Mentoring/Coaching Module

The Story of Mentor*

The story of Mentor comes from Homer's Odyssey. When Odysseus, king of Ithaca, went to fight in the Trojan War, he entrusted the care of his household to Mentor, who served as teacher and overseer of Odysseus' son, Telemachus.

After the war, Odysseus was condemned to wander vainly for ten years in his attempt to return home. In time, Telemachus, now grown, went in search of his father. Telemachus was accompanied on his quest by Athena, Goddess of War and patroness of the arts and industry, who assumed the form of Mentor.

Eventually, father and son were reunited and together they cast down would-be usurpers of Odysseus' throne and of Telemachus's birthright. In time the word Mentor became synonymous with trusted advisor, friend, teacher, and wise person. History offers many example of helpful mentoring relationship--such as Socrates and Plato, Hayden and Beethoven, Freud and Jung.

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.

History and legend record the deeds of princes and kings, but each of us has a birthright to be all that we can be. Mentors are those special people in our lives who, through their deeds and work, help us to move toward fulfilling that potential.

*From Shea, Gordon F. (1997) Mentoring (Rev. Ed.). Menlo Park, CA: Crisp Publications. 

What is Mentoring?*

Mentoring is a way of encouraging human growth. Mentors are helpers. Their styles may range from that of a persistent encourager who helps you build your self-confidence, to that of a stern taskmaster who teaches you to appreciate excellence in performance. What ever their style, they care about you and what you are trying to do.

Mentoring can be defined as a significant, long-term, beneficial effect on the life or style of another person, generally as a result of personal one-on-one contact. A mentor is one who offers knowledge, insight, perspective, or wisdom that is especially useful to the other person.

Mentoring relationships vary in two ways: 1) formality (from highly structured to virtually no structure) and 2) length of intervention (from long-term even for life to short-term and spontaneous).

Mentors set high expectations of performance, offer challenging ideas and help build self-confidence. Mentors encourage professional behavior, offer friendship, and confront negative behaviors and attitudes. Mentors listen to personal problems, teach by example, and provide growth experiences. Mentors offer quotabgle quotes, explain how the organization works, coach their mentees, and stand by their mentees in critical situations. Mentors offer wise consel, encourage winning behavior, trigger self-awareness, and inspire their mentees. Mentors share critical knowledge, offer encouragement, and assist with their mentees' careers.

*From Shea, Gordon F. (1997) Mentoring (Rev. Ed.). Menlo Park, CA: Crisp Publications. 

Setting Goals and Objectives*

Any mentoring relationship should have common goals understood by both the mentor and mentee. It is important that the mentor and mentee share expectations of the benefits and opportunities that will be available in the relationship. Up to three key points or goals should be agreed upon (for example, to increase the meentee's awareness of and recognition in professional organizations). After the goals have been established, the mentor and mentee can then set a few objectives which will move them toward the goal (for example, attending a local professional meeting together and the mentor introducing the mentee to three members). It is important not to take on too much at once. Three simultaneous goals are sufficient. One to three simultaneous objectives under each goal is sufficient. As objectives are meet, new objectives can be added.

*From Shea, Gordon F. (1997) Mentoring (Rev. Ed.). Menlo Park, CA: Crisp Publications.

Evaluating the Mentoring Plan*

Mentoring requires investment of mentor resources and mentee need. There should be a match between the two. For example, if the mentee's need is high and the mentor' resources, time, skills, etc are low, perhaps the relationship would be better served if the current mentor help the mentee find another mentor with abundant resources.

It is recommended that the mentor-mentee agreement is assessed at the end of 30-days, 90-days, and at every sixth-month. Assessment needs to consider the work toward each goal, the continued appropriateness of each goal, the match between mentee need and mentor resources, and the outcome of objectives. Of course, any problem should be dealt with when it arises.

As a result of the assessments, goals may change, mentoring relationships may change. Unless there is a formal program where someone is assigned to guide another person, mentoring is a voluntary relationship. It is also one in which the help that is given is based on not only experience and expertise but on give and take. A willingness on both sides is needed to make the extra effort a successful mentoring relationship requires. The goal is no longer to simply train a person for a particular position but to offer the guidance and counsel that is needed to develop the person's abilities to the fullest.

*From Shea, Gordon F. (1997) Mentoring (Rev. Ed.). Menlo Park, CA: Crisp Publications. 

Choosing a Mentor

The tradition of mentoring is that the mentor passes his or her knowledge to the mentee. Of course, in order for the mentoring to be successful, the knowledge that the mentor has to offer must match a gap in the mentee's own knowledge system--which the mentee wishes to fill.

Mentoring is not necessarily coaching. In coaching, the coach uses techniques to draw on the coachee's own knowledge so that the coachee improves his or her performance. Like mentoring, coaching success depends upon the willingness of the coachee to be coached.

In choosing a mentor, look for someone who has knowledge you would like to gain (and are willing to put in the effort to learn). Try to be as specific as possible in setting up a mentoring relationship. For example, "I would like to learn about the interlibrary loan process and how it might operate in an online environment" and "I would like to learn what a typical day/week is like for a school library media specialist" are specific mentoring goals while "Teach me everything you know about academic librarianship" is too broad and vague.

Be sure to arrange with your mentor for reviews of the mentoring relationship. You will need to review and update goals as well as recommit to continuing the mentoring relationship (or discontinuing it) as the relationship progresses.  

For more details on mentoring, see also Gordon Shea's book: Mentoring (3rd ed.). Menlo Park, CA: Crisp Publications, 2001. 


Last updated: March 9, 2013