The word Mentoring has over time become our 21st Century Buzzword.

I have come across many people who say:

Statement A – ‘I have been invited to High school X to mentor their students this afternoon’

Statement B – ‘Last week we mentored 4000 Youth at the ABC Youth Conference’

Statement C – ‘I mentor people through my Music, My Art, My Book’

Statement D- ‘Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Wangari Maathai, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Mboya, Mahatma Gandhi are my mentors’

So, what is it about these statements that send me in a wave of grief? None of these situations describe what mentoring is.

If that is not mentoring, then what is? Excellent question! Let me attempt to explain from my professional lenses

What Mentoring is Not

Mentoring is NOT Coaching

  • Coaching is task or skill oriented. This is where one is assisted to do better what they already do well or develop a skill they don’t yet posses e.g Football coaching

Mentoring is NOT Psychotherapy Counselling

  • Psychotherapy counselling involves a trained practitioner who helps people develop self understanding and make changes in their lives

Mentoring is NOT Role Modelling

  • A role model is someone who people look up to and is revered. It may be a close relative e.g a parent or someone who has distinguished themselves in a way that people want to emulate them e.g Mother Theresa

Mentoring is NOT Motivational Speaking

  • A motivational speaker is someone who speaks publicly with the intention to inspire an audience. This has overtime turned into a profitable profession e.g Zig Ziglar & Farrah Gray

Mentoring is NOT Training

  • Training is Instructional. It involves teaching with specific goals of improving ones capabilities, skills, capacity, productivity and performance

Mentoring is NOT Parenting

  • Parenting is the process of supporting the physical, emotional, social, financial, intellectual well being and development of a child from infancy to adulthood

NOTE: In most occasions the act of mentoring may involve certain aspects of one or more of these interventions.

What Mentoring IS

There are many broad definitions however in summary, Mentoring is a learning and development partnership between someone with vast experience and someone who is less experienced and is willing to learn. It is helping one build their capacity and encouraging them to develop self reliance or career goals.

Who is Involved in Mentoring?

  1. Mentor

Someone who teaches, gives help and advice to a less experienced person. A mentor can be younger or but have a certain area of expertise. Also known as a ‘Wise Adviser’

  1. Mentee

Simply put, a mentee is a person who is being guided by a mentor. (Some cultures also refer to them as Mentorees)

What is involved in Mentoring?

  • Both parties (Mentor and Mentee) should be willing to engage in the relationship.Mentoring is relationship oriented.
  • The aim is to have the mentee improve their performance and be more productive
  • It focuses on work/life balance, self-confidence, self-perception, and how the personal influences the professional.
  • It requires well-developed inter-personal skills i.e. Listening skills, speaking skills, communications skills especially on the part of a mentor
  • It focuses on learning and development to enhance skills and competencies .Mentoring is development driven.
  • It encourages the individual to push beyond their current limit, but provide the necessary support if the person needs it.
  • It provides support without removing responsibility
  • It seeks to provide a safe environment where the mentee shares whatever issues affect his or her professional and personal success.
  • It requires time in which both partners can learn about one another and build a climate of trust. Mentoring is always long term.
  • Its purpose is to develop the individual not only for the current job/position in life, but also for the future. (This distinction differentiates the role of the immediate manager and that of the mentor. Meaning, it is usually not advised for a manager/supervisor to mentor someone working directly under them)
  • Mentoring requires a design phase in order to determine the purpose for mentoring, the areas focus, and the specific components that will guide the relationship, especially the matching process.
  • Mentoring tends to be more informal and meetings can take place as and when the mentee needs some advice, guidance and support
  • In mentoring the learner sets their own goals .The mentor offers support towards achieving them


Why should you get a mentor?

There are several reasons as to why one should get a mentor. I will however highlight just a few that seem critical

  • You make better decisions
  • The decisions you make with a mentor will be better than those you make alone .Two heads are definitely better than one.
  • Your Learning curve is shortened
  • You stand to benefit from your mentor’s gained experience, successes and failures. With a mentor you don’t have to face as much trial and error.
  • Your Network expands
  • Your mentor is helping you because he/she believe in you. You therefore get to benefit from their contacts, referrals and relationships .These connections are priceless and can help grow your career in ways you couldn’t do yourself
  • Its FREE and comes with the additional benefit of a lifelong friend

Back to the Statements in Paragraph one

From what we have learnt so far:

  • Age is not necessarily a limiting factor in the mentor /mentee relationship
  • Mentoring is Not a onetime Event
  • Mentoring is a relationship which requires commitment
  • The Mentor and Mentee must both be known to each other. So Albert Einstein or Oprah Winfrey may be considered Role Models or Inspirational figures but NOT Mentors


In Swahili we say ‘Tenda Wema nenda zako’. Meaning, Do good and Go your way. So is the same with Mentoring. It is rather imprudent for an individual to identify themselves as a mentor and this is because like parenting you cannot entirely claim the success of your children reason being the role you play is one of offering support and not making the decisions that eventually affect their lives. Let the mentee call you out. Only they can qualify your impact in their lives.

Your comments and questions are highly encouraged.

Serrainne Nyamori

2015, UN-HABITAT Urban Youth Fund Mentor

2011, MILEAD (Moremi Initiative for Leadership in Africa) Fellow


The writer is the Founder and Lead consultant for Sustainability Africa, a Management Consulting and CSR Strategy firm based in Nairobi, Kenya. For more of our services please visit us at or Email



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