Spirit Mentor

Navigation Tools for the Heart, Mind and Soul®

Paul Horn (1930-2014): Jazz Musician Mentor, Flautist, Composer, Guru of New Age Music

Paul Horn Jazz MentorA Grammy Award winning musician who performed with Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and many others, and who recorded over 50 albums, including the classic that began the New Age music era, Inside the Taj Mahal, British Columbia resident Paul Horn studied transcendental meditation (TM) with the Maharishi in India at the same time as the Beatles, Mike Love of the Beach Boys and Donovan. His reverence for deep philosophical thought was considered a major influence on the Fab Four, and after their meeting in India Paul became one of the very first TM teachers in the United States. He said that TM was instrumental in changing the way he looked at a lot of things in life and that it reorganized his priority system: “You start gravitating toward what you really should be doing in life,” he said.

Despite his philosophical and spiritual interests increasingly pulling him away from the music business, his dedication to integrating those interests with his music led one of the many he mentored to say that Paul once told him “Listen close; listen for the possibilities in silence; and whenever you’re playing, let people hear your soul.”

Eileen Ford (1922-2014): Fashion Industry Mentor

Eileen Ford Fashion MentorSetting the standard for the beauty industry in 1946 when she and her husband started the Ford Modelling Agency, Eileen Ford built an empire and launched the careers of Candice Bergen, Lauren Hutton, Jane Fonda, Suzy Parker, Ali McGraw and countless others.

Ms. Ford believed that a model’s personality was as important as her looks, and she established herself as a mentor with virtually all the women who worked at her agency. The youngest often lived at her apartment, and she insisted that they focus on studies and education. On one occasion she prohibited the young Kim Basinger from going out before finishing her French homework. Supermodel Christy Brinkley said of Ms. Ford, “She saw something in me and with her brilliant business acumen, her knowledge, experience and personal touch, she took me from Malibu surfer girl and guided my career.”

Ms. Ford, who herself obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Barnard College, was adamant that all her models learn how to take care of themselves, and almost all of them became successful business women in their own right.

Stepanie Kwolek (1923-2014): A Science Mentor and Inventor of Kevlar

Science MentorWhile working as a chemist at Dupont to find a substance to strengthen radial tires, Ms. Kwolek discovered Kevlar, a substance that is 50 times stronger than steel and best known for its use in body armor, bulletproof vests, other protective equipment, as well as in a variety of sports equipment.

Right from her initial discovery of this polymer she credited all the members of her research team with aiding in the discovery. As a result of Kevlar’s ability to save lives, a Kevlar Survivors’ Club was formed which was a partnership between DuPont and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The former manager of the club, a retired police chief said at least 3,200 lives were saved by Kevlar, and one of them was his son, who served in Iraq. “When you think about what she has done, it’s incredible. There’s literally thousands and thousands of people alive because of her. She could look back on her life and say, ‘Yeah, I made a difference.’”

Ms.Kwolek’s mentoring of younger scientists, especially women and young children, resulted in a variety of awards including the 1999 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award.


4_pillarsOver the years we’ve received hundreds of enquiries about the differences between mentoring and coaching (as well as therapy, consultation and supervision). Having engaged in all five roles (actually six, if I include the role of client, partner, consultee or supervisee), I can attest to the value of clarification. Role clarity decreases boundary problems, sharpens focus, and pinpoints expectations. Such clarity also leads to a deeper sense of purpose and commitment. But highlighting differences can lead to missing the similarities. All five areas, for example, represent ways to help people learn, change, and manage adversity. All five require a relationship of trust, understanding, and authenticity. And all five base their success on the ability to listen.

In 1999 I prepared a chart that lists differences between coaching, mentoring, and therapy based on ten criteria, and I held the naive view that this would be the definitive list. Other experts believe the differences are simpler as in the distinction that Margo Murray, a leading expert in mentoring, stated by saying that “mentoring is a process and coaching is a verb.” Some contributors to the Peer Resources’ Twitter feed support this view: “Coaching is a skill good mentors use and mentoring is a process,” according to one contributor.

Probably the most popular distinction made by our Twitter contributors is the voluntary nature of mentoring as compared to the paid or fee-based aspect of coaching and therapy. One would- be poet chimed: “When it’s free, I can be me; when I pay, show me the way.”

Other contributors recognized the importance of relationship in both coaching and mentoring, but distinguished the two by saying that mentoring was more personal and coaching was more impersonal. While most agreed that a mentor is seldom responsible for the resulting actions of the partner, there was less agreement about the degree to which the coach is responsible for the client’s success. The mentor may point a person in a certain direction and provide support, but takes no responsibility for the outcome.

Coaching is seen as a more professional relationship where the coach may believe he or she has some responsibility to help the client make the necessary changes. For example, one contributor wrote: “A coach helps somebody do what they already know is the right thing to do. A mentor helps a person to determine the right thing to do.” Another web visitor said: “Mentoring gives a personal touch. It’s like the advice of a best friend, but coaching is just for the sake of the job.” And finally, a web visitor quipped: “A coach can keep you from getting into trouble, whereas a mentor may lead you to the trouble.”

Not everyone is worried about these distinctions, and many practitioners are content to leave such details to academics. A website contributor summarized this viewpoint by saying, “In the future, making distinctions between terms such as these two (coaching and mentoring) will prove futile and unproductive. Fewer people will be interested in definitions and roles and more people will be interested in results and practicalities.”

A recent enquiry about the differences between mentoring and coaching, as well as a question presented to a LinkedIn discussion group on this same topic, led us to conduct a search on Google. To our surprise and amazement the search produced more than three million hits. But really, three million different takes? (If anyone wants to take on a study summarizing a random selection of these viewpoints, we’d be glad to publish your results.)

Without repeating in entirety what we have been emphasizing over the years about the differences, the gist of our response is that there are far more similarities between the two ways of helping others than there are differences. We’ve also said that the search for the definitive answer to the question is unproductive and may even lead to considerable misinformation based on stereotypes and lack of experience.

Blurring the Boundaries of Mentoring

Recently the imaginary line that separates mentoring and coaching has become less precise as coaches, for example, more frequently offer what they call “mentor coach” services, and business entrepreneurs in a variety of niche areas offer mentoring for a fee, thus eliminating what used to be one of main distinctions between the two areas: one is paid (coach) and the other is a volunteer (mentor). The International Coach Federation (ICF) recently provided an “approved definition of ICF mentor coaching” stating that mentor coaching is “coaching on coaching-competency development of the applicant-coach as opposed to coaching for personal development or coaching for business development, although those aspects may happen very incidentally in the coaching for competency development” (Marum, 2011). In most coaching communities and organizations in Europe this role would be considered supervision, not mentoring. Not coincidentally the way a person qualifies to be an ICF-approved mentor coach typically involves paying a fee for such a service.

In addition, I recently attended a mentoring conference where a well-known expert gave a keynote that was advertised as being about mentoring, during which one of the international mentoring experts at my table turned to me and said, “Isn’t the speaker referring to coaching and not mentoring?”

An increasing number of individuals are calling themselves mentors and offering their services to “mentor” others for a fee. This could be a reasonable commercial or entrepreneurial venture but it could also be an exploitation of individuals who are desperate to find a mentor because of the highly publicized outcomes associated with having a mentor. The irony here is that traditionally only the person who experiences someone else as a mentor can assign that term to the other person. Typically in informal mentoring a considerable period of time can transpire before the person receiving mentoring may realize that the person who had an influence on them could actually be called a mentor.

Some of the published documents purporting to distinguish between mentoring, coaching and therapy often use models of each that seem outdated, stereotyped, uninformed or exaggerated just to strengthen their own perspective. To make matters more confusing a few well-known coaching sources have chimed in on the answer to this question, and, surprisingly, have in many cases actually reversed the characteristics associated with each.

Mentor and Miracle Are Not the Same

The coaching industry is not the only area forging new ground or transcending the boundaries associated with traditional mentoring. Michael Garringer (2011), advisor to the National Mentoring Center (NMC), noted that the effectiveness of formal mentoring with some youth populations has led to the application of mentoring with “higher-risk youth” such as children of incarcerated parents, gang-involved youth, homeless youth, youth who have suffered abuse and trauma, teenagers in juvenile detention, children and adolescents with disabilities, and most recently, youth who have been victims of sex trafficking. In some cases the expectation is that mentors would be able to bring about behavioural changes usually associated with the intervention of therapists, supervisors, probation officers, case workers, teachers, and child care workers.

Similar high expectations have been expressed by adult visitors to our website who complete our Find a Mentor form. Many of the requests for mentors are accompanied by goals that typically include a desire for immediate results. In many cases we refer the Find a Mentor applicants to coaching services such as The Coach Connection or individual coaches who are members of the Peer Resources Network in order to help them sort out their goals, increase their own creativity in their search for results, make the changes they want to make, and achieve the results they desire.

The Four Pillars of Informal Mentoring

Many of the confusions associated with the distinctions between mentoring and coaching have arisen because more and more mentor leaders adopt and transfer the principals associated with informal mentoring. Informal mentoring has had such a powerful and memorable way of being with another person that it seems like a “slam dunk” to apply these principles to formal mentoring schemes. This transfer from informal to formal has been made to appear easier as experts have attempted to distill the elements associated with successful informal mentoring and adapted, adjusted or just plain “plunked them down” on formal mentoring program requirements.

In many cases this transfer has been highly successful, yet there are certain elements that contribute to the effectiveness of informal mentoring that are yet to be fully captured by formal mentoring schemes. They can occur, and leaders of formal mentoring programs may do their best to facilitate them, but they are often more subject to factors beyond the control of the program design.

The details of the Four Pillars that follow and examples (available as a PDF download) from my own experience about particular outcomes that I believe are primarily associated with mentoring, are not exclusive to mentoring; and I’m sure that many, if not all, my coaching colleagues would hope that their work as coaches would result in similar outcomes.

As an introduction to the real life examples (available to Mentor News subscribers), I thought I’d identify the four elements that I believe distinguish mentoring from coaching. These four characteristics are derived primarily from my personal and professional experience as a mentor and as a recipient of mentoring, and they reflect an evolution of my learning since I proposed the original list of 10 distinctions back in 1999.

Mentoring is About Lessons for Life

Simply put, I believe that mentoring has to do with learning something that you might not have learned on your own or possibly might have taken you much longer to learn on your own. While some mentoring connections are initiated today to achieve short-term performance or behaviour changes (or there is an expectation that such changes will be the primary outcome), the historical and predominant element associated with mentoring is the influence it has on spiritual growth and development. I’m not referring to religion here, but instead to higher consciousness, character values, and a way of being in the world.

I’m also not referring to specific life skills or tasks to accomplish as soon as possible, but instead I’m referring to spiritual input that enables a person to discover, practice, and master his or her own way of integrating the mentor’s lesson into action (Zukav, 2010). And there may be times when such action might take place years after the contact with the mentor has been completed or ended. It’s almost as if the life lesson lay dormant in consciousness until a particular circumstance or opportunity appears.

This delayed response is why so many people can vividly recall certain individuals from their past and recite almost word for word a particularly influential dialogue. A common thread associated with this delayed response is that most people did not recognize or call the person a ‘mentor’ at the time of the actual interaction. Yet, years may have gone by before they realize they were, at the time, in the presence of a mentor that had an influence on their spiritual being.

Mentoring is About Relationships

The essence of any mentoring relationship is the relationship itself. It is the relationship that determines whether anything of value is transferred between the mentor and the partner. Whether the mentor acts as a teacher, guide, catalyst, role model or any of the other dozen roles that have been enumerated, the key factor as to whether there is a transmission of knowledge or wisdom depends on the quality of the relationship.

And while the quality of the relationship may need time to develop, there are innumerable examples where such a relationship develops instantly. In addition, there are many times when the mentoring relationship can occur without ever having physically met or had a conversation with the other person. This is why so many people can have a mentoring impact, that is, provide lessons for others that last a lifetime, without actually knowing each other.

Certainly, factors such as trust, rapport, and caring (and a sense of humour) are important in any helping relationship, particularly to ensure effectiveness in today’s formal mentoring programs, but such factors are not relevant in many informal mentoring relationships because the quality of the mentoring connection is based on a spiritual relationship. I’m not referring to a cognitive or intellectual connection, but instead to something beyond cognition, often something that is beyond memory, and resides more in a higher level of consciousness—a spiritual memory.

Mentoring is About Paying It Forward

Almost every person who has been involved in an effective mentoring relationship perceives mentoring as a gift, and they often demonstrate their appreciation and gratitude by passing on some aspect of their mentoring experience to others. Whether it is the life lesson, a particular piece of wisdom, a way of being, or the desire to act as a mentor to others, the gift is more often than not passed on to others.

This experience of paying it forward, and particularly the willingness to act as a mentor to others, is one of the most powerful reasons that mentoring has continued to grow exponentially throughout society. William Gray, founder and president of Corporate Mentoring Solutions, a British Columbia-based mentoring consulting firm, was among the first to recognize that the “The proteges of today are the mentors of tomorrow.”

While the following anecdote about the gift of mentoring and paying it forward may be unusual, it demonstrates the unexpected outcomes and influence of mentoring.

A high school math teacher in Seattle, Washington was gathering his materials at the end of the school day as he prepared to leave for home. Appearing at his classroom door was a former student who had since become one of the most highly successful dot-com entrepreneurs in the computer software industry. They both recognized each other immediately, and embraced while expressing great appreciation for seeing each other again.

The dot-com entrepreneur stated that he recalled during his days in that high school math class that his mentor had talked about how much he wanted to have a real sports car, but couldn’t really afford one on his teacher’s salary.

The former student handed his mentor a set of keys and said, “Look out the window.”

There, sitting in the parking lot, was a brand new Porche sports car with a ribbon on top. “Your encouragement and unwillingness to give up on me had such a powerful impact on my life that I wanted to find a way to make your dreams come true as well. I hope you like it,” said the entrepreneur to his mentor.

The mentor was stunned. The generosity and thoughtfulness of the gift was extraordinary, but he also was stunned to learn that the impact of his mentoring, which seemed so much a part of his way of being, had played such a significant role in the life of his former student.

Then, he remembered that back in the days when the entrepreneur was a student in his class the math teacher had also talked about how he and his wife wanted to have a baby. He looked at his former student and said, “Should I be calling my wife and finding out what you’ve left at my house?”

The pay it forward pillar is also one of the primary reasons that more formal mentoring programs have been initiated in so many communities around the world. Initially fueled by successful adults recalling an individual from the past that had a significant positive impact on their life direction and choices, these formal programs have been initiated to re-create or provide similar experiences for children, teens and young adults. Whether these formal programs will act as a catalyst for participants who will be just as eager to pay it forward is not clear at this time.

Mentoring is About Mutuality

Most effective mentoring relationships grow and develop in a way that maximizes the exchange of value between both parties. Typically, the relationship begins with the mentor taking the lead and the partner responding to the mentor’s questions or comments. As the relationship develops it is characterized by a relatively equal exchange of questions and comments; and, as it grows further, an effective mentoring relationship evolves with the partner taking the lead and acting as a mentor to his or her mentor. Eventually, an observer would be unable to determine which person was the partner and which person was the mentor.

This mutual exchange is neither unique to or exclusive to mentoring. Such exchanges are often at the core of other forms of helping such as Re-evaluation Counseling, Peer Mentoring Groups, mutual aid or self-help groups, Mutual Aid Counselling (developed by one of my mentors R. Vance Peavy) and various training activities where practitioners take turns acting in the practitioner and client roles. This pillar of mutuality is also commonly found to exist in many kinds of relationships and has been called The Law of Reciprocity which has been described by many authors including my favourite, Robert Cialdini (1993). It is also known as the Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

Emphasizing the Four Pillars as a way to highlight the features of mentoring is not meant to imply that mentoring and coaching can be easily distinguished. In reality mentoring, whether formal or informal, often involves considerable coaching. However, whether coaching involves mentoring requires that the person receiving the coaching perceives the coach as a mentor. Such a perception may only occur some time later in the course of the relationship. The value of the Four Pillars is primarily for persons who are seeking mentors or seeking to be mentors. Understanding how mentoring stands out from other ways of assisting people will help to clarify expectations, deepen skills, and enhance growth and development.


Carr, R.A. (1991). Dancing with roles: Differences between a coach, a mentor and a therapist. Compass: A Magazine for Peer Assistance Mentorship and Coaching, 15, 1, 5-7. (Available as PDF download for Peer Resources Network members at: http://www.peer.ca/Projects/compassprn1.html)

Carr, R.A. (2004). Pinpointing the differences between mentoring and coaching. Peer Bulletin 123 (Retrieved February 22, 2012 from the Peer Resources’ members only area.)

Carr, R.A. (2004). Mentor as coach. (Retrieved February 22, 2012 from the Peer Resources’ members only area.)

Cialdini, R. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: Harper Business.

Garringer, M. (2011). “It may be the missing piece” – Exploring the mentoring of youth in systems of care. Reflections from the 2011 Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring. Portland, Oregon: Portland State University. (Retrieved February 18, 2012 from http://pdx.edu/youth- mentoring/publications)

Gray, W.A. (2011). Mentoring relationships that work. (E-book published by and available through Smashwords)

Kaplan, J. (2007). Coaching versus therapy. Available directly from the author, who is a member of the Peer Resources Network by sending an email to Jeff Kaplan.

Marum, P. (April 2011). Board approves improved definition of ICF Mentor Coaching. Coaching World. (Retrieved February 22, 2012 from the ICF website here.)

Murray, M. (2001). Beyond the myths and magic of mentoring: How to facilitate an effective mentoring process. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pelan, V. (February 17, 2012). The difference between mentoring and coaching. Talent Management.

Spinelli, E. (December 2007). Coaching and therapy: Similarities and divergences. Paper presented at the 3rd Annual BPS SGCP National Counselling Psychology Conference, December 18, 2007. (Retrieved February 22, 2012 from the Peer Resources’ members only area.)

Zukav, G. (2010). Spiritual partnership: The journey to authentic power. New York: HarperOne.

Knowlton Nash: Canadian Broadcast Mentor (1927-2014)

Knowlton_Nash broadcaster mentorChanging his mind about wanting to be a jockey led to the start of a 37-year career in broadcasting and becoming a role model for virtually all TV-news broadcasters. His successor at the CBC Peter Mansbridge said, “As a mentor to me, whatever kind of work crisis I might be going through or career crisis, I’d talk to Knowlton, and he’d give me fantastic advice.”

Another broadcaster described Mr. Nash’s influence this way. “I interviewed Mr. Nash about his book, Kennedy and Diefenbaker: Fear and Loathing Across the Undefended Border. He explained how he had covered both the Kennedy and Diefenbaker political administrations. I asked him what these men were like when they weren’t commenting on public policy. He said Diefenbaker was a man who looked at you for what you were and Kennedy was a man who looked at you for what you could become. His comment gave me a lifelong perspective on those who had given me guidance and believed I could do something with my talents. He basically helped me to identify my mentors. I never had the opportunity to thank Mr. Nash in person for his guiding words. All I could do was pay it forward with that same attitude.

Jazz Mentor: Dave Brubeck (1920-2012)

Selecting a Great Jazz MentorA Kennedy Center Honoree, legendary jazz musician Dave Brubeck died one day short of his 92nd birthday. He originally went to college to study veterinary medicine, but switched to major in music even though while he played jazz as good as the best, he couldn’t read a single note.

Like many other jazz musicians of his era he served in the military during WWII under the command of General George Patton. The Red Cross asked the General if he could provide volunteer musicians for their shows, and he asked Private Brubeck to volunteer, enabling him to miss the Battle of the Bulge.

From the 1950s on, Dave Brubeck toured on behalf of the US State Department acting as a jazz mentor in unlikely places such as Turkey, Iraq, and Pakistan. He became an exceptional mentor for Western life resulting in the New Yorker magazine stating that, “Whenever (Secretary of State) John Foster Dulles visits a country, the State Department sends the Brubeck Quartet in a few weeks later to repair the damage.”

His own mentor, Duke Ellington, often stated how he never stopped learning from his mentee.

I was fortunate to listen to Dave Brubeck at one of his many gigs at the Blackhawk in San Francisco. He typically played there with his trio of bandmates: Joe Morello on drums, Paul Desmond on sax, and Eugene Wright on bass. While this club was home to other jazz greats, including Cal Tjader, another jazz mentor, and comics like Mort Sahl, the club itself was in a seedy part of the city known as the Tenderloin. This was the place where prostitution, drugs, and porn were prevalent in the city. It was always a scary routine to get there, and waiting for the Muni bus to go home after one of Dave’s shows was even more scary.

Despite the atmosphere outside the club (which I have heard is no longer there), Dave’s personal, easy-going manner and his friendly banter with the audience, transported everyone in the club to a much higher plane. If the club existed today, I’m sure they’d have small dispensers of hand sanitizer on every table along with the great martinis they served.

Best Practices: Barrier or Boost for Mentoring

CoachingleadersjpgA frequent request to Peer Resources from community leaders, business personnel, researchers and others interested in starting a mentoring program is for a list of “best practices” in the field.

This is a sensible request. After all, as long ago as 1999 the leading mentoring experts in the USA such as Peer Resources Network member Larry Ambrose, Margo Murray, Rita Boags, Betty Farmer, David James, Kathleen Wright, Linda Stromei, and dozens of others equally engaged in mentoring were all featured presenters at the Best Practices in Mentoring Conference at The Bolger Center in Potomac, Maryland. For several years coaching associations and organizations have been struggling to create a set of standards that reflect ‘best practices;’ and The Library of Professional Coaching includes a whole section on “Best Practices.

Multiple organizations in Canada, the U.K., and the U.S.A., including the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), the Evidence Exchange Network for Mental Health and Addictions (EENet), Peers for Progress (PFP), U.S. Government’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Practices (SAMHSA), the National Association of Peer Program Professionals (NAPPP), Peer Resources, Peer 2 Peer (P2P), and the April 12, 2014 conference in California titled Towards Best Practices in Mental Health Peer Programming (website), are just a few of the groups striving to provide a set of best practices.

Enquiries that we receive, participants attending best practices conferences, and visitors to the hundreds of websites focusing on best practices, expect to learn about those foundation practices that identify successful mentoring that will enable them to make a difference in the lives of those touched by such practices, and to learn about how to apply those practices in their own organizations. This is the common goal of almost every quest for ‘best practices.’

What if compiling a set of mentoring best practices, for example, actually leads you down the wrong path? CEO coach Mike Myatt describes best practices as ‘evangelical’ statements that “rarely warrant being deemed as universal truths. It is nothing short of over exuberant thinking to assume that any single solution can be applied anywhere and everywhere…Just because company A had success with a certain initiative doesn’t mean that company B can seamlessly plug-and-play the same process and expect the same outcome.”

Eugene Bardich (2011) believes that the work involved to actually engage consistently in a best practice is rarely accomplished. Most of the time, one will find ‘good’ practices or ‘smart’ practices that offer insight into solutions that may or may not work for a given situation.

Internationally recognized management consultant and author Ron Ashkenas (2010) in his HBR Blog article acknowledged that many organizations are exceptionally good at “stealing shamelessly” from other companies. But while some companies thrive with their borrowed ideas others soon abandon the idea. He noted that such best practice borrowing often fails because of two reasons: failure to adapt or tailor to the new environment; and failure to adopt which is what happens when leadership fails to fully support the “borrowed” process.

Former International Mentoring Association (IMA) president and former Peer Resources Network member, the late Dr. Joe Pascarelli, had a slightly different perspective on best practices. In his email that appeared on the IMA group discussion site Dr. Pascarelli, who believes that best practices is a synonym for ‘evidence-based practice”, said:

“Best practice came out of a national context that identified those practices that were soundly based in research (and development) and were acknowledged as such. Originally there were specific criteria and standards that certain programs met and, as a result, these practices were disseminated (via federal funding) so others could learn about and consider ‘adopting.’ Herein, lies the catch. We know from decades of research that no program can be ‘adopted’ and installed in a ‘foreign context’ without being ‘adapted.’ I am not hairsplitting but pointing to the difference. In these days, we are using ‘Best Practice’ very loosely and, in some cases, based on self-nomination. So, if there is a publication based on Best Practices in Mentoring (and there is not), it would still be limited in terms of the contextual dimension that needs to be addressed.”

The late Barry Sweeny, a long-time mentoring expert and the former editor of the newsletter of the International Mentoring Association as well as their web master, agreed with his colleague, Dr. Pascarelli. According to Dr. Sweeny, “The basic question in examining and considering ‘best practices’ is best for what? What is best for one program may not be best for others.”

Dr. Sweeny suggested that a way to manage best practice enquiry is to first examine the goal of the mentoring program. He believes that the goal determines what might be best for that program. “Anyone who asserts a set of best practices must be asked,” Dr. Sweeny told me, “best for what goals, before we would consider adopting an approach, model, or solutions. That makes the process of program development more complex. There are many choices, forks in the ‘development road,’ and dead ends.”

One way to manage this complexity according to Dr. Sweeny is “to work with a program development mentor—someone who is experienced in the process and settings where many diverse goals have been addressed by different approaches and models.” He recognized that this could be “a more financially costly way to go, but then heading off on your own without such experienced guidance can cost considerable time, waste energy, and even result in the loss of good will from managers and participants if there are issues and problems along with way.” (Some of the world’s best mentor program development specialists are listed on the International Mentoring Association website.)

I agree with Dr. Sweeny and Dr. Pascarelli, both of whom I have known for years through our membership in the International Mentoring Association. Given the experience I’ve had with Peer Resources fielding questions about how to establish a mentoring program, I can add three additional perspectives.

Recognize that the Pursuit of a Quick-Fix is Innate
I’ve often found that the search for best practices is often a way of avoiding coming to grips with what is really necessary to develop an effective mentoring initiative in the enquiring organization or service. When I’ve practiced Barry Sweeny’s advice regarding asking about goals, I’ve been amazed at how few best practice searchers can actually articulate any goals. They often haven’t thought about this very deeply. There’s a common sense understanding that finding a set of best practices will enable all other elements required for effective mentoring to fall in place. At the same time, searching for best practices seems easier than dealing with some of the harder questions that require insight, reflection, internal research. Discovering a short cut seems deeply rooted in our brain functioning.

Develop a Set of Best Questions
Relying on best practices is a way to avoid engaging in thinking deeply about the issues and reflecting on the answers, and their potential uncertainty unavoidably involves some discomfort and pain. It’s natural to avoid going through this process, which is often negatively characterized as ‘reinventing the wheel.’ As an alternative, instead of working on establishing a set of best practices derived from the ideas of others, practitioners need to propose a set of best questions to ask themselves and their team members. Here are some examples of ‘best’ questions as applied to mentoring, for example:

  • What do you hope to achieve with a mentoring program?
  • What results do you expect?
  • Why are these things important?
  • What needs do the people in your organization have that can be better met through mentoring?

Assign a Risk-Level to Program Options
While a best practices guide can inspire you to think of, reflect on, or be inspired by what others have done, it can also be a barrier to creating your own path that is more likely to fit your organizational culture, values and mission. Just because others have developed a particular practice that works for them, doesn’t mean their success will transfer to your organization.

But it also means that they could work and benefit your mentoring initiative. When using best practices, take a “risk-based” approach. That is, with every ‘best practice’ reflect on the pluses and minuses of implementing that best practice in your organization. Ask yourself “How will this help or hinder the results we want? What might be an unintended or unexpected positive or negative outcome if we implement this best practice?”

The complexity of the human endeavour to live healthy and fulfilling lives is too important to leave to a set of best practices in any health and human services field whether it be mentoring, medicine, peer assistance, coaching, or other health practice. Best practices tell us about what worked in the past. If we want to live in the past, imitate them. If we want to build for the future, create practices that come from our hearts.


Ambler, S. (2011). Questioning “best practices” for software development: Practices are contextual, never best. (Retrieved from here.)

Ashkenas, R. (November 10, 2010). Why best practices are hard to practice. HBR Blog Network. (Retrieved from here.)

Bardach, E. (2011). A practical guide for policy analysis: The eightfold path to more effective problem solving, 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. This book can be purchased through Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, or Amazon.co.uk.

Body, A. (2006). Principles of best practice: Construction procurement in New Zealand. New Zealand: Construction Industry Council. (Retrieved March 17, 2014 from here.)

Daniels, A.S., Cate, R., Bergeson, S., Forquer, S., Niewenhous, G., & Epps, B. (2013). Best practices: Level-of-care criteria for peer support services: A best-practice guide. Psychiatric Services, 10, 1176. (Retrieved March 17, 2014 from here.)

Greene, J.P. (2012). Best practices are the worst: Picking the anecdotes you want to believe. Educationnext. (Retrieved March 17, 2014 from here.)

Marston, G., & Watts, R. (2003). Tampering with the evidence: A critical appraisal of evidence-based policy-making. The Drawing Board: An Australian Review of Public Affairs, 3, 3, 143-163, (Retrieved March 18, 2014 from here.)

Sunderland, K., & Mishkin, W., (2013). Guidelines for the practice and training of peer support. Calgary, AB: Peer Leadership Group, Mental Health Commission of Canada. (Retrieved March 17, 2014 from here.

Williams, D.D.R., & Garner, J. (2002). The case against ‘the evidence’: A different perspective on evidence-based medicine. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 180, 8-12.



Best practices’ lacks scientific credibility, but it has been a proven path to fame and fortune for pop-management gurus like Tom Peters, with In Search of Excellence, and Jim Collins, with Good to Great. The fact that many of the ‘best’ companies they featured subsequently went belly-up—like Atari and Wang Computers, lauded by Peters, and Circuit City and Fannie Mae, by Collins—has done nothing to impede their high-fee lecture tours. Sometimes people just want to hear a confident person with shiny teeth tell them appealing stories about the secrets to success.

~ Jay P. Greene
Professor of Education Reform
University of Arkansas


Best practice is defined as the policy, systems, processes and procedures that, at any given point in time, are generally regarded by peers as the practice that delivers the optimal outcome, such that they are worth of adoption.

~ Andrew Body
Managing Director
MOUCHEL Middle East


Evolutionary Peer Mentoring: A Mindfulness Growth Group For Seniors

BreakfastEvery Monday morning for the past five years a group of us meet for breakfast and discuss a variety of topics. What started as a one-time breakfast meeting with former workplace colleagues to catch up on retirement progress, has evolved into a continuing peer mentoring activity that relies on an unusual structure to manage engagement.

In her article, Group Mentoring: Strategies for Success (Peer Bulletin 205), Lois Zachary identified peer group mentoring as one of the three most commonly employed models for achieving learning goals. Our group meets all of the criteria that she identified as associated with peer mentoring, including (1) having similar interests or needs; (2) setting our own agenda; (3) engaging in self-management and self-direction; (4) managing the focus of the discussion to make sure all members’ needs are met; and (5) ensuring that each group member benefits from the knowledge, expertise, and experience of the other group members.

What’s surprising or unusual, however, about our peer mentoring group is that we have yet to discuss, consciously review, or deliberately implement any of the I’ve criteria Dr. Zachary identified. In other words, we didn’t review options and select one that we preferred. Instead, our structure and process has evolved over time. They may continue to change, but both seem to have been achieved by what can best be called a ‘happy accident.’

Using the happy accident approach for developing a peer group meeting structure may not be suitable for everyone. It can severely test the patience of those who prefer a certain degree of structure, a set agenda, or an urge to ‘get things done.’

As an experienced group leader in other contexts, I’m (happily) surprised that this peer mentoring group has been so successful, despite violating some of the standard principles associated with effective group management. For example, a lower level of structure in most groups typically leads to low levels of participation, or inconsistent engagement by various members of the group. In our group, participation is equally distributed. Each member introduces topics; some members bring materials or resources to the group to share with the others; and everyone in the group contributes to every discussion (whether they know anything about it or not).

Low structure can also make it easier for some group members to dominate discussion or process in a way the meets their needs only. While the specific interests of a particular group member may serve as a topic discussion starter, the person who initiated the topic typically asks each of the other group members for their reactions or ideas about that topic. Group members also respond with their own viewpoint, whether they are specifically asked or not. Responsibility for leadership is distributed evenly between all group members.

Another problem that can lead to difficulties in groups is the degree to which the group has established a verbalized consensus on the group’s purpose. Many groups have no way of determining the degree to which they are achieving their purpose or desired results without an overall objective. This lack of clarity typically leads to low engagement, inconsistent attendance, or dropping out completely.

Although we’ve never spoken directly about our purpose, the fact that we have been meeting consistently for five years (with time out during certain months for holidays), indicates that the model we have developed is satisfying, effective, and successful.

The Mindfulness Process

Our current way of interacting with each other has been repeated enough times that it is possible to describe some of the elements that have contributed to the success of our peer mentoring group. If I had to come up with one term or phrase that would characterize our meetings, I would use the term ‘mindfulness.’ Our interactions seem to (1) show conscious awareness or willingness to explore our current thoughts, feelings, and opinions; (2) seek alternative views or be open and curious about the views of others; and (3) resist any tendency toward judgment and instead focus on acceptance; and (4) be willing to include a sense of presence and authenticity.

Jon Kabat-Zinn has written extensively about mindfulness and the impact it has on stress reduction, and Peer Resources Network member Doug Silsbee has centered mindfulness as a key to successful coaching interactions. While we did not purposely establish a mindfulness perspective or process in our group, it has evolved in a way to be our most consistent way of interacting with each other.

While variations occur in any meeting, here are the most consistent mindfulness elements of our peer group dialogue.

Bring it Up

Many of our discussions have to do with the circumstances associated with aging, health, exercise, mood, and medical or alternative treatments. These topics probably have more to do with the fact that all the group members are over 65. But many discussions are initiated around ideas that come from books we’re reading, current events, things we’ve discovered online, or past experiences.

Regardless of the topic, the initiator typically takes some time to share, explain or expand on the topic, and, if appropriate, bring up any inner dialogue and feelings about it. Sometimes this can lead to catastrophizing, making it seem like disaster is imminent or immense. Typically when this happens it is also followed by what might be considered a creative awareness, where the current topic seems related to some past experience, fear or action.

Whatever path the initiator takes with the topic, there is a pause where that person asks the other group members for their reaction, assessment, or comment.

Catch and Release

At this point various group members express their understanding of or experience with the topic. This may include seeking clarication, sharing a similar experience, or drawing upon their own wisdom or learning.

The intention is to acknowledge the content, feelings and perspective of the initiator, while at the same time releasing the initiator from having to hold on to negative or stressful feelings, particularly those that facilitate catastrophizing or feeling alone.

Not all topics feature emotional content. Some are more idea- or intellectually- centered. These are often discussed with the intention of focusing on meaning- making questions or comments such as ‘What do you make of that?’ or ‘This is what I gained from it when it happened to me.’

Sometimes group members share what action they have taken when faced with a similar circumstance. However, we are not what I would consider a ‘result/action’ oriented group. That is, there doesn’t appear to be a drive on any group member’s part to figure out what to do about something. This doesn’t prevent members from asking for advice or ideas, and this often becomes a way to draw upon the wisdom and experience of group members.

Bring it In

More than 50 years ago I had a high school coach who at the end of each practice would say, “Okay fellas, bring it in.” That was the signal that the physical practice was over and we were to gather in a group around the coach. The coach would then provide feedback or comments to the players on what he observed that day, and he would encourage us to express our gratitude to other players for what we were experiencing that day.

This wasn’t always easy as some of the conflicts between us led to some nasty, snarky or sarcastic ways of doing what the coach asked us to do. At the same time, when another player authentically expressed gratitude or appreciation, it had a powerful and lasting impact.

That early experience had such a profound impact on me that I’ve carried the experience through into my personal and professional life. Using it as part of the peer mentoring group seemed like a natural and useful thing to do. Fortunately, it’s contagious. I only tried it a few times before it became a fairly common aspect of the interactions for all of us within our group. We often nish our meetings or topic discussions with a type of ‘bring it in’ activity. It’s not so much a formal procedure as it is a way to help each other replace negative thoughts or feelings with things we appreciate or are grateful for. These more personal comments to each other also allow us to express our compassion and support for each other.

Not all our group meetings follow the pattern of mindfulness, nor does each meeting always include the three elements described above. Sometimes our focus is on recalling a past event or experience, sharing stories about family adventures, agreeing that our former workplace was a better organization when we worked there, or telling jokes or humourous anecdotes. I’m convinced that the flexibility in both agenda-setting and how we manage the discussion as well as the personal meaning, knowledge, and support we gain from and give to each other is the glue that has attracted us to continue to meet with each other on a regular basis.

The size and consistency of our group also matters. For the most part there are four of us, sometimes five; and from time-to-time one of the members brings a guest. While we might be able to accomplish mindfulness with more members, a larger group might lead to inconsistent attendance and less opportunity for follow-up, and less likelihood or willingness to tune-in to our way of being with each other.

Peer mentoring, particularly for small groups of older members of a society, go far back in history. The Knights of the Roundtable, Tribal Councils, Elder Chiefs, and other forms of ancient governing practices were all examples of peer mentoring.

Peer mentoring for seniors can be a powerful way to stimulate brain functioning and learning, meet social connection needs, and enable seniors to continue to grow and develop. Could others use our system? Possibly, but the key would be how to develop a mindfulness approach that would work for that particular group. From our experience, we stumbled into it by happy accident. There are many paths to a mindful or fulfilling way to participate in peer mentoring. We’re grateful we found ours.


Let_Everything_Book-CoverKabat-Zinn, J. (2009). Letting everything become your teacher: 100 lessons in mindfulness. New York: Dell Publishing. (Available from Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, or Amazon.co.uk)

Come to Senses Book Cover

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2006). Coming to our senses: Healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness. New York: Hyperion. (Available from Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, or Amazon.co.uk)

Mindful Coach Book CoverSilsbee, D. (2010). The mindful coach. Seven roles for facilitating leader development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (Available from Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, or Amazon.co.uk)



“Conversation was never begun at once, nor in a hurried manner. No one was quick with a question, no matter how important, and no one was pressed for an answer. A pause giving time for thought was the truly courteous way of beginning and conducting a conversation. Silence was meaningful with the Lakota, and his granting a space of silence to the speech-maker and his own moment of silence before talking was done in the practice of true politeness and regard for the rule that, “thought comes before speech.”
~ Luther Standing Bear (1868-1939)
Ogala Sioux Chief 


Preventing Abuse in a Mentoring Program: What Went Wrong in Pennsylvania

IStopping‘m outraged, saddened, and distressed about the alleged child abuse events that happened in Pennsylvania. I’m not referring to who was fired or for what reasons, or to the grand jury investigation report (available online) that found so many people complicit in the pedophile crimes, or that it took way too long to discover this criminal behaviour.

Although I find these things disturbing and disgusting, I’m also concerned about what role mentoring or “alleged” mentoring played in this series of criminal acts, and what impact this might have on the future of recruiting mentors, as well as encouraging children and youth to have mentors in their lives.

Let’s be clear. What the accused man, who had a lengthy career as an assistant coach at the University of Pennsylvania, allegedly did to his multiple victims can in no way be considered mentoring. But he was the founder of a non-profit, youth-serving foundation that enabled him be a mentor and have unlimited access to children.

Through this youth-serving foundation, the accused child abuser was able to connect with dozens of youth who, along with their parents, expected, but did not receive, mentoring. Instead, they were connected with an unsafe individual whose primary aim was to find vulnerable children and youth to meet his pedophilia needs.

According to a statement from the Board of Directors of this foundation that is on their website, a period of six years elapsed from the time at which the CEO of foundation was informed of this pedophile’s inappropriate behaviour by Penn State authorities, and when the accused was banned from involvement in the foundations programs involving children. Six years!

The foundation’s statement also claims that “all the alleged incidents (of abuse) occurred outside our programs and events.” What isn’t said in their statement is how many children and youth he procured through the foundation to fuel his alleged criminal activities even if they occurred ‘outside’ of their program. (Editor’s note: After this article went to press the statement on the foundation’s website has been revised to indicate that the CEO of the foundation has resigned; the foundation intends to conduct its own internal investigation, and has admitted to complicity in providing children for the suspected pedophile.)

The reason this terrible connection concerns me as a mentor, grandparent and mentoring professional, is that mentoring youth has become and continues to be one of the most powerful ways of assisting young people to be successful in life. Virtually all youth-serving agencies today include a mentoring program that connects safe, caring and responsible adult volunteers with children or youth in a learning-oriented relationship.

As one of the pioneers of creating these relationships, and the co-architect of Canada’s most successful national mentoring program, we know what it takes to ensure that such programs are credible, trustworthy, and effective. If a few simple principles are not included in mentoring program policies and they fail to be closely monitored by program leaders, then it is likely that predators, abusers, and bullies will become involved and take advantage of some of our most vulnerable youth.

Such was the case in Pennsylvania. A youth-serving agency enabled an alleged serial pedophile to engage in authorized mentoring relationships with dozens of children and youth. The consequences of his actions have not only violated and traumatized many young people and their families, but have also led to the firings of others who had knowledge of his acts yet apparently failed to take the necessary steps to apprehend and stop further assaults.

Further disciplinary action, prosecution, and legal challenges involving others will depend on a more comprehensive investigation.

The Failure of Screening Techniques

How did the mentoring agency in Pennsylvania fail to prevent these criminal acts? Like many other mentoring agencies their intention is to screen out anyone who could possibly do harm to their clients. The primary way most mentoring agencies accomplish this is by having every applicant submit to a criminal record check requirement and provide a number of personal references.

But neither of these two methods is foolproof. For example, only someone who has been arrested in a jurisdiction covered by the police check will be flagged when the check is conducted. In addition, persons who have been questioned during an investigation which may have turned out to be inconclusive or resulted in too little evidence to bring to court will not be flagged. Even convicted pedophiles who change their names and move to different locations, states, provinces or countries can also defeat the intention of a criminal record check.

There is also some controversy about the cost of conducting criminal record check investigations. Who should pay for them? The already overworked police agencies often will not charge a non-profit agency for this additional work, but in other cases there is a fee associated with conducting the check. The cost factor often trumps the thoroughness, follow-through, follow-up, or continuation of scrutiny. Thus a person who passed the check the first time, but who is subsequently convicted unbeknownst to the agency, may have continued access to youth to victimize.

Most importantly the lack of coordination between local, provincial, national, and international policing units limits accessibility to complete records. Consequently the record of a pedophile convicted and imprisoned in one jurisdiction may not appear in another. What’s even more frightening is that it is likely that most pedophiles are not apprehended, and continue to engage in their criminal activity for long periods of time. The pedophile in Pennsylvania would have very easily been successful in defeating the standard criminal record check system used in that state.

The Failure of References

Letters of recommendation from associates are equally limited in their value as a safety assurance method. Prior to being discovered for his actions, the man apprehended in Pennsylvania, who was also a well-known college football coach, would have been able to obtain letters of recommendation from many of the people who eventually reported him for disturbing behaviour with children. These letters from very well-known and respected individuals would have carried great weight and clearly been influential in selecting him as a mentor.

Most pedophiles are highly skilled at hiding and conducting their criminal activities in private so that their immediate family, friends, neighbours and co-workers would be shocked, stunned, and in disbelief to learn of these horrible acts. Prior to being discovered, pedophiles, particularly those already involved as sports coaches or other youth-oriented activities, would have no problem asking others to provide letters of recommendation.

While hopefully rare, there is one other problem with letters of recommendation. When asked to write such a letter, some people agree to do so even if they have reservations about the person. The letter writer, like others in society, may even have some observation or evidence of inappropriate or questionable action of the letter requester, but the letter writer doesn’t want to make trouble, get someone else in trouble, or cause themselves some additional difficulty because of their suspicions or gut feelings. There are many instances where letter writers are not honest in their letters for fear of retribution, threats or violence. Few people are willing to take on the responsibility or consequences of being a whistleblower.

This not an uncommon circumstance and it often contributes to pedophiles employed as teachers or coaches being transferred to other schools, agencies or jurisdictions with decent letters of recommendation from previous employers or co-workers. This unwillingness to take a stand and do what’s right is one of the factors that enabled a teacher/principal in British Columbia to move from school to school prior to being convicted and imprisoned as a pedophile.

Practices to Promote Safety

The inadequacy of criminal record checks and letters of recommendations to screen out pedophiles (as well as other immoral or criminal behaviours) does not mean they should be abandoned. The deficiencies in these screening methods have been addressed by Friends for Youth, a mentoring organization in California, that published a set of comprehensive guidelines for ensuring a stronger screening process that goes beyond simple background checks.

Screening methods need to be combined with at least three other mentoring program practices that are designed to keep children and youth safe from predators: training, boundaries, and monitoring.

In-Person Training. All volunteer mentors must participate fully in face-to-face orientation and training, led by skilled and experienced mentor program personnel. While the potential mentors are learning certain skills associated with being an effective mentor, the program leader has an opportunity to observe directly how the potential mentor responds, interacts with others, and how they perform in role play situations covering a variety of areas essential to mentoring effectiveness.

In addition, orientation and training for potential mentors provides the program with an opportunity to discuss with and gain commitment from the volunteers with regards to child abuse and neglect reporting standards and requirements.

Although this scrutiny that can take place during orientation and training is not foolproof, it provides the training leaders with information about individual candidates, their abilities and attitudes, and assists them to develop a more refined working relationship with each potential mentor which will be essential for the success of the next two necessary program practices.

Clear Boundaries. Probably no other behaviour was a greater signal of trouble in the Pennsylvania pedophile case than the violation of appropriate mentor program boundaries. In no circumstances should gifts, money, un-escorted trips, sleeping in the same room, or dozens of other transgressions be allowed or tolerated in a mentoring relationship. These are immediate red flags, and the prohibition of such acts must be communicated fully not only to the mentors, but also to all those involved, including parents, guardians, the children and youth being mentored, and other personnel responsible for making mentoring successful.

Every mentoring program must include such boundary discussions in publicity, recruiting, and training. This boundary element appeared to be completely missing in the Pennsylvania mentoring organization that enabled a pedophile to connect with children and youth, as the pedophile provided extensive gifting, trips, game tickets, showering together, and sleep-overs in his home.

All of these boundary violations, while on the surface appearing to be an indication of caring, opportunity and generosity, have, in reality, great potential to establish a highly troubling conflict and trauma for youth. The horror that was created for children in the Pennsylvania case was dramatically enabled by these boundary violations.

Monitoring and Supervision. While boundaries are essential, they must also be enforced. All mentoring relationships that connect children and youth with adults must be closely monitored and supervised by qualified personnel until which time the mentoring program leader can express confidence and trust in an un-monitored or less frequently supervised relationship.

Sometimes this progressive trust approach means that mentoring relationships must begin in public places such as school class or activity rooms with a third party present or able to observe from time to time. If the mentoring relationship is activity-based, that is, the mentor and youth attend a game together or play some kind of game together, these activities must be supervised or accompanied by another adult.

At some point mentor program leaders have to trust the judgment of the mentor as to what is appropriate. However, every mentoring program must have a policy in place that requires the mentor to discuss potential risks with the program supervisor prior to engaging in such behaviour.

Not all potential boundary violations can be determined ahead of time. However, two simple questions a mentor can ask ahead of time can identify almost any action that has potential risk: (1) Will the behaviour be approved, encouraged, and appreciated by the child’s parent/guardian? and (2) If local authorities learned of this behaviour, would it be supported and encouraged?

Continuous Evaluation. Monitoring also includes conducting continuous evaluations of interactions, relationships, and outcomes of the youth-mentor interactions. Typically, these assessments are managed through interviews or phone calls with both the mentor and the youth separately and together.

These reviews are particularly essential at the beginning of the mentoring relationship and must be conducted with skill and sensitivity in order to maintain confidentiality or privacy, while at the same time giving the mentor program leader the confidence that the relationship is progressing appropriately. Where boundaries may have been accidentally or innocently crossed, the program leader can immediately take appropriate action to ensure future compliance.

Fortunately, most youth-based mentoring programs in North America pay strict attention to these few simple and basic principles. Many add other ideas to even further reduce the likelihood that the safety or children in their care will be compromised.

It is not clear from the website of the foundation in Pennsylvania that they have implemented any or all of the basic and essential program practices mentioned here. But it is clear that their public face on the Internet provides too little information to encourage the confidence and trust of parents, the public, or other mentoring professionals. What is available on their website is not sufficient to fully inform and educate parents their children will be safe and benefit from a mentoring relationship.

The Illusion of Safety

The success of at-risk youth mentoring programs and services throughout the 1980s to late 1990s, led to proliferation of extensive government-initiated funding opportunities in the USA. While thousands of agencies took advantage of this financial support to create or add mentoring programs, too few paid attention to implementing all the safety requirements outlined here.

Most of these newcomer agencies used the police record check, letters of reference and personal interviews as their primary method of attending to safety. Shoestring budgets, the hiring of inexperienced but well-meaning staff, timelines that met funding requirements in place of appropriate and known standards, revolving personnel, and policy shortcuts, typically resulted in few of these organizations actually engaging in thorough screening, comprehensive personal training, progressive monitoring and on-going evaluation.

Millions of children currently have or have had safe, responsible, caring mentors that they connect with on a regular basis. Mentoring continues to be one of the most powerful ways we can help each other in improve our lives in society and accomplish great heights. Let’s keep it great by ensuring that all mentoring programs pay attention to these proven principles and practices.

“Even very caring, responsible adults can be lulled into complacency by the ‘Illusion Of Safety.’ The Illusion of Safety happens in settings or situations where people feel so relaxed, sheltered, or distracted that they stop focusing on ensuring that their children have adequate supervision, understanding, and skills to avoid potential dangers.”

          ~ Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Executive Director ~

“Most predators look like you or me and act perfectly normal. They’ve perfected the ‘mask of sanity.’ They do less well trying to respect the boundaries of others. They won’t take ‘no’ for an answer—especially when you’ve already answered a few times. If you feel you are not being heard, you might be dealing with someone who is dangerous, not just annoying. Predators also usually have trouble imitating the most human of traits—empathy.”

~ Dr. Keith Ablow, Psychiatrist and Life Coach ~

“Many [mentoring] programs are struggling with relatively few resources and insufficient personnel to provide mentors with ongoing support and supervision…. These observations underscore the need for careful screening and training of mentors and for the provision of ample resources to support the development and management of mentoring programs.” (Source)

~ Jean Rhodes, Mentor expert, author, and Professor of Psychology, University of Massachusetts ~

“Even though references are commonly used to screen and select employees, they have not been successful in predicting future employee success….If given the chance to choose their own references, even undesirables such as Nazi leader Adolph Hitler, serial killer Ted Bundy, and terrorist Abu Nidal would be able to find three people who would provide them with favorable references.”

~ Michael Aamodt, Devon Bryan, and Alan Whitcomb. (1993). Predicting Performance with Letters of Recommendation. Public Personnel Management,22, 81-90. ~

“It may be that your sole purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others.”

 ~ Grey Owl, Tribal leader and mentor ~

The True Origin of the Term ‘Mentor’

Many people ask about the origin of the term mentor. One story is commonly cited in most mentoring books, articles and Internet sites, but it’s more likely that this frequently-told tale is just one author copying the details from secondary sources. Most writers don’t have the ability to translate from the original sources, and so it’s possible that a myth has become reality.

We’ve done considerable research on original sources, perused the archives of ancient libraries, and visited the sites associated with five stories that purport to claim the origin of the term. Here are the five stories. 



In Homer’s Odyssey, Mentor is a trusted friend to whom Ulysses leaves the care of his household when he departs for the Trojan War (a ten-year battle). The goddess Athena assumes the form of Mentor and cares for Ulysses’ son, Telemachus, until the war’s conclusion. Some variations of this story state that she actually accompanies Telemachus on his journey to search for his father at the end of the war. Some variations describe Mentor as a man. This story has reached mythical proportions and is probably the most widely-cited story, but how many modern writers have actually read the Odyssey in its original Greek version?




In 1698 François Fénelon was appointed by King Louis XIV as a tutor to the King’s grandson, the Duke of Burgundy. He provided instruction to his pupil through his didactic epic, Le Adventures de Télémaque (1699), the most popular book written in the 18th century. Fénelon uses the term “sage counselor” to describe his main character, the goddess Minerva who appears as Mentor. The book is clearly an imitation of Homer’s The Odyssey, and the lessons expounded in the book by Mentor are both more educational than Homer’s Mentor and directed towards guiding his pupil in how to become a peaceful and wise monarch. The political views that Fénelon put in the mouth of Mentor, however, offended the King’s position on these same issues. As a result Fénelon was forced to leave the employment of the King for less challenging activities and many of his accomplishments were erased from court records.



In ancient Africa, prior to the time of the Greek and Roman invasions, when a child was born, each village shared the responsibility for raising and educating the child into the customs and traditions associated with that village. This practice continues today and has become the rallying mantra: “It takes a village to raise a child.” But a more detailed examination of this ancient practice revealed that while the child had contact with every member of the village, there was always one older child (not a family member) who would be assigned the responsibility to ask questions and listen carefully to the younger child. In Swahili (one of the oldest languages on our planet), this questioning person was called, “Habari gani menta” which, in English, means, the person who asks “What’s happening?”



La Grotte de Niaux is a prehistoric cave located high in the Pyrenees in southern France. After walking through the silent and womb-like stillness, a visitor emerges into a large, domed space filled with ceiling paintings, estimated to have been created somewhere between 12,000 and 9,000 BC. While most of the paintings depict horses and bison, there is one theme that is repeated in many places. This painting shows a group of men taking children to what at that time was considered the edge or end of their physical world. The men exhort the children to be brave and expand their reach beyond the borders of the present world. Some believe that the origin of the term “mentor” comes from what has been loosely translated in these ancient depictions as “men” taking children on a “tour.”



Although Odin was the chief god in the Norse mythology, at around 550 AD there was a small group of Vikings who pledged exclusive allegiance to Thor, son of Odin and god of thunder, the sky and fertility. Thor had a reputation of being particularly fierce and brutal towards his enemies, and so did his group of dedicated followers. When plundering a village or settlement, they would kill every man, woman, and child, as well as any livestock that they couldn’t eat or carry away. However, before executing their hapless victims, these fierce brutes would choose one male child to become a member of their clan. One of the older Vikings would be assigned to teach and train the boy in their ways and customs, and in this manner the child would become one of the feared “men of Thor”. The word “mentor” is believed to have originated from this bizarre relationship between the captured boy and his Viking custodian.

People and Globe

The Greeks weren’t the only ones who claim the origin of mentoring


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