Mentoring explained

Mentoring / mentorship definition - toolshero

This article describes Mentoring in a practical way. Next to what it is (definition and theory), this article also highlights the difference this guidance method and coaching, when to use it and various techniques (how to practice it). Enjoy reading!

What is Mentoring? The theory

Everyone could use a mentor, as mentors help us to gain new insights and guide us to make the most of opportunities.

The definition

Mentoring is also referred to as mentorship. It’s about the relationship between a more experienced person and a less experienced individual; the latter being guided by the former.

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In terms of age it doesn’t matter whether the mentor is older or younger than the person they’re guiding. It is however important that the mentor is knowledgeable about a certain field of expertise. While participants in trainings are called trainees, people who receive coaching are called coachees. In the case of this guidance method, the person receiving guidance is usually called the mentee.

In Europe, the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) are organisations that represent mentoring and set up guidelines for the practice. The EMCC defines this guidance method as ‘a situation in which one person helps the other to make transitions related to knowledge, work, or mindset.’ According to the EMC, the practice generally helps workers to perform better.

Additionally, it also offers an opportunity for employees to learn better, handle stress better, and communicate better. Particularly the EMCC creates and maintains standard frameworks, rules, and processes, in the field of mentoring others.

The difference mentoring and coaching

As professions, mentor and coach are not regulated. Anyone can become a mentor or coach. There are specific training programmes for this guidance method and coaching. Today, this technique is also called the new coaching or ‘coaching’s little sister’.

coaching became very trendy in business and beyond, especially during the early 21st century. However, this guidance method is more efficient and effective than coaching. It has actually been around since antiquity. The word was even inspired by Greek mythology.

Mentor was a character in Homer’s Odyssey. The actual mentor in this story is a wise old man. Despite that, it’s the goddess Athena how disguises herself as him to help guide the young Telemachus in difficult times.

While a coach focuses on the coachee’s personal development and leads them to awareness, a mentor guides their mentee mainly in business matters. It’s about sharing experiences and getting to learn a business together. The expertise of the mentor is to serve as a role model for their mentee.

And in most cases, this guidance method is less expensive than coaching. Because coaching involves a lot of psychology, it often means employing external experts. That’s different for mentoring; for that you can look to an expert or senior employee with specific knowledge within the company.

Someone for whom it’s a challenge to guide less knowledgeable and less experienced employees for a while. It’s therefore an easier and, more importantly, cheaper solution than hiring an outside coach.

When to use it

As mentioned earlier, it is mainly intended for young, inexperienced, and often new employees. Some of the topics that are perfect for this guidance method are practical methods, insights, leadership, and strategies.

Particularly the mentor’s significant chunk of experience will help the mentee’s development. It offers additional support and is meant for anyone who wants to benefit from the know-how experienced colleagues have to offer.

In their book ‘Coaching and Mentoring’, Eric Parsloe and Monika Wray list specific target groups in organisation that would be good candidates:

  • New employees
  • Temporary employees, such as work placement students
  • Employees with a disability
  • Employees who have to change jobs
  • Employees who are going to lose their jobs
  • Employees who are going to retire
  • Employees who wish to develop themselves further
  • Managers who want to further develop their leadership skills and abilities

The quality of mentoring

The quality of good mentorship comes from the mentor not considering themselves to be better than the other person. This guidance method is about personal guidance, help, and support. The foundation has to be equality, allowing mentees to feel heard. They need to be able to see the mentor as someone they can trust, bounce ideas off, and go to for advice.

In addition to being motivated to guide others, mentors should also be open to help employees in a professional sense. That requires patience and the ability to inspire others to believe in themselves. A competent mentor will have to strike the right balance between guiding, advising, and supporting the other person.

Their role is to give the other person new insights and help set and achieve personal goals. Mentors also focus on the process of acknowledging own behaviour and actions by the mentee.

Strategy choices

It’s quite common for organisations’ strategies to change all the time. From that perspective, assigning mentors to employees can be a strategic choice. It is after all important that everyone in the organisation is aware of changing standards and implemented strategies.

Experienced employees are often very knowledgeable about this, enabling them to share that knowledge with others. By actively using this guidance method, it becomes easier to spread ideas throughout the organisation.

Mentors know all the aspects of projects and the underlying information that is used to make decisions. As a result, they can easily explain those to their mentees, who in turn pick up things more quickly and efficiently to turn it into action.

Mentoring techniques: how to practice it

There are multiple ways to use mentors. Here follows a list of the most common techniques:

1. Guidance

The typical and most recognisable way. The experienced mentor guides the employee through their learning process with care and shows them the tricks of the trade.

2. Role model

The mentor chooses to show the mentee how it’s done. They include them in their own day-to-day work and use practical examples to make points. The mentor’s experience provides the employee with insights into the options they could employ themselves.

3. Question

This mentor is more of a coach and asks the mentee what they’re doing and why. By asking many, open-ended question, the mentor stimulates the mentee’s awareness of their own actions. Based on this awareness, the mentee will be able to adjust their approach.

4. Reflection

The mentor joins the mentee to look back. What the mentee has done up to that point will serve as the subject of their reflection. What went well, and what didn’t go so well? Why didn’t it go as well, and what ways are there to do it differently next time? The mentor’s experience can be helpful to help the mentee gain new insights.

Mentoring and receptiveness

All these techniques are intended to get the mentee to the next step and develop. One condition is that the mentee is open to that. The mentor’s wisdom and experience should be used in the right way, to stimulate the mentee.

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It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Do you recognize the above practical explanation or do you have any additions? What are your experiences with this guidance method? Do you supervise people yourself or do you have a mentor who supervises you? What do you think is the benefit of this guidance method?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Kram, K. E. (1988). Mentoring at work: Developmental relationships in organizational life. University Press of America.
  2. Law, H. (2013). The psychology of coaching, mentoring and learning. John Wiley & Sons.
  3. Parsloe, E., & Leedham, M. (2009). Coaching and mentoring: Practical conversations to improve learning. Kogan Page Publishers.

How to cite this article:
Mulder, P. (2019). Mentoring explained: the definition and how to practice. Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero:

Published on: 06/20/2019 | Last update: 10/24/2023

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Patty Mulder
Article by:

Patty Mulder

Patty Mulder is an Dutch expert on Management Skills, Personal Effectiveness and Business Communication. She is also a Content writer, Business Coach and Company Trainer and lives in the Netherlands (Europe).
Note: all her articles are written in Dutch and we translated her articles to English!


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