The Four Styles Mentoring Process

by Barry Sweeny, 2003


The mentoring process is closely integrated with the concept of mentoring styles. Therefore, if you have not read the section on “Introduction to the Mentor’s Styles“, I would strongly recommend that you do so first, then come back here to review this section.

Let’s use the language of the four mentoring styles to describe the process of mentoring over time, including what the mentor must do, and how the protégé gradually develops greater experience, faces new stages and challenges, and assumes independence and self-confidence.

For your information, this model has been used by the author since 1989. It was developed back then based on the “Situational Leadership” model of Hershey and Blanchard, well known leadership consultants and authors. Ever since then, I have assessed the impact for mentors and proteges of using this model within the mentor styles framework, and continued to refine the model to perfect it. I strongly recommend this framework to you for mentor training, on-going mentor support and program leaders’ own “mentoring of Mentors”, as well as for use by the mentors in working with their proteges.

Here is a graphic representation of this process and how the four mentoring styles fit into it. The discussion of each mentoring style is below the graphic.

The Four Mentor Styles and Mentoring Process


    1. TELL is the first phase, and as such it is the one in which the mentor is the most directive and exerts the most leadership. The “Tell” phase is frequently focused on teaching information for which there is one right answer.   The mentor knows the answer, the protégé needs to know the answer, and the mentor teaches the protégé the answer. No point in leaving the protégé to figure it out through trial and error. If a mistake is made during this first phase, the protégé feels badly, but basically can say, “I didn’t know.” It is the mentor who knows, and therefore feels the greatest ownership for the protégé’s success at this point.Simply put, the mentor is the more proactive and the protégé the more reactive, deferring to the mentor’s experience and knowledge.

    1. SELL is the second phase of the mentoring process. Sell is the descriptor since the nature of the issues for learning in this phase are often “one right answer” type questions, BUT here the answers are situation-specific, and not the same in many places. The protégé might even assume that there is some element of choice in how to answer these kinds of questions, but the mentor knows that, in THIS department (or organization) there has been a decision made and we have one right answer which guides what we do. The protégé needs to understand BOTH what the situationally correct answer is, and WHY it is seen as the best answer. That way the protégé can understand and support the decision about the “best” solution.Essentially, the mentor is still somewhat proactive regarding some tasks, but feeling much less ownership in those areas where the protégé has learned what to do and is demonstrating skill and wisdom in doing it well. In those areas, the protégé is becoming much more proactive and defers less to the mentor’s experience and guidance. In newer areas and tasks, the protégé still relies on the mentor’s knowledge base and experience as a guide and so, is less proactive and more reactive.

    1. COLLABORATE is the third phase of the mentoring process. At this point the protégé and mentor become true partners and are much more equal or peers in feeling ownership and responsibility for monitoring task accomplishment. In the real sense of the word, they co-labor. The protégé is mostly proactive and the mentor is mostly reactive, giving the lead to the protégé in all areas where the protégé has gained experience, and retaining the mentor’s leadership just in those topics which the protégé has yet to experience very much.

  1. DELEGATEis the fourth and final stage of the mentoring process. As the title suggests, the mentor becomes primarily a cheer leader and encourager of the protégé. This is a hard step for many mentors, as they value the collaborative phase and sharing so much, they may be unconsciously reluctant to “let go” and get out of the protégé’s way. They must however, so there are no dependencies created and the protégé can become a self-sustaining and self-renewing, reflective person capable of both independent and collaborative work.  The protégé has assumed or is about to assume all the task accomplishment responsibilities because the protégé has experienced it all at least once and needs no external prompting. At this point the mentor is reacting to the lead of the protégé, and the protégé knows enough to be able to be proactive in anticipating what’s ahead and appropriately planning for their own success.