Mentoring: Not a Fix or Favoritism

Mentoring: Not a Fix or Favoritism


A shift in the focus of mentoring is emerging and it’s one that, if we encourage it, will empower mentees and result in individual, organizational and social benefits.


A Deficit Model


A deficit model assumes something is wrong and that mentoring can fix it. This immediately opens up a problem in the mentoring relationship because the mentor is presumed the expert who can help the mentee change themselves to overcome the problem.


This is often the case in mentoring aimed at equity, targeting disadvantaged people, women or minorities.  Mentoring cannot solve the problem of inequality, it’s a structural issue that requires changing current practices, the dismantling of discrimination and bias.


We need to recognize what mentoring can do and what it can’t. People don’t have inherent deficiencies that mentoring will fix and mentoring can’t change systemic problems. What mentoring can do is enable everyone to recognize their potential and take the opportunity to amplify and promote their strengths.

Developing Talent


On the other end of the spectrum, mentoring is often aimed developing and retaining the “talent” in the organization, whether it’s graduates, future leaders, or professionals. The underlying concept is that developing people builds their capability and leads to greater productivity (and it does, sometimes). It is also assumed that employee turnover will be reduced because of the investment in high potential people.


Unfortunately, people with capability are not productive if they are bored and dissatisfied with their work. And, if there are no pathways to career progression or promotions they won’t stay. Young people are particularly hungry for advancement and mobile. Those with skills and experience are easily attracted elsewhere. So building capability may actually encourage them to leave.


Again there are structural issues that mentoring can’t solve. However, instead of favoring the chosen few, mentoring can support proactive learners and give people the chance to see what they’re capable of. Mentoring can activate the potential in an employee. It can be a way of boosting engagement which impacts productivity and a whole raft of bottom line results.


The Mentoring Role


Informal mentors and mentoring programs have done a lot for individuals and organisations in recent decades. However, now, more than ever, managers to incorporate mentoring into their leadership role. While an off-line mentor (one who is not in a direct line of authority over the mentee) can always add value, managers must develop their people. It is the personal interest they take in their staff, the encouragement, feedback, development of strengths and providing challenging work and interesting assignments that will engage employees, motivate and quite possibly retain them.


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About Ann Rolfe

Ann Rolfe is internationally recognised as Australia's leading specialist in mentoring, and is available for speaking, training and consulting. Here Ann shares her knowledge and allows you to ask your most pressing questions about mentoring.

One Response to “Mentoring: Not a Fix or Favoritism”

  1. Caroline Lark January 12, 2021 10:50 am #

    I completely agree with the message of this blog. Mentors can add huge value and are a great development resource.
    However, clarity about the roles and responsibilities of mentors and line managers of mentees is very important. Without it, line managers of mentees can transfer (even just in their own mind) responsibility for developing their team member to the mentor.
    The line manager has to always be responsible for the growth, development and performance of their team.

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