The Ways in Which Mentoring Differs from Other Organization Roles

Mentoring, coaching, supervising, and managing share a number of com- mon elements. Yet the most often asked question is: “How are they different?” In this brief article Rey Carr, CEO of Peer Resources, identifies five key points that distinguish mentoring from other forms of business interaction.

The Quality of the Relationship

Mentoring is primarily about creating an enduring and meaningful relation- ship with another person. While the relationship may be short-term, the fo- cus is primarily on the quality of that relationship and the factors that affect relationship quality: mutual trust and respect, willingness to learn from each other, the use of deeper interpersonal skills and maintaining confidentiality.

While mentors might provide advice or suggestions, they have no stake in whether the partner actually uses or integrates such information into their work or personal life.

While the effectiveness of coaching, supervision and managing might all depend on the quality of the relationship, the primary goal for each of these activities is typically more performance or productivity oriented rather than relationship oriented. Not attending to the advice of a supervisor or manager may jeopardize an employeeʼs career.

The Opportunity for Mutual Learning

Mentoring is distinguishable from other activities because of its emphasis on learning in general and mutual or reciprocal learning in particular. Whereas learning is important in other activities, both the mentor and the partner take responsibility for maximizing the learning activity. Both parties must perceive benefits from participating in a mentoring relationship. While a partner may initially believe that mentoring will lead to promotion or advancement, such progress is based more on the knowledge and skill gained by the partner, and not as a result of the actions of the mentor.

Certainly the best coaches, managers, and supervisors are open to learning from their clients and employees. However, their interaction is less focused on learning from their clients or subordinates. Instead, their focus is more on establishing standards, behaviours, and expectations and ensuring that such elements are carried out properly. In addition, because they are typically paid to perform these roles, managers, supervisors, and coaches continue to carry out their responsibility regardless of any other concrete benefit that accrues to them.

The Developmental Changes

Mentoring in most formal programs has a beginning, middle, and end. It is typically time-limited and subject to a mutual agreement between the parties. In addition, the nature of the mentoring relationship changes over time. During the initial phases of the relationship, the mentor may take more responsibility for facilitating the content and process through asking questions and actively listening. As the relationship progresses, however, the partner begins to take on more and more responsibility for what transpires and the mentor shares perspectives and knowledge. As the partner grows, the need for the mentor may lessen, thus causing attention to how and when to terminate the relationship in a productive manner.

All good managers, supervisors and coaches want to see their clients or subordinates grow and develop in their careers and performance. However, they are normally in charge of when such a relationship will terminate. In addition, their focus remains static and they do not necessarily perceive themselves as developing as a result of employee contact.

The Voluntary Nature of the Connection

Most mentoring relationships are informal and take place in many cases without the direct, conscious knowledge of the participants. In newer, more formal programs, individuals volunteer to be involved in a mentoring relationship. It is typically not part of their formal job description or performance requirement; they are not paid for their involvement; and while they may provide feedback to each other, there are no formal assessments or performance reports conducted or forwarded as part of a participantʼs career progress evaluation. Mentoring experts often recommend that a mentor and partner be far enough apart in a chain of command so that no formal evaluation responsibilities become relevant.

Managers, supervisors and for the most part coaches are all paid for their involvement with other employees. Except for coaches they have evaluative responsibilities and are often required to provide detailed performance reports.

The Big Picture

While mentoring can focus on a narrow band of performance issues or knowledge, it typically is more open to examining broader perspectives. It is often more inclusive of a wider range of topics, including vision, goals, motivation and passion, all reviewed from both a personal and professional perspective. A mentor is more likely to share what he or she has learned from his or her own experiences and what meaning that learning has had as well as what actions have happened as a result.

While coaches, managers, and supervisors might be interested in the whole person approach, they are more often than not, interested specifically in shorter term results or outcomes. Focusing on the larger picture might only be a tool to produce better results. And in some cases, workplace policies or legal issues restrict the range of topics that can be discussed.

Mentoring, coaching, supervision and managing also have many factors in common: they all use and rely on the same interpersonal skills; they all involve learning; they all have an impact on career development; and in common practice, the roles are often used interchangeably. Supervisors and managers, though, are typically official job title designations. Not surprisingly it may turn out that the better managers and supervisors are in carrying out their roles, the more closely they will come to be called coaches and mentors.

David Bowie (1947-2016) Describes His Mentoring Relationship with John Lennon (1940-1980)

“It’s impossible for me to talk about popular music without mentioning probably my greatest mentor, John Lennon. I guess he defined for me, at any rate, how one could twist and turn the fabric of pop and imbue it with elements from other art forms, often producing something extremely beautiful, very powerful and imbued with strangeness.

Also, uninvited, John would wax on endlessly about any topic under the sun and was over-endowed with opinions. I immediately felt empathy with that. Whenever the two of us got together it started to resemble Beavis and Butthead on Crossfire.

The seductive thing about John was his sense of humor. Surrealistically enough, we were first introduced in about 1974 by Elizabeth Taylor. Miss Taylor had been trying to get me to make a movie with her. It involved going to Russia and wearing something red, gold and diaphanous. Not terribly encouraging, really. I can’t remember what it was called—it wasn’t On the Waterfront, anyway, I know that.

We were in LA, and one night she had a party to which both John and I had been invited. I think we were polite with each other, in that kind of older- younger way. Although there were only a few years between us, in rock and roll that’s a generation, you know? Oh boy, is it ever.

So John was sort of [in Liverpool accent] ‘Oh, here comes another new one.’ And I was sort of, “It’s John Lennon! I don’t know what to say. Don’t mention the Beatles, you’ll look really stupid.”

And he said, ‘Hello, Dave.’ And I said, ‘I’ve got everything you’ve made—except the Beatles.’

A couple of nights later we found ourselves backstage at the Grammys where I had to present ‘the thing’ to Aretha Franklin. Before the show, I’d been telling John that I didn’t think America really got what I did, that I was misunderstood. Remember that I was in my 20s and out of my head. So the big moment came and I ripped open the envelope and announced, ‘The winner is Aretha Franklin.’ Aretha steps forward, and with not so much as a glance in my direction, snatches the trophy out of my hands and says, ‘Thank you everybody. I’m so happy I could even kiss David Bowie.’ Which she didn’t! And she promptly spun around swanned off stage right. So I slunk off stage left.

And John bounds over and gives me a theatrical kiss and a hug and says ‘See, Dave. America loves ya.’

We pretty much got on like a house on fire after that.

He once famously described glam rock as just rock and roll with lipstick on. He was wrong of course, but it was very funny.

Towards the end of the 70s, a group of us went off to Hong Kong on a holiday and John was in, sort of, house-husband mode and wanted to show Sean the world. And during one of our expeditions on the back streets a kid comes running up to him and says, ‘Are you John Lennon?’ And he said, ‘No but I wish I had his money.’ Which I promptly stole for myself.

It’s brilliant. It was such a wonderful thing to say. The kid said, ‘Oh, sorry. Of course you aren’t,’ and ran off. I thought, ‘This is the most effective device I’ve heard.’

I was back in New York a couple of months later in Soho, downtown, and a voice pipes up in my ear, ‘Are you David Bowie?’ And I said, ‘No, but I wish I had his money.’

‘You lying bastard. You wish you had my money.’ It was John Lennon.”

(Source: David Bowie, December 7, 2010)

A True Mentor is Always Considered in the Present Tense

For the last 15 years, I have been curating a list of mentor pairs from a variety of sources including autobiographies, biographies, newspaper articles, personal interviews, and diligent historical research.

The pairings are divided into ten categories. (1) Actors, Comedians, Producers and Directors (Stage, Screen and TV); (2) Mentoring relationships depicted in motion pictures and television; (3) Musicians, Songwriters, and Singers; (4) Classical and Broadway Musicians, Composers, Conductors, Ballet, and Modern Dancers; (5) Fashion, Media and Celebrities; (6) Artists, Writers, Photographers, Publishers, Novelists, Poets; (7) Mentoring relationships depicted in print (novels stories, fiction); (8) Sports Figures, Athletes, and Coaches; (9) Historical, Political, Spiritual and Civic Leaders; and (10) Business, Industry, Education, Science, and Medical Leaders.

In many cases, the mentoring relationship is one between a mentor who has died and a person who they mentored who is still living. When I first started detailing this type of relationship, I referred to the relationship in the past tense: ‘the person who died was a mentor to the person who is still living.’ For example, when referring to the mentoring relationship between the award-winning actress Patty Duke, who died in March of 2016, and the person she mentored, Melissa Gilbert, another great actress, writer, and producer, one could say that Patty Duke was a mentor to Melissa Gilbert.

But that description using the past tense would be totally wrong with regards to mentoring. That is one of the aspects of mentoring that makes it different from virtually all other types of relationships. A true mentor helps you learn something better or faster, and that learning lasts your entire life. In other words, what you learn from a mentor does not disappear, fade, or stop when the mentor perishes. What you learn from a true mentor stays with you all your life; it’s not temporary, it’s a permanent part of you as a person.

Therefore, when a mentor dies, we don’t say he or she “was” a mentor to so and so. Instead, we say, the person who died “is” a mentor to so and so. And if the mentor is a true mentor, the mentoring influence remains regardless of what has happened to the mentor. In some cases, for example, people might refer to someone as a “former” mentor or a person is “no longer a mentor.” A true mentor is a mentor for life even when there is no longer an active relationship. This is one of the outstanding qualities of mentoring; one that distinguishes mentoring from coaching, training, and supervision.