What is mentoring?

You have probably been mentored at some point in your life. Think back to a time when someone took an interest in your welfare, shared their own experience and knowledge with you and enabled you to develop. In essence this is what mentoring is all about – an enabling relationship based on an exchange of knowledge, experience and goodwill

At the University of Bristol we are promoting a developmental approach to mentoring, this is based on a high level of two-way learning and on helping the mentee with the quality of their thinking around issues that are important to them. It is not necessarily about fast tracking the mentee in their career, a talent management approach or about identifying developmental needs. It is about supporting the mentees' learning and development, particularly as he or she experiences some sort of change.

The guidelines here are based around David Clutterbuck’s book “Making the most of Developmental Mentoring” and are here to support you to develop your own mentoring relationships.

What is a mentor?

According to David Clutterbuck, a global authority on mentoring, “A mentor is an individual who is willing to help someone less experienced gain confidence, clearer purpose, insight and wisdom”. A mentor is typically more experienced than their mentee but does not need to know the details of their role. Instead, a mentor tends to have good organisational knowledge and can pass on experience and open doors to otherwise out-of-reach opportunities.

A mentor provides support with personal and career development, but there is no requirement to assess their mentee's performance.

When might a mentor be useful?

 The most common applications of mentoring are at times when there is a need for the mentee to significantly change how they think and behave and how they identify and solve problems, examples would be:

  • For new starters, to support them in navigating the new environment.
  • Major transitions of role, for example when taking on management responsibility or moving from PhD student to Postdoc.
  • To support diversity management and equal opportunity programmes.

The key function of the mentor is to help people find their way through these changes, sharing when appropriate their own experiences of the same transition.

Overall benefits of mentoring relationships include:

  • increased motivation, productivity and performance,
  • improved interpersonal relationships, communication and networks,
  • more awareness for both mentees and mentors of their own personal impact,
  • clearer idea of career path or goals,
  • better understanding of what is required in their role,
  • greater confidence,
  • easier integration into a new role, institution, culture, or country.

The basis of any mentoring relationship is that:

  • Participation is on a voluntary basis, over an agreed duration, and can end any time. 
  • The agenda for the relationship is typically led by the mentee.
  • Mentoring conversations are confidential and private.
  • The mentor is outside the mentee's direct line management chain, with greater experience in one or more areas.
  • The conversations are not about performance.

Mentee Testimonial

"Having a mentor has helped me immensely to really challenge the way I think and breakthrough certain limiting beliefs I had around my potential and what I could be capable of. I’ve had a few setbacks over the last two years (I’ve been for a few unsuccessful interviews for example) and the work I’ve done with my mentor around these times has helped me to get useful feedback and act on it rather than lose confidence and dwell on things. I take a lot of confidence and reassurance from knowing that I can meet with my mentor and seek his advice when I need it. Having someone outside of your line management and section without a vested interest in your development can be greatly beneficial." Joe McAllister, Student Administration Manager

Mentee Testimonial

" ...the personal coaching was certainly instrumental (in me being promoted to Professor). Not just in terms of helping [me] to set ambitious/stretch goals, but also providing the perspective needed to have the confidence to apply. Sometimes you just need a nudge in the right direction" Professor Valeska Ting, Professor of Smart Nanomaterials