Close your eyes. Think about the word "mentor". Do you see an old wise man with a mighty grey beard? Thank you Hollywood, you've placed Gandalf as a mentoring archetype. No ; mentors are all around us. And they look like you and me.

In the first post of this series I explained why being accompanied on your life journey is necessary. Here are the questions we want to answer in this blog post:

  • Where does the word 'mentor' comes from?
  • What is a mentor?
  • What does mentors do?
  • What is a mentor's focus?
  • How about the mentee?

Where does the word 'mentor' comes from?

Mentor and Telemachus
(Img Source: Wikipedia)

When Odysseus left for Troy in Homer's Odyssey, he placed is old friend 'Mentor' in charge of his son Telemachus. Mentor filled the role of a guide, a father-figure, a teacher etc. This is the role of the mentor nowadays. And as stated on Wikipedia, "the first recorded modern usage of the term can be traced to a 1699 book entitled 'Les Aventures de Télémaque', by the French writer François Fénelon".

What is a mentor?

I find the definition given by Mentorscout quite enlightening. Because it gives 3 definitions side by side: mentor, mentee and mentorship.

"What is a Mentor? A mentor is a coach, guide, tutor, facilitator, counselor and trusted adviser. A mentor is someone willing to spend his or her time and expertise to guide the development of another person.

What is a Mentee? A mentee is a student, protege, apprentice and eager learner. A mentee is someone who wants to learn from someone who knows and seeks their valuable advice in order to grow personally and/or professionally.

What is a Mentorship? A mentorship is a relationship formed between a mentor and mentee with the goal of sharing knowledge and expertise between the mentor and the mentee. It can be a formal relationship with written goals and scheduled meeting times or it can be as informal as an occasional chat or email exchange."

The first thing that strikes in the definition of a mentor is the juxtaposition of roles. It is hard to pinpoint what a mentor is. It is the union of many roles: "a mentor is a coach, guide, tutor, facilitator, counselor and trusted adviser".

This is a problem we face when we try to explain what mentoring is. We try to make a parallel between mentoring and coaching or teaching to name only two. A mentor is a coach and a coach could be a mentor. And a mentor is a teacher and a teacher could be a mentor as well. The examples we know from movies often are coaches or teaches, who then become mentors. This adds to the confusion.

To define it better, let's have a look at what a mentor does.

What does a mentor do?

In her Blog post on, Morag Barrett presents the mentor stances as follows:

"Advisor and coach: provide advice, guidance, and feedback; share their experience and expertise as appropriate; act as a sounding board for ideas and action plans.

Champion and cheerleader: offer encouragement and support to try new things; help mentees move out their comfort zones; celebrate successes; help mentees understand when things do not go as planned.

Resource and recommendations: identify resources that will help mentees with personal development and growth, such as recommending books, workshops, or other learning tools; encourage mentees to join networking organizations or introduce them to new contacts.

Devil's advocate and “truth-sayer”: provide the tough feedback that mentees need to hear in order to move forward; push mentees to take risks when appropriate; help mentees consider and weigh potential consequences of decisions and actions to avoid the pitfalls and predictable surprises that may occur."

I like this description. It matches fully with my experience both as a mentor and as a mentee. I miss only one point which is present, but not named:

Listener: doesn't try to imprint their agenda on the mentee, listen first and bring their knowlege only when appropriate; know when to speak and when to let their mentees find their own ways.

What is a mentor's focus?

Let's go back to the definition of the mentor:

"A mentor is a coach, guide, tutor, facilitator, counselor and trusted adviser. A mentor is someone willing to spend his or her time and expertise to guide the development of another person."

Does it makes more sense? A mentor uses all those stances. A mentor moves between them and uses them as deemed fit. Remember, this is the "ideal" picture of a mentor.

When I started mentoring, I was far from mastering all this. This shouldn't prevent a potential mentor to try and help. In fact, I like to present mentoring as the idea of "helping" only. Remove all this nonsense about stances, roles and faces and all you have is a person choosing to help another.

Therein lies another very important piece of the puzzle, the mentor always focuses on one thing and one thing only: their mentee. Mentees are not only employees, colleagues or professionals. Mentees are whole persons and the mentoring applies to them all.


We now have a better understanding of what mentor role is. We started exploring the mentor role and what a mentor should do. And we covered the different stances of the mentor and the need for a precise focus on the mentee as a whole.

In summary:

  • Can anyone be a mentor? Yes.
  • Can anyone be a great mentor? Probably not.
  • Will everyone become a mentor? Certainly not!

Throughout this post, the benefits for the mentee become quite clear. But what is in there for you as a mentor? And how do you start? How do you find each other? How do you structure your work together? How about Mentoring programs...

This is the second post of a series of articles about mentoring in which I explain you how to get started with it. Here was part 1 about mentoring itself. Here's part 3 about the benefits for the mentor.

Do you have questions? Write your feedback in the comments below so that I can tailor the upcoming posts to your needs!

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