Any successful relationship requires that two parties (or more) understand their position, code of conduct and contribution to the relationship. I like to relate concepts to the family unit as it is the Standard Unit available for one to observe and learn the different elements of relationships.

A typical nuclear family has a Mother, Father and Children. The Father is viewed as the head of the house, the provider (in most cases) and the Protector. The mother on the other hand is the support system of the household, the nurturer and at most times the comforter. It would be a very unfortunate situation if the children were to assume the role of the parents as they neither have the capacity nor skills to perform those roles effectively. The reverse would equally be tragic! As is the same with the mentor and mentee relationship, they each have their own roles for the relationship to be successful.

The following observations are designed to help you make your decisions thoughtfully and appropriately, as you consider being a mentor, mentee or joining a mentorship program

What are the roles of a mentor?

A Mentor as we had mentioned in the previous article, is an adviser who thinks about mentees, counsels them and guides them. A mentor is therefore expected:

  • To have the ability to observe and reflect
  • To be a good listener and display empathy
  • To have intuitive wisdom from life experiences
  • To be self aware and have the ability to understand others
  • To share experiences and offer friendship
  • To be committed to learning and helping others learn
  • To build rapport and encourage mentees to speak
  • To challenge a mentee to know him/herself.
  • To ask questions to help the mentee define his/her goals
  • To think about a mentees career goals, and how to help him/her reach them
  • To provide constructive challenges and feedback
  • To help the mentee reshape their thinking
  • To step back from the details and manage the relationship and not the goals

Ultimately, a mentor is someone a mentee can trust!

One mentor may not meet all of the above needs. Some mentors will be experts at relationship building, others will be very good at networking, and others will take an interest in mentees personal life and well-being. Not every mentor can be all things to a mentee: sometimes, it’s good to seek advice from others, as well.

What can I expect from a mentor?

A good mentor will:

  • Meet with you (the mentee), regularly (at least three times a year)
  • Listen to you and to your ideas
  • Provide constructive and timely feedback on your ideas

What are my responsibilities as a Mentee?

It is up to you to make the most of what your mentor have to offer. The best person to define your future goals is you. From the moment you interact with your mentor, you should be planning strategically for what is next—thinking about and then choosing a path that suits your knowledge, skills, and personal goals.

Start early. Don’t wait until ‘things start to get thick’ to think about the future! Show your interest, listen, work hard, be a good team member, communicate, stay focused on your goals, be a responsible and ethical person. Remember, too, to evaluate your own progress and to reflect on your future, because you are a unique individual with a unique path ahead of you!

Last week I received overwhelming feedback and several questions on the topic. Here are a few of your questions. I have attempted to respond to them as constructively as I can.


  • Where can we meet?
  • It is advisable to meet in a secure open place e.g a coffee house or park. You can also meet in an office or board room; just ensure that the door is not locked or inaccessible. Noisy places like Disco’s, Bars, Concerts, Churches, Mosques, and Parties are equally to be avoided. Meeting in the Mentor or Mentee’s home is highly discouraged.
  • Can I have more than one Mentor?
  • Yes you can. As I had mentioned earlier, one mentor cannot meet all your needs. Try not to have too many mentors as well. Once you have defined your goals, having two or three mentors at any given time, impacting different areas of your life is acceptable.
  • How often can I meet my Mentor or Mentee?
  • As often as you can. This usually is a personal decision between the Mentor and Mentee. An accepted minimum though is at least three (3) times a year
  • Can I have a Mentor or Mentee of the opposite sex?
  • Yes you can. Provided you do not cross personal or sexual boundaries
  • Can I mentor someone I am having a personal relationship with e.g spouse?
  • It is advised against because there is a natural progression to be bias (positively or negatively) with someone you are intimately involved with. What you can do alternatively is be an inspirational figure or role model.
  • What do I do if my Mentor or Mentee discloses a personal issue that is dangerous or illegal e.g Murder, Rape or drug trafficking.
  • Encourage them to follow due legal processes or seek professional help. The Mentor-Mentee relationship is confidential and this should be respected.
  • Am I allowed to terminate the mentor/Mentee relationship at will?
  • However, make sure that you have spoken to the Mentor/Mentee as to why you have chosen to terminate the relationship.
  • What reasons would someone have to terminate the Mentor/Mentee relationship?
  • These could be personal ,health, legal, geographical and compatibility reasons, time constraints, inability to commit to the relationship, breach of trust, crossing personal and sexual boundaries etc
  • My mentor/Mentee has a different personality from mine; do you think this relationship will be successful?           
  • The key here is for the Mentor and Mentor to each be self aware and learn how to accommodate other personalities. In the event that both parties are undeniably incompatible then they are both free to seek other partners.


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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