What is Mentoring?

Submitted 4 years ago by Dan Trepanier 

The word “mentor” first appears in Homer’s Odyssey. When King Odysseus went to fight in the Trojan War, he entrusted the care and education of his son Telemachus to his friend Mentor. In time, the word “mentor” became synonymous with trusted advisor, friend, teacher and wise person (Shea, 1997).


“Mentoring is a fundamental form of human development where one person invests time, energy and personal know-how in assisting the growth and ability of another person. Mentors are those special people in our lives who, through their deeds and their work, help us move toward fulfilling our potential.” (Shea, 1997)


Coaching is typically focussed on (though not restricted to) the development of specific skills: providing direction and feedback on tasks. Although it may be one element of mentoring, it is not equivalent to mentoring. Mentors are likely to help clarify ethical practices, work standards and long-term personal career goals. Coaching is the interactive process of assisting with the accomplishment of short-term goals. 


When interns asks for advice, it is easy to fall into the trap of telling them what to do: avoid this. Encourage them to answer questions on their own. This involves another skill called “probing”: asking questions to help interns find solutions to their own problems. For example, an intern asks, “Do you think I should go back to school and get a degree?” It may be tempting to say, “Yes, you need an education today, just to get by!” Instead, you might probe the intern to explore interests, resources and options by saying, “What kind of job interests you the most? What skills are required for that kind of job? What types of things do you like to do? What are your goals for your life? What do you want to accomplish? How do you want to live your life?”

This can be difficult, particularly if you have not thought about some of these questions in your own life for quite a while. But it provides an opportunity to learn about your intern. Together you can gain an understanding of his or her needs and goals. This is a more powerful experience for the intern, and results in a deeper commitment to personal goals.

Related Link: Coaching, Mentoring, Teaching, Counselling – The Difference?