadth of perspective that the mentor-mentee relationship provides. In a one-on-one mentoring relationship, for example, there are only two individuals involved and there is only one perspective — that of the mentor. That perspective is limited, then, depending on the knowledge and experience of the particular mentor. This model provides the least diversity in perspective.
Team mentoring, multiple mentoring, or distance mentoring models allow for greater perspective because there are more individuals involved (and more experts in the case of the multiple mentoring model). On the other hand, mentees can experience Mentor Whiplash when they receive differing opinions and feedback.
Peer mentoring occurs among colleagues at similar points in their career; breadth of perspective, therefore, requires senior mentors who have experienced the different stages of development.
Degree of Collaboration
In terms of collaboration, one-on-one mentoring is the least effective model. The multiple mentoring model is also limited in terms of collaboration because the mentee meets with each mentor individually, rather than working with a group of people. In a group setting with multiple peers or mentors, the mentee can tackle conflicting advice and situations without feeling a need to follow one specific path.
The Peer-Onsite-Distance (POD) model is a collaborative, team mentoring model developed in 2002 by researchers at the University of Arkansas. It is described as “a targeted, multilevel mentoring prototype … tailored to the unique needs of underrepresented minority (URM) medical school faculty.” The model is designed to retain talent and advance faculty careers by providing them with adequate network and mentor support.
Through the POD model, a network of peer and faculty mentors provide career guidance and, within the network, leaders and experts in specific fields provide information, such as announcements of future resources or potential restrictions in academic medicine. Different levels of expertise are built into the model:
- Peer mentors are “other faculty members of similar rank that offer advice based on their own experiences and provide support.”
- Onsite mentors are “senior faculty who address content areas and may also perform the roles of ‘advocates, liaisons, or coaches.’” These onsite mentors may have several mentees at a time, depending upon availability.
- Distance mentors are “from academia, the corporate world, government, and politics,” and “these mentors make a one year commitment.”
This structure provides mentees with a unique support system for dealing with different issues.
The POD: A New Model for Mentoring Underrepresented Minority Faculty. Source: Lewellen-Williams et al., 2006
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Proximity between Mentor and Mentee
A model requiring multiple parties to meet at a certain time can be difficult to organize. Tools such as Skype or Zoom can ease geographic scheduling difficulties. If external expertise is required, digital communication platforms can facilitate distance mentoring.
E-mentoring is gaining popularity because of its convenience, particularly among younger generations and in learning institutions, and there are emerging platforms offering online mentoring for businesses. Management Mentors, for example, offers extensive e-mentoring programs and models.
The Different Types of Mentors
Mentors can serve in a psychological support capacity, providing reassurance and motivation. In this case, the mentor-mentee relationship and the mentor’s role as confidante grows over time. Mentors can also act as role models, with mentees attempting to emulate mentor behaviors that led to success. Finally, mentors can provide professional guidance such as career advice.
Research studies acknowledge the range of different roles that mentors can play. In 2011, Etienne St-Jean conducted an in-depth qualitative analysis of entrepreneurial mentorships using focus groups of 51 novice entrepreneur-mentees and eight experienced entrepreneur-mentors. St- Jean confirmed in mentors four psychological functions, four career-related functions, and one role-modeling function.
Elin Kubberoed and Svein Thore Hagen studied two core dimensions of entrepreneurial mentoring: “mentoring focus” and “objective-orientation.” The authors developed a model with four similar generic roles with corresponding mentoring strategies: 1) “The role model” and modeling; 2) “The expert” and counseling; 3) “The learning facilitator” and reflection; and 4) “The coach” and coaching. Consider each in turn.
Role Models — According to Kubberoed and Hagen, the role model sets the example to be emulated by aspiring entrepreneurs, “learning by example.” Role models are particularly influential in the startup phase. The expert role model provides direct advice on what to do regarding a particular matter. Management knowledge is learned from experts and their experiences.
Learning Facilitators — A learning facilitator arranges the right environment for learning and guides the learning process by asking open-ended questions. There is no specific goal; learners practice critical thinking and are responsible for their own actions and learning process.
Coaches — A coach works with the learner toward a mutual goal in the same way that a sports coach and a student work together to achieve better performance. Kubberoed and Hagen found that the success of entrepreneurial coaching is dependent on whether the learner is ready to change their attitudes and behaviors.
What Does the Mentoring Relationship Look Like?
Mentoring is characterized by the relationship between the mentor and the mentee. It is a long-term activity, partly because it takes time to build the mutual trust that allows the relationship to develop.
According to a literature review from Dana L. Haggard, Thomas W. Dougherty, Daniel B. Turban, and James E. Wilbanks, the mentor-mentee relationship has three core-attributes: reciprocity, developmental benefits, and regular/consistent interaction over some period.
Reciprocity is a mutual social exchange as opposed to a one-way relationship. A mentee must have respect for the mentor and an appreciation for the knowledge that he or she will impart. A mentor must believe that the mentee is willing to apply themselves to the opportunity to gain knowledge and develop skills.
This transfer of knowledge and skill is especially important in circumstances that are subject to high levels of uncertainty, such as innovation and entrepreneurship. Individuals engaged in these activities are often dealing with problems that haven’t been solved and with technologies or methodologies that haven’t been adequately taught in formal education systems. The extended reciprocal nature of mentorship allows for novel problem solving.
According to the American Psychological Association, a mentor-mentee relationship has four distinct stages, and it can be helpful for participants to have insight into how the relationship develops:
- The initiation stage is where formal or informal matching occurs.
- Cultivation is the early stage of learning and development within the mentoring relationship.
- Separation occurs at the end of a program/relationship (hopefully after program goals have been met).
- At the redefinition stage, the mentor-mentee relationship may transform into a collegial or more social friendship.
In the second article in this series, “Designing and Implementing a Mentorship Program — The Match Matters,” we discuss best practices for developing an effective mentorship program. Given its central importance to the success of a mentorship program, mentor-mentee matching is considered in detail.