The Nature of Mentoring: What it is and what it isn’t

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Have you been thinking about applying for the MWI Mentoring Program, either as a volunteer mentor (thanks and yes, you do have lots to contribute) or as a mentee (great move, go you!) Are you wondering if this is the program for you? What should you expect? And what does a mentor do?

In this article, we’ll look at what mentoring is by comparing it to other types of work/professional relationships.

Some useful points of comparison between a mentor/mentee relationship and other types of ‘formal’ engagement between two people in a work or professional context, include: the difference between managing someone and mentoring them; the differences between coaching, counselling, consulting and mentoring; and the fact that the mentor is not a paid consultant doing work for a mentee.

A mentor is different to a boss and the relationship can be more open, especially if the pair are not working in the same business

One of the things many of our mentors tell us is how much they enjoy working with someone who they aren’t responsible for managing.

This is probably because they’re not focussed on the day-to-day work output of their mentee or whether or not they stay in a current role. As such, they can be more open and less concerned about the consequence of any discussions.

For example, if your mentee is unhappy with the work they are doing, as their mentor you might encourage them to go back to their manager to ask for different tasks or even help them work out if the role is the right one for them. This is quite different to how a manager might respond to a direct report with similar concerns. Instead a manager might need to redirected them to the task at hand, even though they would probably still want to listen and reassure their unhappy team member.

Having a mentee who is outside their organisational context also allows mentors to put aside their current work politics and strategy. As such, they can discuss ideas and solutions which they might not choose to explore with someone in their work environment, as these approaches might be inappropriate or unsuitable.

Similar, our mentees also find their mentoring relationships much opener than the relationship they have with their boss. They don’t need to worry about keeping their manager ‘onside’ or accidentally sharing inappropriate concerns or future plans (outside the organisation) which might change their manager’s attitude to them.

This is also one of the reasons we ask our pairs to discuss confidentiality when they start their partnership. It can help create a safe space and make sure that everyone is clear what they expect!.

Mentoring is about discussing possible solutions and next steps with a mentee, not diagnosing problems. A mentor is also not a coach or a counsellor

The TAPs model, developed by the Neuroleadership Institute (an international organisation which teaches coaching both as a skill for managers and professional coaches), helps explain this distinction. It identifies identify four different but related roles, based on two dimensions – the problem vs the solution and asking vs telling, as shown in the following diagram:

These roles are:

  • Coaching – which focusses on Asking and the Solution – A coach asks lots of questions to help the person being coached work out “How might you fix this?”
  • Counselling – which focusses on Asking and the Problem – this means working at a deeper level on helping a patient to work out why a problem might be occurring
  • Management Consulting – which focusses on Telling and the Problem and on diagnosing problems for a client.
  • Mentoring – which focusses on Telling and Solutions. This might mean telling a mentee what actions they might need to take. Mentors do, of cours, ask their mentees questions. However, these are asked with a different mindset than those asked by a coach or counsellor who aims is to help their client develop insight and identify their own solutions.

Source: To read more about TAPs see “Four acronyms to help understand work and motivation: SCARF, SEEDS, AGES, and TAPS” Available at: and “Ask Questions That Activate insight”  Accessed 18th January 2024

An MWI mentor is a volunteer, who meets one-on-one in sessions lead by their mentee to discuss issues and ideas. They are not a consultants who are paid to develop specific marketing solutions for a specific marketing problem nor do they provide structured career coaching to mentees.

Our mentors are volunteers and aren’t expected to spend lots of time outside of meetings with their mentees preparing materials or working on solutions (although they might spend a small amount of time reading background)

Also, while our mentors might talk to their mentees about tools or templates they have used before, they don’t work through structured marketing content or diagnostic models like a coach or paid consultant might in order through to diagnose and solve a specific issue. Similarly, a mentor won’t do the work for a mentee like an external consultant might in terms of developing and then sharing (telling/solution) as per TAPS to a client  

Instead, a mentor’s role is to act as sounding board and to share their experiences and possible approaches to the issues that mentees are working on.  This is more like a manager would support a team member (despite the differences highlighted above) who was trying to solve a work problem: by explaining ideas and talking through possible next actions, as opposed to doing the work for them

Our next mentoring 6-month mentoring program commences in March and September and we’re actively seeking mentors for is designed to inspire, encourage and guide the next generation of marketing leaders. If you have a few hours a month to give to a mentee, either in person or remotely, please complete our short form here.


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