Mentors and Mentoring: What is a mentor?


A friend of mine called the other day to tell me he had been promoted to Engineering Manager for a large, national, environmental services and consulting firm. I shared his good news and thought to myself about the years we had worked together. I remembered the day I hired him as a field engineer, his first professional job.


He has worked hard to get where he is. He is intelligent and good with people. He was a quick study and I enjoyed sharing my experience and knowledge with him. I may have been his first mentor, but I wasn’t his last. Yet it got me to thinking about the importance of mentors.

I would welcome your thoughts and stories on this topic as well. Feel free to email them to me.


The original Mentor is a character in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. When Odysseus, King of Ithaca went to fight in the Trojan War, he entrusted the care of his kingdom to Mentor. Mentor served as the teacher and overseer of Odysseuss’ son, Telemachus.


The Merriam-Webster WWWebster Dictionary defines a mentor as "a trusted counselor or guide." For their Mentor/Protégé Program, the Anesthesiology Department of Cleveland’s MetroHealth System defines mentor as "a wise, loyal advisor or coach."



A mentor is an individual, usually older, always more experienced, who helps and guides another individual’s development. This guidance is not done for personal gain.


Mentoring is used in many settings. Although it is most common in business, we saw above its use in a medical setting at MetroHealth. It is commonly used in educational settings, especially with "at risk" students. It is also the basic principle behind the Big Brothers and Big Sisters programs.


One of the most valuable assets your career can have is a good mentor.

In subsequent articles we will look at ways to find a mentor, and the requirements you must meet if you want to be a mentor.


If you have any questions or comments about this article, or if there is an issue you would like us to address, please post them on this blog as a comment.

What To Talk About When There’s Nothing To Talk About

In the time-poor environment that we have created, mentorees are very concerned about wasting their mentor’s time. Mentorees are often hesitant to contact their mentor or schedule meetings when they have no burning issue to discuss. This is a mistake.

You might feel there’s no point meeting at times when you have no problems. When you are working toward longer-term goals and are progressing but have no current actions or outcomes to discuss, a meeting may seem unnecessary. And it’s easy to skip meeting if you are very busy with day-to-day activities and haven’t focused on your personal development since the last mentoring conversation.

It is good to have an agenda for mentoring conversations, even if it’s just a few bullet points, because it shows respect for the mentor’s time, it helps maintain focus and provides both parties with a sense of accomplishment and completion. However, a lack of an agenda should not stop a mentoring conversation. Mentors may need to take the lead to reassure their partner of their commitment because mentoring conversations when it seems «there’s nothing to talk about» may be vital.

No Problem
Mentoring conversations are not just about solving problems or making decisions. They are about the availability of a person, with whom to have a conversation that provokes creative and critical thinking. A key benefit of mentoring is the relationship. However, the relationship needs to be established and well maintained if problems or important decisions are to be confidently shared when they do arise.

Conversations about what is going well are extremely useful too. Celebrating success is not simply a feel-good exercise. The purpose of mentoring is to create and capture insight, then use it. Reviewing positive outcomes and satisfaction will reveal and reinforce the constructive behaviours that led to success and clarify personal values and priorities. By listening and questioning a mentor can facilitate much greater awareness and positive actions that will enhance the mentoree’s life.

Long-term Goals
People often use mentoring to identify career direction and work towards it. These goals are not usually achieved over night but as a result of specific actions over time. So naturally, there will be pauses between. In a mentoring program over a finite period, the early momentum can come to a halt after initial action steps are implemented. Some mentoring relationships can survive long gaps between contacts but some won’t. People wonder how best to get value in the interim.

It is useful to have a «default agenda» a standard format that produces constructive conversation. This could be as simple as reviewing the week/fortnight/month’s highlights and low points and accomplishments. The mentor may ask a series of questions that prompt reflection and learning, such as: «what’s working well for you, right now?» and «what could be improved?» My mentor asks: «what is your greatest challenge, right now?» A new, short-term goal and actions, or at least awareness and focus, often result.

Personal Development
No matter what qualifications, age or career stage one has achieved, on-going personal development is a must. Even if an individual development plan negotiated with a manager, linked to performance appraisal and formalised, taking personal responsibility for self-directed learning and development is essential. It is easy, to let the demands of day-to-day work and hectic life style get in the way of personal aspirations and our growth as a human being. If we lose sight of what is truly important, if we have no sense of purpose, life can become a meaningless round of chores interspersed with moments of instant gratification.

Mentoring conversations are all about discovering meaning and purpose – for mentors as well as mentorees. The mentor might share his or her own life-lessons and insights that led to personal development. This can be immensely valuable to both parties .

The social support offered by relationships, should not be underestimated in the too-busy life so many of us lead. When you don’t have time, or have nothing to talk about may be exactly the time to have a mentoring conversation! Investing time really communicating another human being, taking time out to pause and reflect or simply stoping to smell the roses (or the coffee) is never a waste of time! That’s how mentoring works.

The author of this article is Ann Rolfe, and was first published in 2010 on

How To Maintain The Momentum Of Mentoring

Mentoring program coordinators need to have ongoing communication with participants to stimulate engagement, motivation and answer questions or concerns. But how do you keep up the contact in a useful and interesting way? Many successful programs send regular Mentoring Works Tips.

Mentoring Tips could be one page, easy to read and practical. They should be designed for mentors and suitable for mentorees and managers. Consistently delivering Mentoring Tips:

  • Provides mentors with information, tools and motivation
  • Keeps mentorees engaged in the process
  • Informs managers of mentoring techniques and benefits


The author of this article is Ann Rolfe, and was first published 10. november 2010 on

A Good Mentor can be a Valuable Career Resource

Doris Appelbaum says in this article that a good mentor is a coach, always challenging you, inspiring you and demanding that you do your best.

Mentors can improve confidence and lead to job opportunities you had not considered. They are familiar with a range of professional opportunities and are guides who have put aside self-preoccupation to foster the growth of new professionals.

The best mentors help develop the insight and self-awareness that assist with integrating professional life, military life, personal concerns and core values.

To read the whole article,  click here:

Why isn`t everybody having a mentor?

It strikes me, time after time. Everywhere when I talk to people and for people about mentoring. Almost everyone is responding the same way, as a big question mark in their face. I want a mentor they say, and wondering how to get one.

I don`t think it`s easy to get a mentor outside a mentorprogram. Even when I am saying “just pick up the phone”. Call the man or women you want and let them know why you want them especially.
Tell him why and how much you admire this person.
Who do you think will turn you down???
Maybe it`s just me, but when someone calls me up, telling me what a great guy I am. And how much he or she admires me, I run to him…
So my hope for the future is to hear moore people at my seminar and trainings telling that “of course” I have a mentor… DHAAAAAAAAAAAAA…

Business Mentoring Works . . . Ask Rose

This is a very good example for a business mentors good work. For Entrepreneurs it should be an opportunity to get a mentor early in the business. They can help with a lot of things.

With her mentor’s help, Rose built a successful business loan application and qualified for the loan she needed to open the doors of her new store.

Read more here:

Trainings in Trondheim

Some of the adepts in TrondheimAs I told you before I went to Trondheim in Norway to hold two seminars. Both for the participants in JCI Evolutions Mentorprogram for young people in Young Enterprice Norway.

On saturday we started at 10 am and were working with strenght, posibilities and SMART-goals up to 16 pm with all the adepts in the program. They were very interesting in the subject and real active all day. This is going to be the platform for further development trough the program and especially for the AM-meetings (Adept and Mentor meetings) every month.

Oh I love to meet so many positive and active young people and spend time with them, I actually learn as lot as them.

On sunday we started at 11 am to train all the mentors, from businesses around in the county. They were also very positive and active through out the wholde session, working with «The Big Five». Tools for AM-meetings.

I look forward t be hearing from the project group next time.

How important is mentoring to young women?

Mentoring is discussing in all sorts of ways, and I am positive to that. I mean that mentoring is the right way for an boost in personal life and in job life. I come across this Lily7 ( which exists to encourage and equip young women to develop Godly character and to find their self-worth in Christ alone. I am not going to discuss Christ pro contra, but point out the value of mentoring as a good tool.

And I think they answer very correct in a question they got from one reader. She thinks that mentoring could be a scary word to people. When people at lily7 responded that it could sound really formal and intimidating. But further more they say that mentoring can be as casual as you going to someone you trust and respect for advice. It can also be specific to a particular part of your life, too. For example says Sally, from lily7, I’ve got professors and lawyers who I seek out for how to write a legal argument, and I’ve got totally different people who I seek out for their thoughts on things in my everyday life. These people all see different aspects of my life, but the one thing that they have in common, which makes me call them mentors rather than regular friends, is that my relationship with them involves a lot of me learning from them and them giving their thoughts on whatever it is I’m doing. By contrast, I learn with or alongside friends. And in the end she asks “Does that make sense as a definition of mentoring?”

I say that it is a good definition because it is important for me to make everybody understand what it is, how to use it and that it isn`t intimidated.
To read the whole answer and more from lily7, follow this link:

My book project

I am writing two books about mentoring. They are handbooks for the involved part in a mentoring relationship.
I have learned in my years working with mentoring that both adepts and mentors don`t get the full potential out of the time they spend together.
The reflection part and the overall perspective is less because they take easy on the fact that writing down all thoughts is important.
It is important if you want personal growth to take notes. So my project is to find some tool to make it more easy for both adepts and mentors.

I am writing one book for the adept and one for the mentor. Mentoring is an exciting topic and it is easy to find a lot of material, but more difficult to select the most important.

Care to comments or tip me of topics you are more than welcome

Getting a younger mentor

I read an article about getting a younger mentor (in Norwegian at
The article said that it is a trend among middle-aged leaders to get younger mentors.

It`s called “Reverse mentoring” and Jack Welch (, then chairman at General Electric (, was maybe the first to try this.
When he ordered 600 of the leaders to get a younger mentor in 1999.

Matt Starcevich at Center for Coaching & Mentoring in Oklahoma ( says that reverse mentoring can give advantage for the organization.
He found out that 41% used reverse mentoring to learn technical expertise, and 26% used it to give leaders a more youthful perspective.
Of course it is important that the older leaders don`t have any prejudice against younger people.

What do you think about reverse mentoring? Do you have some experience with it? Tell me!