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Business Journal
The Basics of Mentoring
Business Journal

The Basics of Mentoring

Six steps to building successful developmental relationships

Not every person wants to be a mentor. Many have the talent to be effective mentors, but in many cases the "match" makes the difference for success. Leaders who want to develop their organizations or constituencies need to implement the basics of mentoring. Most people in leadership positions already have a mentor and probably are mentoring someone.

For leaders who are interested in developing the people in their organization, and I believe that all leaders should be interested, mentoring can be a very effective process. Many organizational developers believe that talent develops best in response to another human being. I agree. Developmental responses to another person may be described in terms of relationships, and for the purpose of this article, mentoring is defined as building a developmental relationship. By matching two people who have highly correlated beliefs and attitudes, the likelihood of success is greatly improved.

This article is based on 30 years of selection and survey research, seminars, and focus groups. Seventy-eight seminar discussions have been held over that time, in which over 800 persons identified as leaders who had mentors, were mentoring, or both, contributed ideas. The survey involved a national sample of 800 adults who were chosen because they were judged to be effective mentors and because they also claimed that their mentoring was successful. Focus groups were conducted with both mentors and mentees.

There are at least six basics of mentoring on which leaders agree:

  1. Mentoring is building a relationship. As one mentor put it, "Nothing happens until the mentee looks forward to seeing you."
  2. The mentor must believe that he or she has something important to offer to the right person. All agreed that the mentor should be a role model for the mentee, and help the mentee know the right things to do.
  3. The mentor must express genuine caring to the mentee. Mentors said, "You must tell the mentee that you care about her or him."
  4. Discussing and helping develop goals were rated as essential to facilitating the mentee's growth.
  5. The mentor should listen to whatever the mentee wants to talk about.
  6. The mentor should do all the things he or she can to develop trust with the mentee.

Does it seem a bit pie-in-the-sky that one person can naturally express these six basics? While such behavior is to be greatly admired, there are people who resonate to doing these things because of their talents -- recurring patterns of thought, feeling and behavior that can be productively applied -- in five specific areas, or themes:

  1. Belief. Mentors high in the Belief theme value facilitating the growth of another person. They take a satisfaction from seeing another person's success, specifically individuals with whom they have a relationship.
  2. Arranger. Mentors strong in the Arranger theme resonate to setting others up for success. They can design growth experiences for others by helping them have the materials and equipment they need or by teaming with others who have complementary talents.
  3. Self-Assurance. Mentors high in the Self-Assurance theme have the inner strength to know that they have something to offer to their mentee, can help them know the right things to do, and can be a role model for them.
  4. Developer. The developer not only knows that building a relationship with a person is essential to his or her growth, but actually takes satisfaction from helping the individual grow and resonates with the building of the relationship.
  5. Relator. Mentors high in the Relator theme care enough to do things with the mentee for the mentee's own good. As the relationship develops, the mentor recognizes what is confidential to the relationship and then is absolute in maintaining that confidence. At the highest level of relationship, the mentor shares confidences and risks with the mentee. Trust grows.

Mentors who are particularly talented in these themes not only practice the basics, they enjoy expressing their mentoring talents. The results? The mentors keep mentoring. The mentees keep growing. According to Gallup's research with more than 1 million people in the workplace, mentoring can fulfill the conditions that lead to profitability, retention, revenue, and work satisfaction. It does this by ensuring that each employee has someone who is interested in his or her development and cares about him or her as an individual.

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