Mentoring Styles

By Barry Sweeny, 2010

Each mentor has a natural tendency to mentor in particular ways. That “way” is the mentor’s style. It is critical that mentors know their style -their strengths and weaknesses as mentors – so they may intentionally grow to compensate for their weaknesses, and be careful not to over emphasize or be too assertive of their strengths.

Also, it is crucial that mentors know when a particular mentoring style is and is not appropriate, so they can adjust their style to suit the evolving developmental needs of the protege and provide effective assistance.  (See below the following questions for more information on mentoring styles.)

THE KEY QUESTIONS for this section are:

  • What different mentoring strategies will mentors need at various times and points in the mentoring process?
  • Do all mentors have all the tendencies needed to be effective mentors at each stage of the process?
  • How can mentoring styles be effectively assessed and how is that data used?
  • How can mentors predict where they will be naturally strong and appropriate, because of their personality and style of mentoring, and where they may not automatically respond the best way?
  • What are the implications for mentor training of mentoring styles?

The idea of “Mentoring Styles” defines the need for a mentor to shift emphasis between task and relationship foci in a fairly flexible way to better meet the developmental and evolving needs of the protege.

Thus, early in mentoring is a more directing, more task-oriented style is appropriate because the earliest things a protégé needs to learn require the sharing of procedures, expectations, etc. all of which are “one right way” kinds of information – information that the mentor’s experience can provide and which provision saves the protégé needless trial
and error learning. There usually is little or no time this early for them to step out of the setting and get to know each other and build their relationship. It has to grow through their work together on the tasks that confront the protégé. This is exactly why we recommend that at the first mentor-protege meeting they reach a formal “mentoring agreement” that includes confidentiality. It’s needed then because there is no trust as of yet. The confidentiality is not so needed later when the relationship based on trust has been built.

However, after a while the protégé knows most of this kind of information and the need and mentoring should shift to a more balanced (task and relationship) collaborative style. Toward the end of the mentoring relationship, the balance should shift again to be nearly all on relational methods (encouragement, support, etc.) since the protégé knows by this time all the needed tasks and how and when to do them. To avoid a dependency, the mentor purposely steps back from the task focus. Finally, the mentor assumes a delegating style in which both task and relational foci are reduced as the mentor withdraws and the protégé becomes a fully functioning professional. With this, the formal mentoring ends.