Magazine article Workforce

Effective Mentoring Relationships from the Mentee's Perspective

Magazine article Workforce

Effective Mentoring Relationships from the Mentee's Perspective

Article excerpt

The term "mentor" is often associated with words like advisor, instructor, tutor, master and guru. However, current writers seem to suggest a shift away from this teacher-to-protege instruction to a power-free, two-way, mutually beneficial relationship. Is either one of these two extreme positions correct? Or can the mentor-mentee relationship be both? Does this represent the values of those charged with implementing mentoring programs and training mentors?

Who better to ask than the mentee? In 1998, visitors to our home page ( were asked to participate in an "Effective Mentoring Survey." The limits of this self-selection process are known. All we asked was that participants be mentees not mentors, and that they keep their most effective mentoring relationship in mind as they responded to the questionnaire.

This following information is based on the 130 respondents to the survey. According to their e-mail top-level domain name extensions, 73 percent resided in the United States, 18 percent were in international locations, and 5 percent, 2 percent and 2 percent were from educational, government, and military organizations respectively.

Does it matter who their mentors were?

More than half the respondents felt their most effective mentor was their direct supervisor. Other mentors were managers who weren't supervisors, peers and off-the-job friends.

Mentoring is occurring both on a formal, organized basis and on an informal, as-needed basis. Bottom line, how satisfied were the respondents with their mentoring relationships? Very, on a five-point scale; the average response was 4.2. This article attempts to understand what contributing factors lead to such a high level of satisfaction.

Is there a difference between a mentor, coach and supervisor?

This was an open-ended question, resulting in a resounding yes. Only nine respondents saw no difference between the three roles, five felt the coach and mentor played similar roles different from that of the supervisor, and three felt the coach and supervisor played similar roles different from that of the mentor.

The majority of the respondents feel the mentor is person-focused, the coach is job-focused, and the supervisor is results/productivity-focused. For example, one respondent says, "A mentor is like a sounding board. They can give advice, but the mentee is free to pick and choose what they do. The context doesn't have specific performance objectives. A coach tries to direct a person to some end result. The person may choose how to get there, but the coach is strategically assessing and monitoring the progress, and giving advice for effectiveness and efficiency. The supervisor's ultimate responsibility is to make sure the job gets done, and they hold the person accountable for the deliverables of the job."

The major role associated with the mentor was a person who is personally involved-a friend who cares about you and your long-term development. The coach was seen as a person who develops specific skills for the task, challenges and performance expectations at work. The supervisor almost unanimously was seen as one who focuses on performance management, getting the job done as teller, director and judge.

What's disturbing is the consistently negative view of the supervisor's role-a view that won't be altered by just a title change to "coach." It appears that a supervisor who wants to enter a mentoring relationship with a direct report must wear different hats during the mentoring, coaching and supervisory discussions. Can it be done? Evidently, since more than half the respondents said their immediate supervisor was their most effective mentor.

The more positive view of the mentor was further reinforced when respondents were asked to pick from a list of 14 descriptive words that best described their mentor's dominant style. The top four were friend/confidant, direct, logical and questioner. …

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