Mentoring Basics: Part 2

Mentoring is such a great topic.   Most people genuinely want to be mentored, cultivated, and grown.  Unfortunately, would-be and well-intentioned mentors aren’t always equipped with the right tools in their locker to be a successful mentor.  And when this is the case, the mentoring relationship is rarely successful and people are left disappointed.

Mentors have to work at this aspect of their lives just as much as they work at any other that they want to be successful in.

That is why we’re exploring mentoring from the mentor’s perspective in this five-part series of posts on Mentoring Basics.  In the last post (Part 1), we defined mentoring.  In this post, we are going to talk about putting structure around your mentoring relationships.

Before we jump off in to discussing mentoring structures, I want to pause and discuss one key factor that you should examine closely before you decide to become a mentor.


When approaching mentoring as the mentor, one of the most important factors is TIME.  How much time do you have to give?  How much time do you want to spend?  You don’t want to sell your mentees short and you don’t want to do yourself a disservice if it is more time than you can afford at the moment.  Be honest with yourself here.  Many of us “want” to donate and invest more time in others, but you have to be realistic.  If you need to reprioritize your time to spend more time mentoring, then do so.  But don’t commit to it if you don’t have it.


There are several different ways to classify mentoring relationships.  There is no one right way.   Personally, I have lots of different types of mentors.  Some are official, where we meet regularly and discuss pre-determined development topics.  Others are more casual where I may drop in and “bounce something off of them”.  Some educate and counsel me while in a group setting.  And others are a lunch date every so often to catch up and hear about their business.

One of the first considerations you need to determine as the mentor is how you want to approach mentoring.  Do you want to be more one-on-one?  Or do you want to take the “one-to-many” approach?  Each provides a means to an end and has its own benefits, but each has very different requirements on the part of the mentor.

One-on-One Mentoring

One-on-One mentoring is very personal.  It’s an opportunity to talk specifically about the development need of a single mentee and develop a very precise plan of action to target areas of opportunity.  The focus is very narrow as you are only dealing person, which allows you to “go deeper” in to their needs, but also means that you will be more personally invested.

One-on-One mentoring is:

  • Very targeted mentoring of skill or knowledge.
  • Confidential and unbiased support for the mentee.
  • Usually instructive based upon the needs of the mentee and the lesson that the mentor wants to teach.
  • A rich investment of time in one person.
  • More personal to the mentor and mentee.  Successes and failures are more readily felt.
  • Provides a single perspective back to the mentee.

Group Mentoring

Group mentoring is a “one-to-many approach” that goes by a variety of names (e.g., mentoring ring, mentoring circle, etc.).  There are several ways to conduct group mentoring.  There is no “one ” way to do it.  You can bring people with a similar need together to develop on that need.  Or you can bring people with diverse backgrounds and experiences together to create a multi-perspective environment where issues are discussed.  It really depends upon what you want to accomplish. With this approach, I often see mentors spending a great deal of time on preparing group lessons and “pre-reads” for group discussion.

Group mentoring is:

  • More general mentoring of skill or knowledge.
  • Confidential and unbiased support of a group of mentees.  How forthcoming people are in a group though depends upon the level of trust of the group and environment that the mentor creates.
  • Provides general instruction on topics that apply to many.  However, usually involves the mentor playing more of a facilitator role amongst the group to elicit conversation about the topic and to keep everyone engaged.
  • Maximizes mentor’s time investment and reach.
  • Less personal.
  • Provides multiple perspectives back to each mentee due to group involvement.

So, at this point we are at a cross-roads.  Which type is more appealing to you as a mentor?  Do you see yourself as a group mentor?  Or an individual mentor?  Or both?  If you are new at this, then I suggest that you start with one-on-one relationships.  This will help you gain experience and develop your personal style as a mentor, before taking on multiple mentees at once.

For the sake of the length of this post, we will focus the remainder of our attention on one-on-one mentorship as this type is more prevalent.  We’ll reserve a deep dive on group mentorship for a future post.

One-on-One Methods

How you go about one-on-one mentoring can take many forms.  Official.  Unofficial.  One time.  30 seconds here and there.  Long durations.  Grow a skill.  Share a story.  Help with a problem.  So on and so forth.  “How” you go about mentoring is often determined once you know the “who”, “what” they want to accomplish, and “why” they are asking you (which we’ll discuss in the next segment of this series).

The following are three ways to look at one-on-one mentoring:

  • Infrequent – Be the ‘go to’ for people that have a single quick question or issue that they need help with.  This often sounds like, “Hey…Can I bounce something off of you really quick?” or “Have you ever experienced…?”  The expectation here is isolated one time help and not a continuous mentoring relationship.
  • Casual (aka “unofficial”) – This is probably the most frequent of relationships classified as “mentorships”.  I have far more “unofficial” mentees than I do official mentees.  These relationships are usually loose in structure, sporadic in meeting frequency, and come and go based upon need.  I have found this style very useful as it allows me to invest time in others in a very casual, but effective manner.
  • Official – This relationship is typically the most demanding.  It requires structure, regular frequency of meetings, agreed upon goals, and then action towards meeting the goals.  The time investment here is usually greater.  This is a committed mentoring relationship.  At work, this relationship often falls under a company mentoring program.

This doesn’t define all the ways that one-on-one mentoring can take place, but buckets the majority fairly well.  If you’re interested, there are many free mentoring resources out there that further define relationship types.

Think about your mentoring relationships where you are the mentor OR the mentee.  How would you classify your relationships?

It’s important that you have this base level of understanding about mentoring types and methods, so that you can clearly define in your own mind how you would like to go about mentoring.  This is especially important so that you are prepared when someone asks you out of the blue, “Will you be my mentor?”

In the next part of the series, we will get in to how to tackle that question and how to start a mentoring relationship.




One Response to Mentoring Basics: Part 2

  1. Pingback: Mentoring Basics: Part 3(a) « The Leader's Locker

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