The four roles mentors need to play

Career advisor, critic, confidant?

by Christine Macdonald
Last Updated: 20 Sep 2017

Everyone seems to have or want a mentor these days. For entrepreneurs, they can offer guidance and be somebody to talk to if things get difficult. And for businesses that have formal mentor schemes they can help to develop the next generation of leaders.

Unfortunately, not all schemes are successful and there are many reasons why mentoring can fail. A bad match between mentor and mentee, a lack of motivation and poor objective-setting are just a few roadblocks to avoid when working with a mentor.

The role of a mentor can be extremely diverse. However, there are four key roles, which require slightly different qualities and approaches:

Career Advisor

A mentor is usually somebody older, who has more experience in business. A mentor is often — but not always — in the same industry as the mentee. In a business mentoring programme, they are never a line manager or too close to the mentee.

This is because a key role of a mentor is to discuss career development. A wise mentor who has been successful in their career can offer guidance about what steps the mentee should take to progress. Using their experience, they can offer consultation on career choices and decisions.

Critical Friend

Feedback is an integral part of a mentoring relationship. However, this part of mentoring has to be done with care. If feedback is given in the wrong way, it can dramatically knock the confidence of a mentee.

Constructive feedback is always necessary and will encourage a mentee to improve their skills. Understanding the best ways to give feedback is essential and should be thought about before arranging any meeting with a mentee. The term ‘critical friend’ means that a mentee should see you as a friend and someone to lean on, but you still need to be critical of their actions, as feedback is essential to progress.


At one point in everyone's career, they will likely have to deal with a sensitive or stressful issue. Discussing this issue with a mentor is an opportune chance to have an outside perspective (this is a classic reason why a mentor is not a line manager). However, in order for the mentee to talk, they should know that they are talking in confidence to the mentor.

Wherever the mentor and mentee choose to meet should be a safe environment. Creating this trustworthy space means conversations will be more relaxed. Trust is crucial for a sustainable and positive mentoring relationship.

Role Model

The best mentors will act as a role model for their mentee. Ideally, the mentee will look up to the mentor and appreciate their success and achievements. It’s not uncommon for a mentee to meet a mentor and not know them. However, this doesn’t mean they still can’t develop into a role model.

Combine these attributes, along with the right motivation, and you’ve got an excellent mentor. The role of a mentor will constantly vary, but these essential components are the stepping stones to the start of a successful mentoring relationship.

Christine Macdonald is the director of The Hub Events. They create effective and practical leadership and management training courses.


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