A mentor, in relation to a mentee, is a person of higher ranking within an organization or profession, with greater experience or knowledge and a commitment to supporting the development of a mentee’s career.
A mentor serves as a role model who offers acceptance, confirmation, protection, and even friendship to the mentee. A mentor listens, observes, asks, counsels, coaches, challenges, and sponsors the mentee.
(Image: Telemachus and Mentor by Pablo E. Fabisch, from Les Adventures de Telemaque )
Effective mentors promote an interdependent relationship with their mentees that involves a developmental perspective. That is, effective mentors assume a position of respect and patience, guide rather than tell, model learning by learning from the mentee, and provide challenges that stretch the capacity of the mentee. The mentor does all this by listening, reflecting on experiences, asking questions, encouraging a sense of ownership, gently challenging, and affirming the experience of the mentee.
Effective mentees learn to observe with a minimum of bias; to communicate and listen effectively; to increase in self-knowledge about strengths, needs, learning styles, weaknesses, and “blind spots”; to be open to feedback rather than defensive, and to maintain an interdependent rather than a dependent or autonomous relationship with their mentor.
Effective mentoring occurs in an environment of confidentiality in which both mentee and mentor can be candid and self-revealing to each other without fearing for the publication of the content of their conversations. Effective mentoring is devoid of summary judgments and evaluations about personality and character. Instead, mentoring focuses on skills and personal qualities effective for career success. Although it shares some features with therapy, mentoring is not a form of therapy per se and should not be used to address problems of adjustment or personality integration.