Identify your mentoring roles

Capability frameworks encourage managers to mentor staff. A manager can mentor their own staff, but more likely will mentor staff in other parts of their organisation, staff in special programs (such as graduate and leadership programs), staff in other organisations or members of professional associations.

Mentoring covers a range of roles. Articulating these roles is useful not only for understanding what role you play, but also for writing job applications. Demonstrating how you go about mentoring needs a language of behaviours.

MIT academic Edgar Schein, offers a list of mentoring roles in his book Career Dynamics: Matching individual and organizational needs (1978). He distinguishes seven kinds of mentoring roles.

  1. Mentor as teacher, coach or trainer. A younger person would say of this mentor “That person taught me a lot about how to do things around here.”
  2. Mentor as positive role model. The comment for this person is “I learned a lot from watching that person in operation; that person really set a good example of how to get things done.”
  3. Mentor as a developer of talent. Here they would say :That person really gave me challenging work from which I learned a great deal; I was pushed along and forced to stretch myself.”
  4. Mentor as an opener of doors. This mentor arranges opportunities for challenging assignments, fights ‘upstairs’ on their behalf.
  5. Mentor as a protector. This mentor watches over and protects a person while they are learning. They tolerate mistakes.
  6. Mentor as sponsor. This mentor gives visibility to their proteges, gives exposure to higher-level people so they will be remembered when opportunities come up.
  7. Mentor as a successful leader. Schein describes this mentor as a ‘person whose own success ensures that her or his supporters will ride along on his or her coattails.’
    The mentor who opens doors or acts as sponsor can carry out these roles with or without the awareness of the mentoree.

Schein points out that some of these roles require the mentor to be in a position of power – opener of doors, protector, sponsor and leader. Managers in senior and executive positions can fulfil these roles. The teacher, role model and developer roles do not require high level positions. Team leaders, project leaders and middle level managers can fulfil these roles.

When writing about how you develop staff keep this range of mentoring roles in mind. Your response could cover several mentoring roles, such as role model for all staff, developer of talent for new staff, coach for established staff, door opener for a talented staff member, successful leader for all staff.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.