The Art of Mentoring

The Art of Mentoring

According to Schemm, R.L. and Bross, T. (1995), the act of mentoring is defined as a process where a younger, fresher individual is paired with an older, more seasoned person for the purpose of attaining guidance and support. Mentoring is becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s work force, and becoming more of a necessity rather than a consideration. This is especially true for those in a more scholarly setting. It is likely that most, if not all, individuals will form one of these mentor-mentee relationships during some point in his or her professional career. There are several advantages, as well as possible disadvantages, to forming one of these relationships. When thinking of mentoring, a one on one mentor-mentee relationship usually comes to mind; however, multiple-mentor relationships make another valid option available. In any mentoring relationship, there does come a great deal of responsibility. Mentoring is a growing trend among working professionals; it has many benefits, and will help individuals achieve success, and provide a fulfilling role for the mentor.

Forming a mentor-mentee relationship can provide several advantages to the professional development of individuals. Transitioning to a new environment can potentially be extremely stressful on an individual. For example, it is often difficult for a student to adjust to a professional work environment. Ideally, having a mentor-mentee relationship can help bridge the gap of uncertainty that exists when students are transitioning from school to the workplace (Rogers, 1986, p. 80). Goode (2012) agrees with this statement when she describes the mentor-mentee relationship as “integral to the transition from theory to the practice setting” (p. 33). Mentoring of course is not strictly limited to helping students, as it can ease any person dealing with high levels of stress or anxiety (Goode, 2012, p.33). In formal training it is not unlikely an individual will not retain all the information given. This provides mentoring the opportunity to offer reinforcement and assistance where needed. Another benefit to a mentoring is the ability to have a less formal relationship than that of the traditional instructor-student affiliation. This will allow mentees to become more open-minded and willing to accept constructive criticism, which can help them form new opinions and outlooks in various situations (Lakoski, 2009, p. 2).

Typically, as a result of having a mentor-relationship, a sense of trust can develop that provides mentees with a safe place to go to with questions or problems they may not be comfortable asking anyone else. While mentoring can be beneficial to the mentee, the mentor can be on the receiving end of many other advantages, as well. Mentors have the opportunity to witness others succeed, as well as experience a personal growth from the intellectual stimulation that comes along with mentoring another individual (Rogers, 1986, p. 81). The privilege of being a mentor can also bring both personal and professional achievement (Lakoski, 2009, p. 1). It is evident that the bond between a mentor and his or her mentee is meant to be something far greater than the traditional professor-student and employer-employee relationships. Mentees will likely gain greater confidence in themselves, find a sense of trust when seeking others for guidance, and become less stressed in regard to their scholarly and professional careers.

It has also been recognized that having multiple mentors can greatly assist students and young practitioners in becoming successful in their chosen career paths. The multiple-mentoring approach allows mentors to reveal their personal strengths and interests while mentoring, thus allowing students to see how a similar situation can be handled by a variety of practitioners. This approach can assist mentors in avoiding issues such as favoritism, personal conflict, poor professional matches, and excess time and stress demands that can occur (Nolinske, 1995, p. 41).

Unfortunately, not all mentor-mentee relationships assist in the professional development of an individual. Occasionally, but not always, there can be problems in a mentoring relationship. There is always a chance that personalities and communication styles may not match, or poor advice be given by the mentor (Nolinske, 1995, p. 40).

Creating an environment in which the mentee is evaluated based solely on his or her skill level and aptitude can also create a problem. The purity of this environment can become compromised as personal relationships of favoritism or disdain are developed (Nolinske, 1995, p. 40). There is also the chance that the fine line between the mentor and mentee can be crossed, which can result in inappropriate behavior and an overall unhealthy comradeship between the two.

In the realm of occupational therapy, it is well known that the vast majority of practitioners are women. This can make it difficult for a new male practitioner to find a mentor, especially one he feels comfortable consulting (Schemm, R.L. and Bross, T., 1995, p.35).

Another issue that can arise with the one-on-one approach to mentoring is when a majority of the responsibility for the success of the relationship is placed on the mentor, due to the knowledge and authority he or she may possess. This can in turn inhibit the mentee from taking control of his or her own learning process (Nolinske, 1995, p. 40). According to Nolinske (1995), one mentor simply cannot fulfill all the personal, emotional, and professional needs of a mentee (p. 40). These problems can be fixed with multiple mentor relationships; however, multiple mentor relationships can have issues of their own, as well. Nolinske (1995) also explains that having multiple mentors can lead to breakdowns in communication and unclear expectations among mentors and mentees (p. 42).

The mentor-mentee relationship consists of several roles and responsibilities that help develop and maintain a successful comradeship between the two parties. In order to be successful, both the mentor and mentee must be willing to give and take. In other words, the mentor should not be the one doing all the work. Lakoski (2009) informs readers that both parties share the responsibility to voice their opinions, expectations, and beliefs openly and honestly, all the while practicing active listening (p.1). This author goes on to explain that it is the duty of both the mentor and mentee to point out any conflicts that arise that could damage the relationship later on down the road (p. 2). Ideally, both parties must treat one another with respect and acknowledge one another as a person equally responsible for the success of the relationship.

In regard to the mentor specifically, five major responsibilities have been identified that he or she is expected to fulfill: to instruct, to sponsor, to guide, to set an example for, and to council (Rogers, 1986; Schemm, R.L. and Bross, T., 1995). It is preferred that mentors first teach the student and then gradually step back and let the student take control of the therapy, thus allowing them to make decisions as a clinician (Nolinske, 1995, p. 42). The success of the inexperienced practitioner is dependent on the professional feedback given by the mentor serving as his or her respectable guide (Schemm, R.L. and Bross, T., 1995, p. 33). Mentors greatly influence what mentees do or do not learn during the course of the relationship, especially when it comes down to individual experience. Goode (2012) believes that it is the responsibility of the mentor to encourage learning, as well as identify each mentee’s individual skills and abilities, personal goals, personal needs, and medical necessities that can make the learning process difficult if ignored (p. 33). As Nolinske (1995) adds, mentors provide protégés with strategies for accomplishing goals, assignments to further knowledge and experience, opportunities to begin new relationships with other practitioners, and open doors to greater opportunities (p. 42).

Mentors also fulfill many psychosocial needs of their protégés, such as validation of fears and concerns. Mentors must instill confidence, trust, and respect in the individuals they support, all the while finding a way to connect on a personal level. (Nolinske, 1995, p. 43). Becoming a successful mentor is a learning process that requires practice through experience.

Another expectation placed on mentors is for them to show a sincere interest in their mentees and make it a priority to make themselves available to them. They should also aid them in the process of becoming more comfortable when it comes to asking questions and getting past the fear of the things unknown to them.

If mentors are assisting several mentees in their professional development, it is the responsibility of the mentors to do their best not to give one mentee more attention and knowledge than the others (Rogers, 1986, p. 80). Rogers (1986) also explains that it is the duty of the mentor to teach students and young practitioners the knowledge and personal experience mentees cannot find anywhere else (p. 80). This can be a huge asset to mentees during their growth as young practitioners.

The role of the mentee also plays a major part in the success of the mentor-mentee relationship. As previously mentioned, they are also responsible for taking initiative in the learning process, as well as maintaining a professional attitude while working side by side with the chosen skilled practitioner (Lakoski, 2009, p. 1). Mentees should also maintain a humble spirit and sense of respect toward the mentor and his or her facility. It is also the responsibility of the mentee to both advocate and uphold the ethical values they know to be true.

The art of mentoring entails great benefits and responsibilities that lead to the growth and success of both students and young practitioners alike. While there are several advantages to being a part of a mentor-mentee relationship, there is always the chance something may not go as planned. However, whether experiencing a single mentor, or many, the opportunities will more than likely greatly benefit all parties involved. It is the opinion of these readers that an informal, multiple-mentoring approach allows for a greater chance of success in the relationship between the mentor and mentee. Positive experiences for the protégés may increase the likelihood that they will take on the leadership role of a mentor in the future. While the process of mentoring may seem challenging at times, it is definitely an opportunity worth undertaking.

Goode, M.L. (2012, May). The role of the mentor: A critical analysis [Electronic Version]. Journal of Community Nursing, 26(3), 33-35. Retrieved August 22, 2012 from

Lakoski, Joan. (2009, August 10) Perspective: Top ten tips to maximize your mentoring. CTsciNet, Clinical and Translational Journal, 1-3 Retrieved August 22, 2012 from

Nolinske, T. (1995, January). Multiple mentoring relationships facilitate learning during fieldwork [Electronic Version]. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 49(1), 39-43 doi:10.5014/ajot.49.1.39

Rogers, J.C. (1986, February). Mentoring for career achievement and advancement [Electronic Version]. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 40(2), 79-82. Retrieved August 30, 2012, from AJOT. doi:10.5014/ajot.40.2.79

Schemm, R.L. and Bross, T. (January 1995). Mentorship experience in a group of occupational therapy leaders [Electronic Version]. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 49(1). 32-37. doi:10.5014/ajot.49.1.32