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Paul Russell

Luxury Academy

Founder and managing director

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4 different approaches to mentoring


One of the most intriguing professional relationships is that between the mentor and mentee. It is easy to see the benefits to the mentee; someone to support them in the development of their workplace skills and guide them in the chosen career, and a sounding board who asks the right questions. Over 97% of those with a mentor think it is valuable, say statistics for 27 October’s National Mentoring Day.

Yet they also state that only 25% of small to medium-sized business currently make use of mentors.

We look closer at the complexities of mentoring, including four key mentor approaches and motivations.

This is what to do

A National Mentoring Day glossary suggests that a mentor ‘helps the mentee to review their situation through a process of reflection, questions, signposting, challenge, advice and feedback…to allow the mentee to come to their own decision’.

When it is characterised by an excess of advice rather than as a forum for the mentee to come to informed decisions, academics suggest it could be considered ‘judgementoring’. However, an interesting study in Norway found that mentors with high self-efficacy in their roles were more likely to have beliefs consistent with judgementoring.

The authors suggest that whilst we might imagine that confident mentors would be less inclined to indulge in the instinctive expressions of personal judgements that define this type of mentoring, personal judgements can also come from thoughtful considerations of how best to help the mentee develop.

Let’s help each other

Perceptions that mentoring is purely altruistic and of benefit only to the mentee can be unhelpful, as can traditional views of mentoring as hierarchical and organisational as in the senior mentor- junior mentee dyad.

Relational mentoring, however, is based on the social exchange theory which suggests that we seek social relationships like the mentoring relationship because of the rewards we expect it to bring, like feeling connected to others.

In this way, Young and Perrewe define mentoring as one that involves exchanges of support behaviours, so as well as the mentor supporting the mentee in their professional aims, this is reciprocated.

You remind me of me

One of the most powerful motivators for mentors comes in recognising something in the mentee that resonates with them in some way. Academics like Ragins and Kram agree that this identification is integral to not only the formation of mentoring relationships but its continued success.

They suggest that the mentor sees the mentee as symbolic of their past, perhaps because they remind them of their younger selves, whilst the mentee sees their mentor as the personification of the person they want to be in the future.

I really can’t be bothered

Many academics concur that mentoring can vary significantly in quality, and that quality can change over time. Feldman looked at dysfunctional mentoring, suggesting that it can become dysfunctional if it frustrates the major need of either the mentor or the mentee.

Thus a mentor can determine the relationship is dysfunctional if the long-term costs are outweighing the long-term benefits for them. And where the mentor perceives that the mentee has not reciprocated for the time and energy that has been poured into the relationship, the mentor can have feelings of betrayal and anger.

Negative perceptions of mentoring can make potential mentors less inclined to engage with formal mentoring programmes or initiate informal mentoring both inside and outside of their organisations.

Where mentoring is occurring, the motivations for doing so and the approaches utilised can vary significantly resulting in vastly different quality outcomes.

Mentoring initiatives can look to address these issues, setting the scene for an honest, positive mentoring experience for both mentor and mentee. 

Author Profile Picture
Paul Russell

Founder and managing director

Read more from Paul Russell

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