Stages of Mentoring Partnerships

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Just like any relationship in life, each one is different and unique, BUT there is research to identify the usual stages of mentoring partnerships. I have had quite a few mentoring relationships (some that worked well, and others that failed) but I have noticed that the stages of mentoring relationships are quite consistent. Sometimes multiple ‘stages’ happen in just one meeting, other times you can stay on a 'stage’ for a few meetings.  It’s how you interact, share, and navigate this relationship that counts. Mentoring is a perfect way to explore different ways of thinking, doing and being.


1: Relationship preparation

  • Usually when we are most cautious. This is where we explore the mentor-mentee fit. Is it right? Will the skills match help us work towards a goal together? 
  • This is a great place to explore expectations, negotiate what you feel the goal/s will look like. It can feel formal and cautious but stick with it as the more you share, the quicker you will get to the next stage

2: Risk and chemistry

  • Continual negotiate. Maybe the goal and expectations change. This is where you feel out the relationship/partnership. What do you feel cautious discussing? What do you need to renegotiate to stay on track
  • Where you start to open up a bit deeper. Being vulnerable, coming back completing your ‘homework’ and showing that the mentee is committed to thinking and exploring new ways of doing, while the mentor is able to open up about their experiences and provide insights into what has worked. Helping through mutual exchange 
  • Some mentor relationships never go beyond this stage (which is OK!)

3: The Balance

  • Risk + chemistry 
  • Development of a friendship begins to emerge. You begin to question, listen, and dig deeper into your goal with your mentoring partner. You trust and share. Really empathising with past experiences. You open up and share difficult learning experiences.
  • This is also where the beginning of feedback begins to emerge. Usually, during the mentoring process, the mentees will be assigned tasks (e.g. read an article, share a draft document/budget) and the mentor will ask questions, plus provide feedback to help the mentee improve.

3.1: Poor Balance

  • Sometimes disengagement between the mentor and mentee occurs. Usually through no fault of the individuals. It’s just not a chemistry or learning style match.
  • How do you know? Usually there is a dread in trying to meet up with the mentee/mentor, you avoid responding to emails (until the very last minute). You both stop learning, listening, and sharing. When feelings like this occur it is best to start thinking about how to 
    • Turn the relationship around and work on the relationship that little bit hard, or 
    • Explore how to part on the best of terms.
  • If this occurs through the Acorn Mentoring Program, please reach out ASAP. We can help you navigate this stage or discuss what the next steps are.

4: Closure vs Beyond 

  • This final stage can be one of the most difficult to navigate. At the end of the program, do you want to continue to stay in touch with your mentor in this same format? Or will you only email them every now and then?
  • I have had mentoring relationships turn into life long friendships. Others have not extended beyond a few months as we met out goals and decided not to continue. For many, it will be a varied combination of staying in touch regularly (every six months) and the occasional email update. All are acceptable. This stage will be explored more towards the end of the mentoring program (so don’t think about this too much).

5: The emerging Mentor

  • Now you have experienced a good (or bad) mentoring partnership you can reflect on what worked well, and what didn’t. PLUS you can begin to identify potential mentors around you and explore how you can mentor others in your network. It could be one coffee conversations or a long term mentoring friendship (or something in-between). Mentoring is a gift that builds the leadership capacity of everyone around us.

Mentoring partnerships are a gift that helps us all count the leaders and build the capacity of those around us. It is up to each of us to work together and grow the potential of our industry. Let’s transform and grow together.

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  1. Esher, E., & Murphy, S. (2005). Power Mentoring
  2. Lacey, K. (2000). Make Mentoring Happen
  3. Zachery, L. (2009). The Mentee's Guide: Making Mentoring Work For You