M. Dana BaldwinMentoring--Art or Science?

Mentoring is the process of developing someone for further advancement within an organization. Most frequently, when there is a mentoring relationship, the mentor, usually higher in the organization, is tasked with bringing the mentee along in the development of skills, processes and knowledge. There is no single right way to do this, as each set of skills, processes and knowledge is unique to the particular organization, and even within the organization, to the department or area of the organization in which the individuals reside.

Complicating this is the reality that each individual has specific strengths and weaknesses, specific knowledge areas and his/her own level of education and experiences. So, is mentoring an art or a science? My perception is that it is some of each.

The science of mentoring is pretty straightforward. Essentially there are four elements to the process:

First, effective communication between the mentor and mentee must be established. Without good communication, the results will definitely suffer.

Second, the two people involved need to determine the goals for mentoring.

Third, trust must be built between the two people. If the atmosphere of the relationship is not sufficiently open as to engender trust -- the ability to admit when something is not well understood, for example -- the actual effectiveness of communications will be lower than is needed for the development of the mentee.

Fourth, the mentor also needs to understand the way in which the mentee learns, where the gaps in knowledge are, and what other factors need to be included in the analysis of each individual mentee. Failure to understand how this person learns can result in poor communication and less effectiveness in the process.

The mentor must be candid about his/her own knowledge areas, and about those areas which are less well developed or understood within his/her own experiences. The ability to invite others to assist a mentee can be a key to the effective development of each mentee.

Once effective communications are established, and agreement on the goals for the process is reached, the process of mentoring must be nurtured. A written plan is a key to the success of any good process. The plan needs to be specific in what is to be learned, but flexible in the time and manner in which the learning takes place. Here is where the art of the process comes in to play. The relationship between the two people needs to become very effective. While the mentor must retain his/her authority, the two need to become able and willing to provide feedback which is objective, yet reinforcing to the mentee. And the mentee must be comfortable enough to ask for further guidance in order to make the process work well and to eventually attain the level of skills, process and knowledge that were originally established in the goal setting phase of this process.

Regular review of the progress made, goals attained and two-way feedback are critical to the effectiveness of mentoring. Much of the success or failure of a mentoring relationship depends on the ability of both parties to communicate, to adapt to each other's learning and teaching styles and to open, fair, critical review of progress and planning. The ability of each person to adapt to the strengths and weaknesses of the other is a key to overall effectiveness and results.


M. Dana Baldwin is a Consultant with Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. He can be reached by email at

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