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Self-Help Guide to Mentoring


While the brochure is not meant to be an exhaustive document on the subject, it provides the reader with tips on choosing a mentor or a "learning associate", conducting a mentoring relationship, and promoting mentoring in the work environment. The brochure also includes valuable words of advice.

A Self-Help Guide to Mentoring

  • What is mentoring?
  • What are the benefits?
  • What works best?
  • Who can participate?
  • 6 basic steps
  • And a few words of advice


Mentoring is a supportive learning relationship between an individual – the mentor – who shares his or her knowledge, experience and insights with another less-experienced person – the "learning associate" – who is willing and ready to benefit from this exchange. The nature of the relationship varies with the personal styles of the partners.


For associates

- sound advice

- guidance and encouragement

- exposure to the decision-making and leadership styles of more senior managers

- access to organizational knowledge and networking opportunities

- aid in developing new skills

For mentors

- exposure to new and different thinking styles, knowledge and perspectives

- helping to develop future leaders

- honing your own leadership skills

- personal satisfaction

- occasion to reflect on important issues, both personal and organizational

For organizations

- more knowledgeable employees with broader perspectives

- a visible commitment to developing and retaining leaders

- improved communications and sharing values

- a more motivating and effective workplace

- good role models for employees


Ideally, mentoring should be a simple and uncomplicated process based on mutual respect, trust and interest. Mentoring relationships should be founded on realistic expectations on both sides and be adaptable to changes in circumstances. Successful mentoring relationships depend on compatible, but not necessarily identical, personal styles. The participants must be comfortable with each other, too.


Anyone willing to make a positive effort and contribution may participate in a mentoring relationship, either as a mentor or as an associate depending on their particular needs and experience. To benefit fully from the mentoring relationship, both mentor and associate must be willing and able to invest the time and effort required.


1. Choosing a Mentor or Associate

Successful mentoring relationships are largely a matter of personal suitability and of your own definition of what makes a good role model and learner. Your choice of a mentor or associate will depend on what you hope to gain from the relationship. In any case, your mentor or associate should be someone you feel comfortable with and who is willing to invest the time and effort required to make the relationship work.

As an associate

Know what you're looking for. Remember that a mentor is not a replacement for your supervisor who should also be giving you guidance and helping you resolve job related problems. When selecting a mentor, you should look for someone who you feel has valuable knowledge and experience to share, and who will be a good teacher and motivator.

As a mentor

Mentoring relationships for you will probably begin informally. In most cases, you will find you are being a mentor without consciously making the decision to do so. However, if you're looking for an associate, you should select an individual who is interested in career progression or personal growth. This person should be someone who you feel has potential and to whom you feel you have something to offer.

2. Initiating Contact

This is the toughest step in starting a mentoring relationship. Most people are hesitant to approach someone about mentoring. However, you should remember that mentoring can benefit both partners and that most people will be receptive to the idea. Some marketing may be in order. Once you have identified a prospective mentor or associate who you feel would be a good match, start by approaching that person and expressing your interest.

As an associate

Be prepared to explain why you have identified this person as your prospective mentor. Indicate what it is that you think you can learn from him or her. You may find it helpful to share the background information in this pamphlet with your prospective mentor. Sometimes people feel they are just too busy or aren't comfortable with the idea of a mentoring relationship. Don't take a rejection personally. If your prospective mentor is not available, try to find someone else.

As a mentor

Associates usually initiate mentoring relationships. However, if you see someone who you feel could benefit from the experience and for whom you would like to be a mentor, you should take the first step yourself. Express your interest in the person and give him or her a good idea of what you can offer as a mentor.

3. Defining Mutual Expectations

You may want to set specific goals and discuss what degree of formality you would like in your relationship.

It is vital to discuss time commitments and to be direct and realistic about the type of commitment you wish to make. The arrangements you decide upon should be comfortable for both of you and based on mutual respect and consideration.

As an associate

Recognize that your mentor will have many demands on his or her time and that your expectations must be realistic.

As a mentor

Be up front about the time commitment you are able to make. Your associate will need a clear understanding of your availability.

4. The Mentoring Relationship

Every mentoring relationship is unique. Your particular relationship will be based upon your personal styles, the commitments you have agreed to, and the strengths you both bring to the relationship. Here are some of the things you may want to discuss:

- skills development

- how to be enterprising and take risks

- coping with difficult situations and people

- career survival techniques

- dealing with office politics and issues

- building personal recognition and a professional image

- coaching and feedback on performance

- career planning advice.

As an associate

Remember that this is an interactive process. Listen to your mentor with an open mind and receptive attitude, but also give your mentor input and feedback. It is your responsibility as well to make sure the relationship is meeting your needs. Keep in mind that your mentor is also learning from you.

As a mentor

Try to use your experience and position to assist your associate as much as you can and to provide a good role model.

5. Moving On

Remember to gauge the life cycle of your mentoring relationship. These relationships evolve. Eventually it may be time to move on, to take on new challenges, perhaps even a new role. It's up to you to decide on the duration of your relationship. Mentoring relationships can last for a few months, or a lifetime.

What if it doesn't work out? Sometimes things just don't click. Maybe it's because of different values, maybe changing circumstances. Finding the right match is essential for success. If you can't seem to make it work, try again with someone else.

As an associate

After the mentoring relationship is over, you should keep in touch. Mentors can continue to play an important role in your professional network. It's worth asking yourself if you're ready to be a mentor yourself.

As a mentor

If your relationship has come to its natural conclusion, perhaps you know of someone who would make a good new mentor for your associate. You may want to suggest this person to your associate, perhaps even introduce them.

6. Promoting Mentoring

Show your support for mentoring in your work environment. Be a role model and help to make mentoring visible and accessible within your organization and your professional environment. Encourage others to become involved in mentoring relationships. Mentoring has something to offer everyone.

As an associate

There may be others in your organization who could benefit from mentoring. Why not suggest it to them? Tell them about what you've gained from the experience.

As a mentor

Do you have colleagues who would make good mentors? Encourage them to help develop someone as their associate. Let them know that they can benefit from the exchange, too.


While mentoring relationships can be very positive for the participants, there are a few things to keep in mind:

- perceptions of personal relationships

Some people are concerned about mentoring relationships being seen as other than business. While mentoring can often take on a more personal tone, it is nonetheless a professional relationship and should be treated as such. If you know someone who you think would make a good mentor or associate, don't let unwarranted perceptions discourage you. Your behaviour is what counts most.

- relationships in your own hierarchy

If you decide to pursue a mentoring relationship within your own organization, make sure it doesn't cause difficulties in your employee-supervisor relationships. Sometimes it's less complicated to establish a mentoring relationship outside your immediate hierarchy.

- perceptions of favouritism

Since mentors may be able to expose their associates to new opportunities and experiences, this may be perceived by some as a kind of favouritism. So be sure to use your good judgement to avoid creating those perceptions. And remember: anyone can take the initiative to seek out the benefits of a mentoring relationship.

- seeing mentoring as a crutch

A mentor is obviously not a crutch or a protector. And a mentor is not someone who will cover your errors and save you.


Your mentoring relationship will be what you make it. It can be as structured or as relaxed as you want. The nature of the guidance you give or receive will be unique to your situation. Just remember that it can be a valuable tool for professional growth for both partners.

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Gary Watkins

Gary Watkins

Managing Director


C: +27 (0)82 416 7712

T: +27 (0)10 035 4185 (Office)

F: +27 (0)86 689 7862

Website: www.workinfo.com
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