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Relational learning at work has become prominent in a
workplace characterised by uncertaint y, change and ambiguity.
Indeed, the more turbulent and difficult conditions become in
today’s work settings, the more naturally occurring work
challenges there are, and the more motivated people are to give
and receive help. Relationships are a major source of learning.
People do much of their lear ning through connec tion with ot her
people. However, individuals are more likely to engage in
successful developmental relationships at work when they have
both the desire and competence to do so (Hall & Kahn, 2002).
The most powerful learning is often provided by the mentor-
mentee relationship which provides both task learning and
socio-emotional learning. Creating an effective mentor-mentee
relationship requires the competence to create increasingly
trust-worthy settings. For mentors, this means performing
appropriate care-giving functions which allow mentees to
experience themselves as valued and supported (Kahn, 1993). For
their part, mentees need to know how to make themselves
increasingly visible. They must disclose themselves-what they are
thinking, feeling, perceiving-in the course of seeking support
and guidance (Hall & Kahn, 2002; Kram, 1996).
The focus of this article is on developmental mentoring
(Clutterbuck, 2001; Clutterbuck & Sweeney, 2003; Hay, 1995;
Klasen & Clut terbuck, 2002). Developmental mentoring is
defined as off line help by one person to another in making
significant transitions in knowledge, work, or thinking
(Clutterbuck, 2001, p. 3). This definition of mentoring is the
official definition of the European Mentoring Centre. A
weakness of the academic literat ure is the lack of longit udinal
research on mentor and mentee competencies. Although it is
logical that the competencies required of a mentor and a mentee
would evolve with the progress of the relat ionship, there has
been no systematic examination of the process (Clutterbuck &
Furthermore, a set of standards for mentoring programmes has
been generated and subjected to public consultation on behalf of
the European Mentoring and Coaching Council. Standards
codify competencies into a framework that can be used to assess
how well an individual performs against them. The virt ue of this
framework is that it provides a structure upon which evidence of
competence can be gathered, in terms of both knowledge and
effective practice. Unlike most qualification-based programmes,
they provide an objective, independent measure. How useful
that measure is depends on how credible the standards are
perceived to be by programme part icipants and organisations
using mentoring. It is probably fair to say that the jury is still out
on this issue.
There does, however, seem to be room for a generic or core set
of mentoring standards, which will apply with minimal
adaptation to most or all sit uations and to which situation-
specific competencies can be added as appropriate. One valiant
attempt to do this i s the Draft Occupational Standards on
Mentoring, produced by the University of North London, in
association with a variety of other academic and practitioner
bodies. This was evaluated in over 300 mentoring schemes in all
sectors of education, gover nment and busine ss (Cl ut ter buck, &
The issue of standards in mentoring has arisen for two reasons.
First, the rapid spread of mentoring programmes aimed at
young and vulnerable people requires close attention to risk
management, and Government-supported programmes require
standards as an element of impact measurement. Second, the
rapid growth of executive coaching and mentoring inevitably
gives rise to calls for regulation, given that anyone can claim
to have the necessary skills and experience. The increasing
volume of qualificat ions offered in coaching and mentoring
does not necessarily help, as they tend not to be specific about
the level of competence required (length of experience does
not equate to quality of performance!), nor about the audience
specific factors that may demand additional competencies (for
example, knowledge of cognit ive development and skills in
behaviour management for mentors of children and persons
with special needs.)
The starting point for this article is the captured experience of
thousands of mentors, mentees and would-be mentors around
the world, who have attended skills development workshops and
DAVI D CLU TT ERBUCK
Sheffield Hallam University
This introduction to this special edit ion of the SA Journal of Human Resource Management dealing with recent
qualitative and quantitative work undertaken by South African Human Resource Pract itioners and Industrial
Psychologists on the topic of mentoring, attempts to draw together the thinking around the nature and concept of
mentor and mentee competence. A framework of competencies which mentors and mentees can be helped to
develop before or during their mentoring relationships is also suggested. Although the proposed competencies
described have face validity, there is still a great deal of research to be done to establish the validity using more
Hierdie inleiding tot die spesiale uitgawe van die SA Tydskrif vir Menslikehulpbronbestuur wat ha ndel oor kwalitatie we
en kwantitatiewe studies wat deur Suid-Afrikaanse Menslikehulpbronpraktisyns en Bedryfsielkundiges oor die
onderwerp mentorskap onderneem is, poog om die gedagtegang rondom die aard van die konsep mentor en mentee
bevoegdheid bymekaar te bring. Daar word ook ’n raamwerk van praktiese bevoegdhede wat mentors en mentees
kan ontwikkel voor of t ydens die mentorverhouding voorgestel. Alhoewel die voorgestelde bevoegdhede
gesigsgel digheid het, is da ar nog ’n behoef te a an he elwat navorsing wat van meer indr ingende metings gebru ik maak
om die geldigheid daarvan te bepaal.
ESTABLISHING AND MAINTAINING MENTORING
RELATIONSHIPS: AN OVERVIEW OF MENTOR AND
Reque sts fo r c opie s s houl d b e a ddressed to: M Coetzee , c oetz m1@u nisa .ac. za
SA Journal of Human Resource Management, 2005, 3 (3), 2-9
SA Tydskrif vir Menslikehulpbronbestuur, 2005, 3 (3), 2-9
seminars over the past decade, captured on f lip charts and in
discussion groups. The behavioural dimensions which define
the conceptual models of mentor competence presented in this
article are based on the experience of the respondents. This is,
therefore, a practitioner’s account. In addition, however, the
article presents some of the research and connections with
academic st udy that reinforce and/or complement these
The definition of ‘competence’ is also not always consistent. Is
a competent individual one who can do the basics of a task
consistently well? Or someone who is expert at it? Is
competence solely a matter of skill and application, or does it
also include personality and attit ude? For the purposes of this
article, competence is defined as the consistent, observable and
measurable abilit y to perform a defined task or an element of
a task (Ackley & Gall, 1992; Clutterbuck & Lane, 2005; Lane,
1996 ; 1997 ). The de vel opm ent of a f ull y va lid ated set of
competencies is a lengthy and time-consuming business. The
concepts outlined here can best be described as proto-
competencies – skills and behaviours which have high face
validity, but have not so f ar been s ubjected t o rigoro us
validat ion (C lu tterbuck & Lane, 2 005).
Defining mentor competencies is also complicated by the fact
that all mentoring relationships are both situational and
temporal in nature. Situational refers to the primary responsibility
of the mentor to respond to the mentee’s need. This is a bold
statement to make, but it is one that is generally endorsed by all
parties in a mentoring programme, both participants and the
organisation. If there are different needs, it implies that there
should be different responses. We can therefore infer that one of
the generic competencies of a mentor is to be able to respond
appropriately to the variety of needs a mentor may have
(Clutterbuck & Lane, 2005). This immediately poses problems,
because the range of situations could be very wide.
Let us peel this onion one layer further. Situation may also be
affected by purpose. Whose purpose? Typically the
organisation will have a scheme purpose, which provides the
reason for supporting mentoring. This purpose might be
developing top talent, promoting diversity, retaining graduate
recruits and so on. At the same time, the participants in the
relationship will have a common purpose, which may be
different from that of the organisation. (The mentee may, for
example, plan to leave the organisat ion in three years t ime.)
The mentor may also have some learning goals from the
relationship – perhaps to hone his or her skills in developing
direct reports. So another generic competence may be
the ability to recognise and reconcile different and perhaps
The temporal nature of mentoring refers to the way, in which
relationships evolve over time. Kathy Kram, whose original and
insightful studies of mentoring in the early 1980s have been
the foundation for so much later research, identified four
phases of evolut ion: in it iati on, culti vation, separation and
redefinition (Kram, 1983). Field experience with much larger
numbers than Kram’s original sample suggest potentially five
phases t hat characte rise the developmental re lat ionship,
namely (1) rapport-building, (2) the direction-setting phase,
(3) progress-making, (4) winding down, and (5) moving on or
Phase 1: Rapport-building
Rapport-building is the initial phase, in which mentor and
mentee decide whether or not they want to work with each other.
If the chemistry is not right, or there is an inappropriate balance
of similarit y (common ground, common interests) and
dissimilarity (an experience gap that provides opportunities for
learning), the relationship will not progress very far under its
own steam. As important as the skills of achieving rapport is the
abilit y of the mentor to recognise a lack of rapport and manage
it positively – confronting the issue openly and reviewing with
the mentee what kind of person might better meet their needs.
At this stage, also, mentor and mentee negotiate how the
relationship will be conducted – what each expects of the other,
particularly in terms of behaviour (Hay, 1995; Ibarra, 2000;
Klasen & Clutterbuck, 2002).
Phase 2: Direction-setting phase
The direction-setting phase is where mentor and mentee achieve
clarity about what each aims to achieve from the relationship
and how. For example, clear development targets may be set for
the mentee to achieve. Goals may change with circumstances or
as they are achieved and replaced with new ones. However,
having a sense of purpose for the relationship is fundamental to
achieving commitment to it.
Phase 3: Progress-making
Progress-making is the hard core of the mentoring relationship –
where most of the time and energ y is expended. Having helped
the mentee to define and commit to personal change, the
mentor has to guide and support them as needed. Most of this
effort will take place within the mentoring meetings, but much
may also occur through telephone conversat ions and via e-mail.
The portfolio of potential skills required here is as wide as the
variet y of potent ia l appl ic at ions of mento ri ng . Wher e pract ical
and within the role, the mentor will wish to provide the
particular t ype of help that is needed, when it is asked for.
Phase 4: Winding down
Winding down occurs as the relationship has delivered or helped
to deliver the desired outcomes, or when the mentee begins to
outgrow the mentor. It is not always obvious when the time has
come for the mentee to leave the comfort of the mentoring nest.
The mentor needs to be sensitive to this issue and to some extent
pre-emptive, reviewing the value-added of the relationship with
the mentee from time to time. Having a vision of where the
relationship might go (although not one that restricts or
restrains its potential by being too fixed or too narrow) also
helps the mentor plan towards an e ffective, po sitive ending
(Clutterbuck & Megginson, 2001).
Phase 5: Moving on/professional friendship
Moving on from a mentoring relationship into a less
committed, more casual relationship, or professional
friendship demands potential complex skills of redefinition.
These have been likened to changes in relationship between
parent and child. Some such relationships never progress
beyond parent-child behaviours, even when the child has
grown up and become a parent in t urn. Old habits die
hard. Other parent-child relationships dissolve into conflict:
instead of dependence, the child’s need to self-express
leads to counter-dependence – a reject ion of the parent.
In a healthy relationship, however, the child achieves
independence and their interaction with the parent becomes
collegial (Clutterbuck & Lane, 2005; Hay, 1995; Kiohnen &
John , 1998) . The great er t he element o f spon sorship a nd
power broking within a relationship, the more difficult it
appears to be for both parties to achieve the posit ive
independence of each other that underlies a continuing
professional friendship (Clutterbuck, 1998; Clutterbuck &
Meg gi nson , 2 001; H ay, 1995).
Each phase requires a modification of the mentor’s behaviours
and, by inference therefore, of the competences required. The
skills of rapport building differ substantially from those
required in helping someone clarif y and commit to specific
career or personal development goals. The skills required in
managing a relationship which has settled into an effective
routine are different from those required in bringing the formal
phase of the relati onshi p to a posi tive close. And, should the
relationship involve into more of a long-term supportive
MENTOR AND MENTEE COMPETENCIES 3
friendship, it may call for different behaviours again. Another
generic com petence, therefore, may be recognising and adapting
appropriately to the phases of the mentoring relationship
(Clutterbuck, 1998; Hay, 1995; Kram, 1985). Table 1 provides an
overview of some suggested mentor competencies for each phase
of the mentoring relationship.
SOME SUGGESTED MENTOR COMPETENCIES FOR EACH PHASE OF THE
MENTORING RELATIONSHIP (CLUTTER BUCK & LANE, 2005)
Ment ors hip rel atio nshi p Su gges ted com pete nce
Building rapport Active listening
Giving positive regard
Offering openness and trust to elicit reciprocal
Ident ify ing a nd va luing bot h c ommon grou nd
Setting direct ion Goal identification, clarification and management
Personal pr oject plann ing
Testing mentee’s level of commitment to specific
Reality testing-helpin g the mente e foc us on a
few, achievable goals rather than on many
Progression Sustaining commitmentEnsuring sufficient
challenge in the mentoring dialogue
Hel pin g t he men tee ta ke incr eas ing r esp onsi bil it y
for managing the r elati onship
Being available and understanding in helping the
mentee cope with set-backs
Winding down Manage the dissolution process
Professional friendship Ability to redefine the relationship when it has
run its formal course
Generic mentor competencies
Fieldwork suggests that in addition to proto-competencies, there
are also generic competencies (Clutterbuck, 2001; Clutterbuck &
Meggi ns on, 2001; Clu tterbuck & Lane , 2005 ). Se vera l years ago,
Clutterbuck & Lane (2005) began to gather perceptions of
managers, professional executive mentors and human resource
professionals about those behaviours and abilities, which had
proven most useful in executive mentoring. In parallel, they
gathered feedback from initial training sessions, review
workshops and questionnaires to both programme participants
and programme coordinators for a variety of other work-based
programmes – for equal opport unities, graduate induction,
succession planning and so on – across a wide array of industries
The research method was highly informal. In the initial training
workshop mentors and mentees were asked to complete a list of
the characteristics that they would least expect in an effective
mentor – ‘the mentor from hell’ – then in an effective mentor.
Clutterbuck & Lane (2005) found five pairs of matched
capabilities, which were commonly associated with the most
efficacious mentors. These were:
!Self-awareness and behavioural awareness (understanding
!Business/professional savv y and sense of proportion
!Communication and conceptual modelling
!Commitment to own learning and interest in helping others
!Relationship management and goal clarity
Self-awareness and behavioural awareness (understanding others)
This might more easily be expressed as ‘mentors need a
relatively high level of emotional intelligence’, although only
two elements of emotional intelligence are represented here
(Goleman, 1996). Mentors need high self-awareness in order to
recognise and manage their own behaviours within the
helping relationship and to use empathy appropri ately. Self-
awareness helps them recognise when there is a dissonance
between what they are advising the mentee to do and what
they do themselves. It is also essential to the processes of
analysing one’s own behaviour and motivations. One of the
common problems we find in mentoring relationships is that
the mentor sees the mentee’s issues in the light of the
mentor’s own problems and preoccupat ions, rather than
from the mentee’s perspective. Such transference may lead to
Given that the mentor’s role is often at least in part to help the
mentee grow his or her own self-awareness, being an ef fective
role model for self-perceptiveness could be regarded as an
essential skill. By the same token, having an understanding of,
as well as insight into other people’s behaviour and
motivations is equally important. To help others manage their
relationships, the mentor must have reasonably good insight
into patterns of behaviour bet ween individuals and groups of
people. Predicting the consequences of specific behaviours or
courses of action is one of the many practical applications of
this insight. It is not typically essential for the mentor to have
a deep understanding of behavioural psycholog y, but it does
help for the m to be able to relate issues to some of the basic
concepts of motivation, social exchange and learning
processes. Helping someone else work through such issues
frequently results in the mentor reflecting more deeply on
similar issues of their own. The ability to pose the right
questions at the right time is therefore an essential competence
of mentors. Some of the quest ions, which mentors may
usefully ask themselves and their mentees to build self-
awareness are summarised in Table 2.
TYPES OF QUESTIONS USED IN MENTORING
(KLASEN & CLU TTE RBUC K, 2002:158)
Typ e of qu est io n Ai m of qu est io n Ex amp les
Reflecti ve Get mentee to say more “You said … c an yo u explain
about an is sue and to in more detail how you
explore it in more depth mean t his?”
Hypothetical Introduction of new ideas “What about…?”
on part of mentor; making “What if…? ”
Justifying Obtaining further “Can you elaborate on what
information on reasons, makes you think that?”
att itud es, feel ings
Probing Discovering motivations, “What would you perceive
feelings and hidden as the cause of this?”
concerns “When did you first
Checking Establishing whether the “Are you sure about that?”
mentee has understood “Why do you feel this
Business/professional savvy and sense of proportion
Savv y is the int uitive wisdom a person gathers from extensive and
varied exp erience and ref lect ion on that expe rie nce. It coul d also
be referred to as specific contextual knowledge. The mentee’s
need for access to that wisdom may be very broad (an overview of
good busine ss practice) or quite nar row (mak in g better use of a
computer). Savv y may be technical, strategic, political or
systemic. It helps the mentee avoid problems, which they might
not have foreseen; find better strategies for gett ing around
obstacles; and it is the source of those ‘kille r’ quest ions that force
people to reshape their thinking. In short, savv y is the link
between experience and being able to use experience to guide
another person effectively (Hay, 1995; Clutterbuck & Lane, 2005).
Sense of proportion (wider contextual experience) is a broader
perspective that places the organisation’s goals and culture in
the wider social and business context. It is, in effect, the other
side of wisdom – the ability to step back from the detail, to
identify what is really important and to link together apparently
discrete issues. It also encompasses the ability to project good
humour, helping the mentee recognise the elements of
incongruity in situations, to laugh at himself or herself, where
appropriate. Mentees frequently find this to be one of the most
valuable competencies o f a mento r – very o ften the me ntee is s o
close to his or her issues, that they cannot easily put them into
perspective without skilled help.
Communication and conceptual modelling
Communication is not a single skill, but rather a combination of
a number of skills. Those most important for mentors include:
!Listening – opening the mind to what the other person is
saying, demonstrating interest/attention, encouraging them
to speak, holding back on filling the silences.
!Observing as receiver – being open to the visual and other
non-verbal signals, recognising what is not said.
!Parallel pr oc essing – an al ysing what the other pe rs on is
saying, ref lecting on it, preparing responses. Effective
communicators do all of these in parallel, slowing down the
dialogue as needed to ensure that they do not overemphasise
preparing responses at the expense of analysis and ref lection.
Equally, they avoid becoming so mired in their internal
thoughts that they respond inadequately or too slowly.
!Projecting – crafting words and their emotional ‘wrapping’ in
a manner appropriate for the situation and the recipient(s)
!Observing as projector – being open to the visual and other
non-verbal signals, as clues to what the recipient is
hearing/understanding; adapting tone, volume, pace and
!Exiting – concluding a dialogue or segment of dialogue with
clarity and alignment of understanding (ensuring message
received in both directions) and agreeing on follow-up action
to be taken.
The most effective mentors place far more emphasis on
listening and encouraging the mentee to speak than on talking
themselves. They are also adept at the use of silence, at times
suggesting the mentee pause to reflect on an issue; at other
times simply allowing silence to take over, giving the mentee
space to think matters through. Effective mentors have a
portfolio of models they can draw upon to help the mentee
understand the issues they face. These models can be self-
generated (i.e. the result of person al experience), drawn from
elsewhere (e.g. models of company structure, interpersonal
behaviours, strategic planning, career planning) or – at the
highest level of competence – generated on the spot as an
immediate response. According to the situation and the
learning styles of the mentee, it may be appropriate to present
these models in verbal or visual form. Or the mentor may not
present them at all, but simply use them as the framework for
asking penetrating questions.
Commitment to own learning and interest in helping
others to learn
Effective developmental mentors become role models for self-
managed learning. They seize opport unities to experiment and
take part in new experiences. They read widely and are
reasonably efficient at setting and following personal
development plans. They actively seek and use behavioural
feedback from others. Within the context of the mentoring
relationship, they perceive this as a significant opportunity for
mutual learning. They may articulate their learning needs to the
mentee and from time to time share what they have learned
from the relationship.
At the sa me ti me, ef fective men to rs have an innate in tere st in
achieving through others and in helping others recognize and
achieve their potential. This instinctive response is important in
establishing and maintaining rapport and in enthusing the
mentee, building his or her confidence in what they could
become. There is a danger here, however. The more the
relationship is driven by the mentor’s need to feel useful, the
easier it is to overshadow the mentee’s need to achieve
independence. Mentors (particularly in a sponsorship-based
model) may end up tr ying to relive their own careers through
someone else. Altruism can be a highly self-serving attitude of
mind, if it is not moderated by a sense of social exchange. The
overt recognition of mut ual learning objectives largely
overcomes this problem.
Relationship management and goal clarity
Both of these areas have been largely covered in the analysis of
the various phases of a mentoring relationship. Among the key
abilities in rel ationship ma nagement are to est ablish and
maintain rapport, to set and adhere to a schedule of meetings,
and to step back and review the relationship from time to time.
Mentees rate their mentors highly on relat ionsh ip ma nagement
when the latter clearly place an importance on the relat ionship
and demonstrate that they have continued to think about the
mentee’s issues bet ween meet ings.
Goal clarit y is important, because the mentor must be able to
help the learner sort out what he or she wants to achieve and
why. Goal clarity appears to derive from a mixture of skills
including systematic analysis and decisiveness. Mentors, who
lack the skills to set and pursue clear goals of their own, are
likely to struggle to help someone else. Yet most mentors seem
to find that helping someone else achieve goal clarit y has a
positive effect on how they perceive and work towards their
Macro versus micro mento r competencies
As Table 3 illustrates, the multiple approaches to identif ying
the competencies of a mentor give rise to a long list, with
considerable duplication. From a practitioner perspective,
and/or from the perspective of someone who helps mentors
and mentees equip themselves with the skills for the role, this
is not necessarily a problem. We know that this is a complex,
intuitive, multi-skilled role that requires a very wide
spectrum of life skills and purpose-specific skills. The
reduction of the list into macro and micro is to some extent
arbitrary, but all the items listed under macro-competencies
are generic – they are essential for effective role management
in all mentoring relationships. The micro elements, by
contrast, all have some aspects of situationality – they are
specific to a phase of the relationship, or they are a
constituent behaviour or skill, which will enhance the
relationship, but not necessarily one that all relationship will
require in significant measure. Very few mentors out of a
potential population are likely to be excellent in all of these
micro-competencies – indeed, they may use the mentoring
relationship as one means to develop in those areas, where
they are least strong. Recognising the ideal, however, provides
a platform for development, which both individuals and
mentoring scheme coordinators can use.
Mentee comp etence
As noted earlier, creating an effective mentor-mentee
relationship requires the competence of both mentors and
mentees. For the mentee, the ability to capture the mentor’s
interest and commitment is the precursor to rapport between
mentor and mentee, which is in t urn crucial to the subsequent
maintenance of the relationship. Kram (1983) describes the
protégé or mentee as a young manager, who ‘quickly comes to
represent someone with potential, someone who is “coachable”
and someone who is enjoyable to work with’. The successful
protégé is likely to exhibit more masculine traits, regardless of
gender, than feminine traits, according to a st udy of 387
university professors and their mentoring relationships. The
proposed explanation for this result is that ‘masculine and/or
MENTOR AND MENTEE COMPETENCIES 5
androgynous behaviour is associated with effective leadership
and management’ – in other words, mentors are drawn to people
who most closely match the mentor’s perception of potential
MACRO AND MICRO MENTOR COMPETENCIES
(CLUT TERBU CK & LANE, 2005)
!To be a bl e to r e sp o nd a p pr o p ri a te l y to t he v ar i et y o f n e e ds a me n t or m ay
have to recognise and reconcile dif ferent and perhaps conflicting
!Recogn ising and adapt ing appropri ately to the phases of the mento ring
!Respondi ng t o the lear ner’s needs with the appropriate level of
directiveness and the appropriate balance of stretch and nurture.
!Recogn ising di fferent developmental roles, and having the flex ibility to
move bet ween roles approp riately and comfortably.
!Recogn ising the bou ndaries bet ween mentoring and those element s of
other roles which are not normally part of the mentoring experience.
!Establishing a positive, dynamic atmosphere within the relationship
!Building rapport – active listening, empathising and giving positive
regard; offering openness and trust to elicit reciprocal behaviour;
identifying and valuing both common ground and differences.
!Setting direct ion – goal identification, clarification and management;
personal project planning; testing the mentee’s level of commitment to
specific goals; reality testing.
!Progression – sustaining commitment; ensuring sufficient challenge in
the mentoring dialogue; helping the mentee take increasing
responsibility for managing the relationship; being available and
understanding in helping the mentee cope with setbacks.
!Winding down – the ability to review the relationship formally and
celebrate what has been achieved.
!Professional friendship – the ability to redefine the relationship when it
has run its formal course.
!Business/professional savv y.
!Sense of proportion.
!Commitment to own learning (being a role model for good practice in
self-deve lopme nt).
!Interest in helping others to learn.
!Relati onship management.
Kalbfleisch and Davies (1993) summarise the research on
receipt of mentoring. A variety of st udies suggests that
‘demographic factors such as gender (Daniels & Logan 1983;
Ragins 1989; Sands, Parson & Duane, 1991) and race
(Kalbfleisch & Davies, 1991) may predict the likelihood of
having a mentor.’ However, O’neill (2001) in summarising the
evidence on these issues concludes that the majority of studies
do not indicate significant differences on race or gender
grounds for receipt of mentoring.
Kalbfleisch and Davies’ (1991) analysis is more useful,
however, where it examines factors such as communicat ion
competence and self-esteem in the mentee, both of which
they found to be related to participation in mentoring
relationships. They quote Wiemann (1977) who defines
communication competence as the ability of an interactant
to choose among available communicative behaviours in
order that he may successfully accomplish his own goals
during an encounter, while maintaining the face and line of
his fellow interactants within the constraints of the situation.
Among definitions of self-esteem is that it is composed of
perceptions of self-worth and perceptions of power and
abilit y. Self-worth originates f rom a sense of social appr oval
and perceptions of power and ability arise from feelings of
effectiveness (Franks & Marolla, 1976).
A proposed intervening variable between communication
competence and self-esteem is perceived risk in intimacy.
Mentors a nd me ntees may nee d to expose their own feeli ng s and
hidden experiences, in order to encourage the other party to
reciprocate. Kram (1985) and Bullis and Bach (1989) both refer to
psychological intimacy as an element of mentoring
relationships. The primary conclusions of Kalbfleisch and
Davies ’ st udy ar e that : “ individ uals with higher de grees o f
communication competence and self esteem, who perceive less
risk in intimacy, are more likely to participate in mentoring
relationships ... Conversely … individuals, who may very much
need mentoring relationships may not be as likely to be involved
in those relationship as individuals who are more
communicatively competent, have higher self esteem and
perceive less risk in being intimate.’ Studies of self-efficacy
(Bandura, 1982) also support the position that confident,
competent people find relationship building easier than less
confident, less competent peers.
Fagenson (1992) st udied the needs of mentees and non-
mentees for power, achievement, autonomy and affiliation.
She found that people who became mentees tended to have
higher needs for power and achievement, but not for
autonomy and affiliation. It should be noted, however,
that personality characteristics do not necessarily equate
with competencies. It is quite possible for someone to have
a personality that makes them attractive as a mentee, but
not the skills to make effective use of the relationship – and
Effectiveness within the mentoring relationship, once it is
established, has been related to a variet y of factors. A ryee,
Chay and Chew (1996) examine ingratiation behaviours in
the context of mentoring. (Ingratiation in this meaning is not
necessarily a negative behaviour; rather it consists of a wide
spectrum of reputation management behaviours). They note
the link in other studies between ingratiatory behaviours and
career success. Communication skills, already identified
above as a factor in the initiation stage, were recorded by
Kram (1985) as a factor in relationship success for both
mentors and mentees. Small field experiments carried out
with coaches by myself and some colleagues suggest that the
way t he lea rn er pr esent s a n issue for discussion strongly
influences the nature and qualit y of the response. Saying ‘I
have a problem’, for example, is likely to switch on advice
mode; indicating the need for a sounding board to review
thinking already partly done is likely to precipitate a more
discursive, reflective dialogue.
Engstrom (Engstrom & Mykletun, 1997) compared personality
factors of mentors and mentees in the success of mentoring
relationships. High scores of agreeableness, extraversion and
openness to experience on the part of the mentee correlated with
positive relationship outcomes, although the personality
interaction bet ween mentor and mentee was also a significant
factor with respect to each of the personality dimensions.
We ha v e n o t b e en a bl e to f i nd a ny s t ud ie s wh i ch i nv e st i ga te
the skills required in managing the mature mentoring
relationship, or in managing the relationship ending from
the mentee perspective. Kram (1992) (cited in Clutterbuck,
2004) refers to experiencing ’new independence and
autonomy’ and to the need to ‘test his or her ability to
function effectively without close guidance and support’.
However, she does not explore how the mentee contributes
towards achieving these attributes.
Managing the closu re of the relationship and moving on is an
important element in the satisfaction of both parties. A recent
study (Clutterbuck & Megginson, 2001) of relationship endings
found that a planned, positive winding up was more effective than
a gradual drifting away. It would seem logical, given that the
mentee is expected to take more and more responsibility for
driving the relationship, that he or she should also play a role in
bringing it to a close. Kram (1983) discusses the pain of separation,
comparing it to bereavement. Some clues to the management of
the separation process may therefore be gained from the
counselling literature that deals with processes for letting go.
A framework of mentee competencies
As with mentors, it seems that competencies for mentees may arise
from a number of paired characteristics, which can be considered
to be generic pairs of behaviours. In some cases – perhaps all –
these pairs are in essence probably dimensions; however, it would
be presumptuous to elevate them to that status without
considerable further investigation (Pascarelli, 1998). Those
suggested by my analysis of the literature and by field experience
in mentor and mentee training, as well as review meetings, appear
to fall into three categories, relating to the mentee’s stage of
development and the stage of relationship development. There
seem to be th ree pairs of competencies at (1) the rel ationship
initiation level and four each at (2) the relationship management
and (3) learning maturity/disengagement levels. Table 4 provides
an overview of these competencies.
A FRAMEWORK OF MENTEE COMPETENCIES
(CLUT TERBU CK & LANE, 2005)
Relationship Relationship Learning
initiation management mat urity/disengagement
competencies competencies competencies
Focu s-pro acti vit y Lea rn-te ach Acknowledge the debt -
pay it forward
Respect-self-respect Challenge-be challenged Process awareness-process
Listening-articulating Open-questioning Extrinsic and intrinsic
Relat ionship init iat ion competencies
Relationship init iation competencies include the ability to focus
the relationship and being proactive, developing respect and
self-respect and the ability to listen and articulate one’s goals,
feelings and values.
Focus – proactivity
Focus relates t o having some id eas abo ut what you want to
achieve (What do you want? What do you want to become?)
and/or a willingness to work with the mentor to put some clarity
behind the relationship purpose.
Proactivity relates to a willingness to take initiative, to contact
the mentor rather than wait to be contacted and to seek the
opinion of others in determining what issues to bring to the
mentor. The proactive mentee will already at least have thought
about how to achieve his or her goals and ideally taken some
steps towards achieving them. Mentors are also impressed by the
perception of relationship commitment – behaviours that
demonstrate that the mentee really wants the relationship to
work and is prepared to invest in it.
Respect – self-respect
Respect and self-respect go hand in hand. Rogers’ concept of
mutual common regard indicates the necessity of reciprocated
respect as a core constituent of rapport (1961). Mentees can
demonstrate respect by showing that they value the mentor’s
advi ce a nd/or insights, by being attent ive and by usi ng t he
mentor’s time and effort wisely (for example, by not making
Self-respect may be an emergent characteristic of the mentee,
rather than a starting competence, but, as the research above
indicates, the relationship may establish itself more easily if the
mentee is relatively self-confident. There are, of course, extremes
– self-confidence to the point of arrogance is unlikely to be
att rac tive to a mentor. Equally, in com munit y mentor ing schemes,
mentors of ten report that the greatest sat isfaction comes from
watching t he me nte e grow in se lf-e steem and self-con fidence.
Listening – articulating
Although some mentees may not have great communication
skills, the willingness to listen and to try to communicate their
goals, fee li ngs and values goes a long way towards estab li sh ing a
Relat ionship management
Relationship management competencies include a commitment
to learning; a willingness to be challenged; being open and
honest with oneself and one’s mentor; and the abilit y to reflect
on one’s motives, attit ude and behaviour.
Learn – teach
The mentee must have a commitment to learning and a purpose
for doing so which shapes their requests of the mentor and gives
the mentor a sense of direction for the relationship. They must
value the lea rn ing they may acquire fr om t he mentor and
demonstrate that they do so. At the same time, they need to be
aware of the mentor’s needs and prepared to share t heir
experiences, learning and insights, where these will be of interest
and value to the mentor.
Challenge – be challenged
The mentee must be willing and able to engage in constructive
dialogue. This requires occasional challenge – not simply
accepting advice from t he oracle, but delving deeper and
exploring the reasoning behind advice and guidance given. At
the same time, they must be open to examining issues about
which they feel fearful or otherwise uncomfortable, in the cause
of gaining greater understanding.
Open – questioning
Mentees must be prep ar ed t o be honest wit h the mselves a nd
their mentors, both providing an accurate description of issues
they face and being willing to consider different perspectives
and approaches. At the same time, they need the appropriate
skills to pose questions to the mentor in ways that make it clear
what kind of help they need at this time – a sounding board,
direct advice, counselling or some combination of these.
Prepare – reflect
This could perhaps be described as reflect – reflect, for it is
important that the mentee spend quiet thinking time both
before the mentoring session (to prepare what they want to
discuss and why) and after (to review what they have learned and
extract further lessons from it). Reflection also encompasses
willingness to examine one’s own motives, drives, attitudes and
Advanced competencies for mentees
The four dimensions of advanced competencies suggested by
both field experience and mentoring case studies are outlined
Acknowledge the debt – pay for ward the debt
There is a substantial difference between demonstrating
gratitude and ingratiation. The level of mutual respect required
in the relationship should make ingratiation untenable as a
behaviour, but the mentee should be able to express their
appreciation for the mentor’s time and thoughtfulness. They
may also be able to reciprocate in more practical ways – for
example, one of my mentees keeps an eye open for public
platfor ms I might find it commercially useful to speak at,
although there is no obligation for her to do so.
Paying forward the debt is a reflection of a phenomenon noted
in much of our field research. People who have been effective
MENTOR AND MENTEE COMPETENCIES 7
mentees frequently wish to become mentors in turn. Indeed,
this is one of the core measurements of the success of a
mentoring relationship or scheme. It is also a key goal for
community mentoring in the UK (Miller, 2002).
Process awareness – process management
An awareness of the process is essentially a contextual
competence. Field interviews suggest strongly that mentees learn
more and reflect more, if they understand what the mentor is
trying to do and why. Mentoring therefore becomes a collusive
activity, in which the mentee takes an active role in helping the
mentor help them. For example, if the mentee may recognise
that a period of silence is an opportunity for them to ref lect; or
the may mentee craft the way an issue is presented to the mentor,
in order to st imulate the kind of response that will be most
useful to them (saying ‘I’ve got a problem’ is likely to trigger
direct advice; saying ‘I’d value your help in testing my thinking
about …’ is more likely to trigger explorator y dialogue).
The process of empowerment in the mentoring relationship
requires that the mentee take responsibility for the management
of the process. The mature learner, or the mentee with high self-
esteem and high goal clarity, may begin the relationship by
setti ng the agenda, steering the mentor towards appropriate
responses and actively drawing down upon the mentor’s
knowledge, experience and networks.
Extrinsic and intrinsic feedback
Receiving feedback from others can be one of the most difficult
skills to learn. It demands a certain level of trust, which is not
always easy to give and a willingness to accept and address one’s
weaknesses. People who appear self-defensive and oversensitive
to criticism make it more difficult for the mentor to relax and
behave naturally towards them. A relationship where one, or
both sides, is constantly having to assess whether or not what
they say will offend, will struggle. Indeed, it may not even get off
the ground in extreme cases. As the relationship progresses, the
need typically increases to accept the mentor as a critical friend
and to encourage ‘cruel but kind’ feedback. In addition, the
mentee should become more comfortable with giving honest
personal feedback about the mentor’s performance in their role,
especially when the mentor specifically seeks it.
The mentee should also be able to move beyond feedback from
others to develop his or her intrinsic feedback skills. Learning
how to listen to yourself or observe yourself in action takes t ime.
With each new area of skill, you may need to begin the process
again, learni ng what to listen for, how to r ecognise positive and
negative patterns and how to assess the impact of experimental
changes. For example, a teenager with problems of anger control
learned to watch out for the tightening of muscles that indicated
he would r epeat a c ycle of verbal abuse followed b y violence . By
experiment ing with different react ions to these early physical
cues, he was able to learn a different set of instinctive behaviours
that not only helped him control himself, but also gave him
more control over the situat ion that threatened to cause the
anger. The same principles of intrinsic feedback can be applied
to almost any personal performance issue at work, from time
management to giving presentations or mot ivating colleagues.
Independence – interdependence
Being self-motivated, self-reliant, self-resourceful and self-
confident are all elements of maturity, in life as well as in
learning. The more capable the mentee is in each of these areas,
the less dependent they will be on the mentor. A comment I
often hear from ‘mature’ mentees is: ‘When I was faced by a
dilemma, I thought, ‘how would my mentor have approached
this?’ and I soon had the answer’. This phenomenon of role
model in absent ia appears to characterise those relat ionships
where the mentee has expanded both the scope and the portfolio
of their responses to learning opportunities. Independence is
likely to be accompanied by a shift from using the mentor as
advi sor to using him or her as sound ing board. It is also likely to
involve an increasing confidence in their own ability to manage
their career planning and progress towards career objectives.
Developing a wide range of support resources is also a sign of
learning maturit y. With the mentor’s help init ially, and
gradually through his or her own ingenuity, the mentee builds a
network of advisors – sources of information, influence and
encouragement – upon which he or she calls for different needs
and in different circumstances. The mentee also develops the
skill to sustain and enhance relationships within this network
and may reciprocate to the mentor by passing on information
and contacts from outside the mentor’s sphere.
Conclusions and implications
The proto-competencies for mentors and mentees explored here
belong to the specific context of developmental mentoring and
to structured mentoring programmes. By developmental
mentoring, I mean off-line relationships, where there is no
expectation of sponsorship and a concentration on helping the
less experienced person achieve independence. By struct ure d
programmes, I mean those where there is a process for assisting
people (and in particular those who are at a racial, gender or
other disadvantage) to find a suitable mentor, some training for
participants to help them use the relationship well, and some
form of ongoing background support for participants.
A number of writers on mentoring have linked mentor
competencies with the phases of relationship development,
suggesting that specific skills should be addressed as they
become necessary in the management of the relationship (for
example). However, none, so far as I have been able to ascertain,
has applied the same principle to the development of mentee
Of course, it cannot be expected of mentors and mentees to have
all of these competencies. However, they can be helped in
acquiring and reinforcing each of the competencies. Issues that
need further explanation here include the timing and extent of
help and whether it should be give n by the ment or or b y a
source outside the relationship. With regard to timing, much
will depend upon the mentee’s start ing point. We might expect
a mentee who is mature in the sense of learning capability and
who has prior experience of being mentored to begin with a
much fuller competence set than one who is a neophyte in both
respects. According to Yan Lu (2002), previous experience of a
mentor-t ype relationship with a school teacher as a young
student correlates strongly with subsequent development of
positive mentoring relationships. The mentee who is low in both
previous experience of mentoring and learning maturit y will
presumably require more support upfront and more tolerance
from the mentor than someone who is high on both counts. In
general, the mente e who has low learning mat urit y and
experience of being mentored will need a wider range of support
and encouragement simply to embark on the relationship.
Someone with high learning maturit y and little experience in
mentoring should swif tly adapt to the relationship, but many
require a high degree of initial clarity about what to expect. A
mentee who has low learning maturit y and a lot of experience in
mentoring is a less likely combination. However, we have
encountered people who have had an ineffective mentoring
relationship. Here the mentor may need to spend time early in
the relationship building his or her credibility with the mentee.
Future research recommendations
Although all of the proposed competences described have face
validity, t here is s t ill a gre at de al of research to be done to
establish the validity using more rigorous measures. In the
meant ime, however, having at least a tentative framework of
mentee competencies should help scheme coordinators design
training that helps mentees present themselves more effectively
to their mentors and engage more fully in the initiation of the
relationship. It should also help to deliver mentee training more
closely in phase with evolving needs. Finally, it should also be
useful in making mentors more aware of what to expect from a
mentee – and how they can work with the mentee to help them
gain more from the relationship.
Given the paucity of data from desk research, a high emphasis
needs to be placed on field research. The process of data
gathering in the field has been in three main forms: t wo highly
informal and subjective; one more formal and more objective.
First, mentors and mentees have been asked to discuss and
record those characteristics they would expect to value and those
they do not value, in both roles. Typical responses include an
aversion among mentees to a mentor who talks at them rather
than with them; and among mentors, an aversion to people who
expect too much of the relationship, people who do not respond
(variously described as ‘black holes’ or ‘puddings’) and people
who are unwilling to give commitment. A second phase involves
review meetings, where mentors and mentees discuss their
act ual experienc es, wi th a view to im proving both the scheme
process and their own skills in the roles. Over the past two years,
I have also been gathering data on mentor and mentee
expectations, behaviours and outcomes in a continuing
longit udinal study. At t ime of writing, the data from this st udy
are not ready for detailed statistical analysis, but they appear to
support the broad thrust of the previous t wo phases.
From an academic perspective, I hope this analysis provides a
starting point for continued research to refine the notion of
mentoring competencies. Certainly, some greater clarit y around
which competencies are generic in all forms of mentoring would
be helpful, along with a credible diagnostic process to map the
micro-competencies of mentoring against the requirements of
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