Defining mentoring

Kristin Nankervis
Kristin Nankervis
  • Updated


In this module, we'll seek to define what mentoring is as well as what mentoring is not. This is important context that will empower you along your mentoring journeys.

By the end of this module, you'll be able to:

  • Explain what it means to be a mentor
  • Describe the differences between a mentor and a coach

What it means to be a mentor

A mentor is an experienced individual who provides guidance, support, and instruction to another person, often referred to as a mentee. Stereotypically, mentors are usually older and wiser than the mentee, with established credibility and a track record of success in the mentee’s field of interest. Mentors can be peers, however, as mentoring is a relationship-based process where the mentor and the mentee have a shared commitment of time and effort to developing skills and knowledge.

The goal of mentorship is to help someone reach their full potential by providing objective advice, feedback, and encouragement. It is important to note that a mentor is not a teacher or coach, but rather a trusted advisor. You may even have many mentors, building a trusted personal advisory board.

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What it doesn't mean to be a mentor

While we often talk about what mentoring is, we sometimes fail to explain what mentoring is not - and understanding this can be just as important.

Mentoring is not a passive endeavour 

Good mentoring requires conscious effort and commitment on the part of all parties involved: the program coordinator, the mentor, and the mentee. Great mentoring involves initial goal-setting, frequent communication, and a consistent desire on the mentee’s and mentor’s behalf to learn and connect.

Mentoring is not therapy 

While a great mentor will help advise you through tough professional (and potentially personal) situations like job struggles and troubles, it’s important not to treat a mentor like a therapist. There should be a constant undercurrent of positivity; you should be talking about moving forward and making progress, not dwelling on your issues and troubles in a way that bogs the mentorship down.

Mentoring is not a one-way street

Historically, mentoring has been a pretty hierarchal affair. However, a rapidly evolving consumer and business landscape, as well as the incessant march of technology, means that we all need to lean on each other for specific knowledge, expertise, networks, and increasingly important soft skills. Today, mentoring is more of a two-way street than ever before – both parties must come to the table to share and connect. 

Mentoring is not a cure-all

Mentoring can enable amazing things for organizations and individuals, but no matter how good the program or how great your mentor is, progress and success are a product and concoction of all of the ingredients in your life or organization, and cannot be solely dependent on mentoring. Mentoring is just one of the puzzle pieces that are guided by the desire to change and progress. 


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What's the difference between a coach and mentor?

Here at Mentorloop, we often hear of a mentor being referred to as a coach and vice versa and it’s completely understandable why. They are both motivated to make an impact on somebody else’s life either professionally or personally. However, there are a number of key differences between the two:


One of the key differences is that a coach is remunerated for their services, where a mentor’s reward is altruistic. A mentor is generally motivated to give back and therefore donates their time and expertise to the mentee. They do not consider this to be their ‘profession’ but rather a philanthropic exercise. On the other hand, a coach is financially motivated and the delivery of their services is often through a professional engagement.


A coach is usually engaged to assist with a particular problem thereby being more task-oriented. Examples include improving public speaking skills, managing people more effectively or developing leadership attributes. Mentoring is relationship-focused. The mentor is there to provide the mentee with general guidance and support, holding their hand through certain issues as opposed to telling them how to do it.


Given a coach in most instances is paid, the engagement is generally time-bound. This may be a pre-determined deadline or based on reaching a particular outcome. While some mentor programs run for a set period of time, the relationship is not defined by this time frame. In fact, once a program has finished, many relationships continue in an informal capacity for what could be a number of years.


In a coaching scenario, learning is directed by the coach rather than the student. Within a mentoring relationship, the expectation falls to the mentee to cultivate and drive the relationship.


As you enter into a mentoring relationship, it's important to understand what mentoring does and doesn't mean to ensure expectations are aligned and relationships thrive. A mentor can be a valuable resource for personal and professional development, offering insight, encouragement, and constructive feedback. Whether in a formal or informal setting, a mentor plays a crucial role in helping others reach their full potential.

Reflection task

Reflect on what you've learned about mentoring. Consider how this has challenged your previous beliefs around mentoring then write down how you want to show up in your sessions as a mentor or mentee.

For example: "Previously I thought mentors were there to tell me what to do when I encountered a challenge or roadblock. However, I've learned mentoring is not a passive experience. I will therefore make time to prepare for all meetings in advance. I will bring three challenges or questions for my mentor in the sessions, as well as details on how I have or plan to approach each one."

In the next module, we will explore the benefits of mentoring and how joining a mentoring program can benefit your development.  

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