Gordon’s Model of Awareness

Adapted with permission from work of Tom Gordon by Barry Sweeny

  • Why is really effective mentoring so challenging?
  • What should mentors do when proteges don’t respond?
  • Why do mentors learn as much as their proteges?

These are some of the questions that mentor program participants and leaders ask during consulting and mentor training sessions with the author. The answers include, at least in part, that every person who is a learner in a new situation must go through cognitive stages of development, each with differing levels of awareness of their own needs, and that, sometimes they don’t realize things about themselves which are very obvious to others.

THAT is where mentoring relationships sometimes become very tricky.

The following structure explains a great deal about these stages of development and thinking, as well as many of the realities of mentoring. The structure can also help mentors, managers, and even proteges to diagnose and solve many mentoring challenges.

THE PROTEGE:> Masters the practice and uses it at the routine level.

> Tries new strategies because mastery & routine practice at the unconscious level leave conscious brain power for added growth .

> Needs a collaborative peer support system to continue to reflect on and improve the practices further.



THE MENTOR practices at a routine level for most of the work and uses the conscious mind to focus on
non-routine problems and on areas of growth.
THE PROTEGE:> Knows how to do the new practice and is mechanically using the strategy. The strategy is not routine or internalized yet and the results are probably still limited.

> Needs the mentor’s feed back to refine the use of the strategy and build skill.



THE MENTOR must step back to a conscious level of practice to “unpack” and articulate what is done at a routine level. This reflection also prompts lots of mentor self assessment and growth.
THE PROTEGE becomes aware of what they don’t know and will WANT and TRY to improve if:> They understand that all people must go through what they
are experiencing

> They perceive that they will be supported



THE MENTOR uses the mentoring process to help the protege identify how to improve and to grow. When the mentor’s protege is at this level of learning there is often considerable openness to advice from the mentor. However, the mentor needs to use their needs assessment strategies to ensure they know as best they can what specifically the protege is ready to learn, AND that their mentoring is focused there.
THE PROTEGE knows and can do a great deal, but often does NOT know what they don’t know. UNCONSCIOUSLYUNSKILLED


THE MENTOR:> Sees a NEED for the protege to improve and assesses protege readiness to learn. 

> Asks questions & demonstrates OR arranges for the protege to observe others demonstrate the desired practices, in the hope that the protege will see discover a need and WANT to improve.> Provides Data arranged so that patterns the mentor sees are available for the protege to see. Then the mentor asks questions to get the protege to analyze the data patterns.

> Provides these in a supportive environment so the protege sees improvement as possible & doesn’t reach negative conclusions.