What is mentorship?
Mentoring is a process by which an experienced, engaged, and accessible person (the mentor) guides another individual (the mentee) in their personal and/or professional development1. Mentoring can be a powerful relationship that provides the opportunity for more experienced individuals to share their professional knowledge and expertise with others who are less experienced – a process that can advance the careers and career satisfaction for both the mentor and the mentee2,3.
For a mentee to fully foster their personal and professional growth, they may need to draw upon the knowledge and expertise of more than one mentor at a given time, the mosaic model of mentorship4, or require a change in mentorship at different stages in their career5.
Mentorship can be informal or formal in nature.
Informal mentorship: a relationship that occurs naturally when two individuals are genuinely drawn to one another through mutual interests6.
Formal mentorship: a relationship that develops around a systematic infrastructure that is often institutionally supported or mandated to replicate the effect of informal mentoring5,7.
Mentorship vs. other advisory relationships
A common source of confusion in the mentorship literature is that the term “mentor” is often used interchangeably with other advisory roles such as coach, role model, or sponsor. Although similarities exist, the experiences and outcomes associated with each role are different. Below is a description of the characteristics associated with each role.
Mentoring: A process by which an experienced, engaged, and accessible person (the mentor) guides another individual (the mentee) in their personal and/or professional development1. The role of mentor serves as a source of wisdom, teaching, and support to a mentee, but not someone who observes and advises on specific actions or behavioral changes in daily work8.
Coaching: Normally a relationship of a finite duration, with a focus on strengthening or eliminating specific behaviors (task oriented; performance based) In the role of coach, a partnership with an individual is developed in order to strengthen and expand the individual’s skills in specific areas of job performance8.
Role modelling: A passive, observational learning model in which an individual attempts to emulate observed, desirable behaviours and qualities. Role models may or may not be aware of the effect their behavior has on others9.
Supervision: Management by overseeing the performance of a person or group of people engaged in an activity or task10.
Sponsorship: Support by someone appropriately placed in the organization who has significant influence on decision-making processes or structures and who is advocating for, protecting, and fighting for the career advancement of an individual. Sponsors are general more senior in rank with sufficient influence in their field to provide key opportunities, but may have no other supportive function11.