Mentoring: definitions and principles

Mentoring has evolved to embrace a wide range of activities in recent years: from being allocated individuals who respond to queries that an individual has and give moral support, to schemes that border on counselling given the complexity of the needs of the mentee.

A sound working definition was offered by Eric Parsloe:

'Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be.'

There are particular words and phrases in this quote that draw our attention:

  • 'Supporting' and 'encouraging' suggest it is non-directive.
  • 'Manage their own learning' suggests that the responsibility for this lies with the mentee.
  • 'Maximise potential, develop their skills, improve their performance' identifies the spirit of growth and development.
  • 'The person they want to be' clarifies that this is about an individual establishing their own goals with help.

Mentoring vs coaching

It is important also to recognise what mentoring is not.

Mentoring is not counselling, because there is an assumption that the mentees involved in mentoring are well enough to engage in it on the above terms. If a mentee has sufficient emotional difficulties they will either need a trained counsellor to provide them with support in addition to a highly trained mentor, or will simply need counselling.

Mentoring isn't coaching either. Mentors do offer some of their life experiences and knowledge to help mentees, but still try not to be directive or to take too much control of the relationship. Coaching typically requires minimal and highly controlled sharing of experience and knowledge.

It is important to recognise, however, that the skills involved in mentoring, coaching and counselling have a huge overlap, of which empathy, listening and asking questions are key.

Please note that the 'CIPD Factsheet' illustrates an approach to mentoring from an organisational perspective but offers a general insight to the differences and overlaps between mentoring and coaching.

Things to do now

Contact us

Page navigation

See also


Search Form

A-Z lists