What A Mentor Is… And Isn’t.

Two colleagues in conversation

Pop quiz!

My mentor is:

A.) An advocate
B.) A personal assistant
C.) A therapist
D.) All of the above

Unlike every standardised test you’ve ever taken, D is not the correct answer. But somehow many people find it challenging to define their mentor’s role or purpose.

If a mentor’s purpose isn’t to help you organise your workload and it’s not about creating a safe space to gossip… then what are they for?

A mentor is: a career navigator
We’ve all had overwhelming stages in our career. When you’re stuck in the weeds it can be really hard to find the way out. J. Loren Norris said, “If you cannot see where you are going, ask someone who has been there before.” Presumably you chose your mentor because they’ve travelled a path similar to the one you’re on. That experience is a wellspring of knowledge for you to tap into. A successful career is often the result of a strategically chosen path at many forks in the road. But so often it can be hard to see what that correct direction really is. The right mentor can help you explore all the possible outcomes with the added power of foresight.

A mentor isn’t: a task-manager
If you can’t figure out how to manage your time, speak to your boss, your colleague or even your HR manager… but NOT your mentor. If you’re talking about daily tasks with your mentor, you’re doing it wrong. It’s a waste of your and (more importantly) their time.


A mentor is: a sounding board
Throughout our career we’ll all face some tough decisions. Sometimes you just need a safe space to explore the solution. A mentor can provide you with the opportunity to test out theories or solutions to a problem before executing them IRL.

A mentor isn’t: a problem-solver
You are ultimately accountable for your career. One of the worst things you can do as a mentee is bring your mentor a problem without ever considering a single solution. It’s a real drain. Don’t be that guy.


A mentor is: a confidant
Unlike a boss or coworker, a mentor has no conflicting interests. Their number one priority in this relationship is to see you succeed, which means you can confide in them about the sensitive issues without worrying if it’ll come back to bite you in the butt.

A mentor isn’t: a gossip
There’s a thin line between reflecting on a sticky situation and the toxic act of bitching. The key difference? Reflecting is steeped in facts and maintains focus on the solution. CEO of Pacesetter Aviva Leebow Wolmer clearly defines gossip or bitching as, “unproductive communication with someone who cannot help solve the problem at hand.” Bitching happens when you indulge your emotions and lose sight of the purpose. If you’re not sure of the difference, stick to the facts as closely as possible and you should be good.


A mentor is: an advocate (ahem… the correct answer to the above question)
No one cares about your career more than you do. But a good mentor will be a very close second. They’ll be with you for the highs and the lows. They’ll brag for you when you’re feeling too humble about your wins. They’ll help you make sense of your failures and find the opportunities to learn and grow.

A mentor isn’t: a networking tool
You might be lucky enough to have a well-connected mentor. But no one wants to be admired (or used) for who they know. So unless it seems appropriate, avoid asking for an introduction. It can put a strain on the relationship and can even make your mentor feel undervalued


A good mentor is a fabulous asset. They’ll have your back and help you reach your full potential. But it’s a two-way street. Approach the relationship with the respect it deserves and it’ll pay dividends.

Give your mentorship some structure with our goal-setting framework.

Wondering what’s in it for the mentor? So glad you asked. We interviewed 18 mentors to learn just that.

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Em is our Marketing Manager at Mentorloop. That's a lot of 'm's! | She is passionate about crafting messages, crafternoons and craft beer.

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Thanks for the post, it made me reflect on the roles of the mentee and mentor and what this relationship is about. I think respect for this relationship and what is aimed at coupled to the mentee’s personal responsibility for his career are key. Also, the note on avoiding gossip – I liked this point – one does need to keep to the facts and ensure that one moves to a productive resolve with the appropriate role-player. Consideration of problems before approaching the mentor as a sound board is also important. Thanks again for a useful post.

Josie Colson

I’m glad it resonated with you Rivak. At Mentorloop we are strong advocates that the mentee is responsible for driving the mentorship. Feel free to share the article with your networks. Do you have a mentor or mentee? Are you part of a formal mentorship program?