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Mentors produce mentees, or protégés, who ultimately become mentors and perpetuate a cycle that has long-term and lasting effects on generations to come. Flaws and imperfections as well as strengths in the mentor are often passed along to future generations by the products of mentoring, protégés. As such, and as with many other skills-based human behaviors, it is important to understand the history and process of mentoring to make it more efficient and produce better and more consistent human outcomes.
The term mentor describes a person who consciously and with purpose fosters a relationship between the target of such efforts, the protégé, and the mentor. Mentors typically are older or more seasoned and having a level of experience that allows them to provide guidance, support, and a frame of comparison for protégés to guide their behaviors, choices, thoughts, attitudes, and emotions.
It was not until the mid-1980s that social and cultural researchers began formally to study mentoring using scientific methodology. Research on mentoring has historically focused on the products of mentoring, or the protégé. The term protégé refers to the individual receiving advice and guidance from the more senior participant.
Characteristics such as openness in the protégé are associated with better outcomes. Much of the research on mentoring suggests that it has a positive impact on career development, including salary level, promotion rate, and job satisfaction. Although the consequences of mentoring in formal and informal settings are beginning to be understood, much remains to be learned about the process of mentoring.
It is known, for example, that in the mentor-protégé relationship the mentor has two primary functions: (1) goal attainment (academic, career, relationships, and so forth) and (2) psychosocial support. In the goal-attainment function, the mentor provides advice and models of success and management to help the protégé facilitate achievement of professional and personal goals. This function is designed to produce achievements and help the protégé focus his or her professional aspirations and attain targeted outcomes. Notably in this area we know the most about the outcomes and process of mentoring.
Less well understood is the psychosocial and supportrelated function. This function is more personally oriented and is based on such complex factors as friendship, power, mutual respect, authority, and admiration. Mentors often provide informal counseling and manage a wide range of emotional and cognitive sequelae (frustration, doubt, and the like) in the protégé associated with both success and failure.
Mentoring is best understood in two forms: informal and formal. Informal mentoring usually develops spontaneously and depends on individuals having some common interests. The protégé may need short-term guidance and support for academic, career, and other decisions, to include personal situations.
Formal mentoring is based on the organizational structure that dictates the relationship. Formal mentoring programs were established to compensate and provide resources to groups that historically have been excluded from informal mentoring relationships because of their gender, ethnicity, social status, or sexual orientation. For example, in corporate situations individuals with powerful positions are often less than willing or excited to mentor those who are perceived to be “different.”
There are six primary characteristics of formal mentoring: (1) formal program objectives, (2) formal selection of participants, (3) matching of mentors and protégés, (4) training, (5) guidelines for meeting frequency, and (6) formal goal setting and goal monitoring. Regardless of the mentoring type, the key component of a successful mentoring relationship is that it must meet the developmental needs, skills, and aspirations of both the mentor and protégé.
It is often the case that mentors may not be able to meet all the developmental needs of the protégé, thus requiring more than one mentor or the establishment of a mentoring network. This network of mentors can provide a variety of skills and knowledge and competently provide for the developmental needs of one or more protégés. In 2006 Tammy D. Allen, Lillian T. Eby, and Elizabeth Lentz developed a theoretical framework that incorporates a multimodal conceptualization of successful mentoring based on two key dimensions.
The first relates to the diversity of the social system. Individual mentors and networks are most effective when their characteristics can be matched to that of the protégé. The more diverse the social system in which mentoring occurs, the better the chance of getting the correct match. The second factor relates to the strength of mentoring relationships. Particularly in a mentoring network, when a protégé is having multiple contacts with a range of mentors, the strength of the relationships can vary greatly. This conceptualization of mentoring has received significant recent attention and may become critical as multidisciplinary mentoring becomes more common in business and academic settings.
Integrating and extending previous knowledge, the American Psychological Association Centering on Mentoring Presidential Task Force (2006) identified five critical stages associated with the mentoring process. The initiation stage is characterized by the initiation and emergence of the mentor–protégé relationship. During this stage protégés identify experienced and successful people to whom they can prove their worth. Ultimately both parties explore and evaluate the appropriateness of the mentor-protégé match. Next is the cultivation stage, where learning and development take place. During this stage the mentor provides advice and guidance to the protégé. Both the personal and professional relationship is developed and intensified during this time, and attainment and psychosocial goals are achieved. This is usually a positive stage for both participants and often results in the maturation of a strong friendship. The separation stage generally refers to the end of the mentoring relationship. This often signals that protégés want to establish their independence. At this stage problems may sometimes arise when only one party wants to terminate the mentoring relationship. A protégé may sometimes feel unprepared to venture out independently, or the mentor may feel betrayed when the protégé no longer seeks guidance and counsel. When both parties successfully matriculate separation, a redefinition stage can occur toward the development of a new and more parsimonious relationship. It is during this stage that protégés have established themselves as worthy colleagues and the focus of the relationship is no longer the protégé’s development.
A few studies have examined factors that influence the nature and magnitude of the mentoring relationship (Ragins and Cotton 1999; Ragins 1997). For example, it is now known that gender may influence the interactions—and consequently mentoring outcomes—of mentors and protégés. Some have suggested that there may be more perceived similarity, greater identification, and intensified effects of role modeling in same-gender mentoring relationships. In partial contrast and certainly less well understood, both male and female protégés with a history of male mentors reported greater compensation in the workplace than those with female mentors (Ragins and Cotton 1999). Even with this finding, many advocate for female-female mentor-protégé relationships and suggest that the modeling of success and coping that they provide exceeds the benefit of increased salary.
Ethnicity is also an important consideration in mentoring outcomes. The benefits of formal mentoring, particularly for women and ethnic minorities, are significant and are often based on the premise of providing an equal opportunity to advance through perceived and real “glass ceilings.” However, some sociocultural variables within the formal mentoring paradigm may ultimately put women and ethnic minorities at a significant disadvantage.
Lastly, a position of power appears to be an important variable for mentoring outcomes. The protégé may be more likely to respect and respond to a person who has perceived power and who gained that power through a process that led from where the protégé is currently positioned to where the mentor is currently positioned.
In conclusion, sufficient evidence supports the notion that mentoring is a powerful tool for the development of the protégé. Successful mentoring can often influence indicators such as compensation, promotion, exposure, and visibility. However, these outcomes are influenced by the strength and effectiveness of the mentoring relationship and psychosocial and sociocultural variables. The relationship is dynamic and changes to provide benefit to the mentor and protégé over time.
- Allen, Tammy , Lillian T. Eby, and Elizabeth Lentz. 2006. Mentorship Behaviors and Mentorship Quality Associated with Formal Mentoring Programs: Closing the Gap between Research and Practice. Journal of Applied Psychology 91: 367–578.
- Allen, Tammy , Lillian T. Eby, Mark L. Poteet, Elizabeth Lentz, et al. 2004. Career Benefits Associated with Mentoring Protégés: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology 89: 127–136.
- American Psychological 2006. Introduction to Mentoring: A Guide for Mentors and Mentees. Centering on Mentoring Presidential Taskforce, Washington, DC. http://mentoring.apa.org/intromentoring.pdf.
- Ragins, Belle R 1997. Diversified Mentoring Relationships in Organizations: A Power Perspective. Academy of Management Review 22 (2): 482–521.
- Ragins, Belle Rose, and L. Cotton. 1999. Mentor Functions and Outcomes: A Comparison of Men and Women inFormal and Informal Mentoring Relationships. Journal of Applied Psychology 84 (4): 529–550.
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