Mentor; His Name Became Synonymous with Leading

In Homer’s classic tale, King Odysseus leaves on a quest, placing his son, Telecachus, in the capable hands of Mentor. As the boy grows, Mentor provides guidance on a variety of topics, often on things the boy could never ask, or discuss with his father. As a result of this ancient legend, a modern day leadership skill was created, mentoring.

Mentoring in today’s age means a person with greater experience guides a person of lesser experience. Like Mentor in the story, the guide is trusted but not someone the follower answers to, like a parent or boss. This misconception about mentorship results in potential proteges to regard appointed mentors with suspicion, reducing their growth.

Organizations encourage supervisors to mentor their direct reports, however, the best mentoring relationships happen outside supervisory channels. One of the reasons Telemachus was able to confide more in Mentor than his father was simple; Mentor was not his father. Likewise, employees get more out of this developmental relationship with someone not in a position to judge and evaluate performance, mentees execute new practices and fail.

Just because mentoring relationships occur outside the supervisory channel does not mean organizations cannot implement mentoring programs. Instead, they pair a protégé with someone who will not have a negative impact on employment for failing. Organizations accomplish this by aligning mentees with a mentor in a different department. It is vital that the mentor accomplished similar tasks as the person seeking a mentor.

There are times a mentoring relationship could occur in a supervisory chain. An example is a C-Suite executive mentoring a front line supervisor with several layers between them. After all, the mentee may not be directly supervised by the Vice President of Marketing, but if his boss is, then the relationship will be viewed suspiciously by the person in the middle.

Voluntary Relationship

Those in a mentoring relationship can use a variety of means to communicate to help the protégé accomplish the goal.
-Photo by Vanessa Garcia on

The relationship between the protégé and mentor should be voluntary, even in a work situation. A person may be directed to participate in a mentoring program, but both parties should have a say in the relationship to achieve best results. Many times others understand the need for a mentor when the program is explained well. Some people still participate unwillingly. A good mentor can bring positive change to reluctant mentees. Sadly, some still fail to see the opportunity mentoring offers, reducing the effectiveness of the program.

Mentoring relationships are voluntary. The terms of the relationship can be negotiated. The first meeting should establish the terms of the mentoring relationship. Both parties agree

  • how long the relationship will last,
  • how often meetings will occur,
  • boundaries expected by both,
  • how to deal with issues between meetings, and
  • handling confidentiality concerns.

In some workplace directed programs, some of these terms may be dictated.

It is nice to create a new friend in the mentoring process, but the purpose of the relationship is to help the protégé achieve a particular goal. Therefore, it is important for the guide and the person seeking a guide to understand what to look for in the other. Both the potential protégé and mentor should evaluate if the other has the skills to fulfill their role.

A mentor is only a trusted guide if they have done something similar as the protégé seeks to accomplish. Potential mentors should honestly assess their ability to dedicate the time & effort required to help guide the protégé. Determine if the mentor previously demonstrated the capacity to help others grow and learn, and accept that as they guide the protégé, they also learn and grow. Has the person shared experiences with others that helped them grow or avoid mistakes? The more skills possessed by the mentor in each area improves success rates.

Selecting the right person to mentor you is important. What proof exists demonstrating the protégé is committed to learning and achieving their goal? As a protégé, clearly articulate what help you seek from your potential mentor. Good mentees ask good questions about feedback provided by mentors. They complete tasks as promised. They show up at meetings ready to address the issues on the agenda, and they show up on time, whether it is a phone call, a video meeting, or emailing a report for review.

Mentors and proteges should seek these qualities in the other. Not every mentor – protege relationship works. Understanding this allows each person to know they can walk away on good terms. You may need that person in the future.

Process of Mentoring

Use the opening meeting to get to know each other, negotiate the terms of the relationship, and identify the goal of the relationship. Use this meeting to identify how each person is accountable to the other; wait, you mean the mentor is responsible to the protégé? Yes! If the mentor promises to provide something, they are accountable to the protégé to provide that resource. Figure out when future meetings will occur and how frequently you will meet. Most importantly, identify the conditions that signal the end of the mentoring relationship.

I suggested a few times that this relationship is about the goal, implying your mentor is a stranger. That is not always true. During my studies in the U. S. Army Sergeants Major Course, I had two mentors. The first retired halfway through my attendance. I had relationships with both of them before starting the course. I still have a social relationship with both of them, years after completing the course. Our mentoring relationship ended when I graduated, but not our person relationship.

Social relationships may continue after the mentoring relationship ends.
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There are many ways people can meet today. If possible, to meet face-to-face. You can use technology, just remember, relationships are better in person. Emails, video and voice calls, and in-person meetings are all good ways to check in and follow up on progress. Timing depends on the needs of the protégé and the availability of the mentor. Always follow up. Schedule your next meeting before ending the current meeting.

Closing mentoring relationship

Close the relationship when you achieve your goal. If you select a new goal and wish to re-establish a mentoring relationship with your current mentor, ask. If you are the mentor, be clear when you are done providing guidance to your protégé. Failing to do so ensures they will continue to think you are.

Mentor was a trusted guide for Telecachus. He set an example of how those with more experience can guide those with less experience. Ideally, mentoring relationships occur outside the organization’s supervisory channel. This allows the protégé to confess errors without fear of retribution. Mentoring relationships are voluntary. They have a beginning, middle, and end. Either party may terminate the relationship even before the protégé accomplishes his goal. The mentor and mentee agree how the relationship will work, the timeline to accomplish the goal, frequency of meetings, how each is accountable to the other, and the conditions that signal the goal is accomplishment, ending the mentoring relationship. Anyone seeking to accomplish tough things should have a mentor. Likewise, make yourself available to those seeking a trusted guide to success. Today, start the process to find a mentor, and someone to mentor. It is a great way to learn from others in both roles and is an important leadership skill.


  • Abbajay, M. (2019). Mentoring Matters: Three Essential Elements Of Success. Forbes (on-line edition). Retrieved from on 11/28/22.
  • Doby, J. (2022). Task force Spartan mentorship network. Task Force Spartan. Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
  • James, F. (2016). Becoming a mentor. Leadership Development Workshop at New Hampshire National Guard.
  • Martin, T. (2022) (CG). Developing leaders; FM 6-22. Headquarters, Department of the Army. Washington, DC

Three Ways to Develop Others

Counseling, coaching, and mentoring are three leadership skills that allow you to influence others with their explicit permission.
-Photo by author

An employee knocks on your door. After inviting her in, she tells you about some issues she is having understanding an aspect of her job. You take time to instructor her how to do what needs to be done.

A few minutes after she leaves, a peer calls asking for some help with a problem. After listening, you realize it will take a few calls to discuss and review the matter to help him develop a solution. You develop a plan to show him how you solved a similar problem a few months ago.

After lunch, one of your top-performing, subordinate supervisors emails you asking for some time to talk. She says she is creating a development plan for a new employee and needs some help. You reply with a time to meet. Next, you create a series of questions to help this high performer navigate the process of creating a new employee development plan.

While each of these situations appears similar, there are differences. The differences require you, as a leader, to approach each with a different mind set. In the first situation, you provide counseling to a direct report. In the second, you become your peer’s mentor, navigating the problem he faces. The third, the top-performing supervisor needs a little coaching to hone her counseling skills. Counseling, coaching, and mentoring are three separate skills used at different times and different ways. The three are often confused. As a result, inexperienced leaders apply the wrong style to the situation, which fails to provide the influence necessary to adequately solve the person’s problem. Counseling, coaching, and mentoring are big enough topics to devote an entire post, therefore this serves as the introduction to a series on the three development skills for leaders.

Counseling is a process initiated by leaders in supervisory positions. Use counseling to orient newly assigned people, provide feedback on current performance, and to correct poor performance or inappropriate behaviors. Every new employee deserves a welcome counseling as part of their orientation. During this session, the direct supervisor reviews the job description with the employee and how their performance will be measured. The supervisor tells the employee why the work they do is important and how it supports the overall work of the organization. Wrap up by telling the employee what support she can expect from you as the supervisor.

While a mentor may be part of your organization, it is important that person is not in your ‘chain of command’ so you may speak freely about your issues with less concern for retaliation or other repercussions.
– By Pablo E. Fabisch –, Public Domain,

Periodic performance counseling serves to let employees know how they are doing. Focus these sessions on performance of work and ensuring the follower prioritizes the correct tasks. Use corrective counseling with those who fail to meet expectations. Explain the standards and have concrete examples where they failed to meet the standards. A huge mistake leaders make with this counseling session is putting it off for too long. The list of failures is long and overwhelming, crushing the worker.

Mentoring is a voluntary relationship between a leader with a skill and another person seeking to develop that skill, who is not supervised by the mentor. The leader does not have to be a formal leader in the same organization or any organization. In Greek mythology, Odysseus appointed Mentor to care for his son Telemachus while he was gone. Mentor served as a wise guide for Telemachus because he could talk with Mentor about a range of topics he never felt comfortable talking with Odysseus. For that reason, a work place mentor should not be a person’s boss or boss’s boss. To work well, the voluntary nature of the relationship is questionable when your mentor is also your boss. The mentor may even be younger than the protégé; age is not a requirement, only that the wise guide actually walked the path before the novice.

Coaching is a skill used in both counseling and mentoring, characterized by processes to develop self awareness necessary for the other to solve their own problem and create capacity for growth. One can counsel or mentor another without using coaching skills by doing most of the talking and feeding the other information. When leaders (not necessarily a boss) use coaching, they create a space within the counseling or mentoring relationship for the other to learn truths from their own experience. The coach asks questions and provides activities that change the focus of the other, creating a paradigm shift for that person. This in turn, helps they become more self-aware in areas requiring improvement. A coach does not necessarily need to be a person who possesses the skills for success. There are plenty of examples in the world of sports of people who successfully coach athletes to accomplish great feats that the coach would never be able to execute. Having accomplished things does lend the coach credibility, and that is why it fits well into counseling and mentoring.

Counseling, coaching, and mentoring help others accomplish great things when their leader employees this important skills.
– Courtesy Andrew St. Cyr

Over the next few months, we will explore the leadership skills of counseling, coaching, and mentoring. While counseling and mentoring tend to be functions of a supervisory and non-supervisory relationship, coaching is a skill that improves outcomes in both practices. Counseling is a skill used by supervisors to orient, direct, and correct employees. Mentoring is a practice used by non-supervisory leaders to help another direction, and receive advice from a wise guide who made the journey before them. Coaching is a skill used by leaders alone, or along with counseling and mentoring, that focuses on self-awareness and discovery. Knowing more about each skill assists leaders employ the right practices at the correct time to help those they lead succeed. The reader must remember that not all leaders are bosses. One is a leader anytime they apply influence to another to help them achieve an organizational mission or goal while working to improve themselves and the organization. Given none of us knows when we may be called to act as supervisory or non-supervisory leader, all leaders must be prepared to use the right practice of counseling or mentoring along with the skill of coaching.


  • Brown, J. (2008). A leader’s guide to reflective practice. Trafford Publishing. Victoria, BC.
  • Lask, M. (2020). Leadership exchange and coaching; Cohort 13. Northeast Regional Child Advocacy Center. Training Workshop. Philadelphia, PA
  • Phillips, D. (1992). Lincoln on leadership. Grand Central Publishing. New York, NY