Engage with a Mentor

Motivate. Inspire. Challenge.

Two scientists, both women, working together in a laboratory.

Mentoring is a valuable source of personal and professional development that focuses on guidance and career advice. Use these tips and tools to identify your mentoring goals and build a successful relationship.

What is Mentoring?

Mentoring is a relationship between two people with the goal of professional and personal development. Mentors offer suggestions, share information, help make connections, and act as sounding boards to help their protégés achieve their goals and succeed. Both teaching and learning take place in a mentoring relationship.

In mentoring, two people build a partnership relationship characterized by:

  • Commitment to the development of the protégé
  • Effective listening
  • Acceptance
  • Confidentiality
  • Openness and trust
  • Support and caring
  • Reliability and consistency

Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction. – John C. Crosby

For the Protégé

  • Develop a sharper focus on what you need to grow professionally
  • Gain insight from your mentor’s expertise and counsel
  • Receive constructive, critical feedback
  • Learn skills and knowledge relevant to your professional and personal goals
  • Gain insights into the culture of the university or Wexner Medical Center and unspoken rules that can be critical for success
  • Have a confidential place to share success and challenges and to take risks
  • Gain confidence – both personally and professionally
  • Network with employees from other colleges or units

For the Mentor

  • Gain satisfaction in sharing your expertise with others
  • Gain insight from your protégé’s background and history
  • Learn about other areas within the university or the Wexner Medical Center
  • Re-energize your career
  • Increase your networking

For the Organization

  • Attract talent – Demonstrate a commitment to developing employees and providing growth opportunities
  • Retain and develop employees – Create more effective contributors to the organization’s overall goals and engender loyalty
  • Enhance management development – Balance formal education and training with experiential knowledge
  • Enrich succession planning – Ensure expertise from experienced associates will not be lost if they retire or move on

Here are examples of common mentoring scenarios. Do you see yourself in any of these?

Short term

May meet just a time or two then reach out on an irregular basis

New to the job, new to OSU, learning to navigate etc.

I’m new and would like to have someone to go to with questions or concerns.I’m looking for some help learning to navigate around here. How are decisions made? How do all these committees work and how do they relate? When do I have to take something to the senior management council? When do I make a decision and when is it made by a committee?

Interpersonal concerns or new territory

I’m having trouble collaborating with someone. I thought you might have some suggestions. I want to understand more about the dynamics going on.

I’m speaking up at meetings but I feel like I’m not being heard. I’m looking for suggestions and some insight into what’s going on.

I have some challenging conversations coming up. I’m not sure how to approach them. Could we talk about it confidentially?

Build a skill or background

I would like to further develop my ____ skills. Could we talk about my goals and see if you perhaps you could mentor me short-term, very informally?

I’m not used to using [tool, program, etc.] the way my group uses it. Could you please show me some pointers?

Reverse mentoring

Part of the audience for my project is millennials. Could I please share it with you to see if it resonates or what changes I need?

Expand your network (not necessarily a mentoring request but fostering more relationships)

I’m trying to get to know people in different functions/parts of the university. [Share something out the person or her work that interested you.] Could we meet for lunch or coffee?

I really enjoyed your presentation. I have some questions about… I would like to learn more about… Could we get together?

Longer term

May meet for 3 – 6 months then decide whether/how to continue

Career exploration

I’m feeling stagnant in my career. I’m working with my manager and want to have a mentor too to help me refine a new direction. (Note: Reflect on your career using the exercises in the Protégé Toolkit.)

I’m intrigued by what you do and would like to find out more about your area. Maybe there is a project I could help with.

Acclimating to a new role

I’m new to being a manager/senior manager/director. I would like to have someone who “knows the ropes” who can be a sounding board and provide insight.

  • Protégés – Proactive learners, change agents and contributors
  • Mentors – Trusted friends, guides, challengers, and facilitators


Protégés have a significant and proactive role in the mentoring relationship. They are expected to demonstrate initiative, be receptive to insight from mentors, and to receive constructive feedback on their growth. They are expected to own their actions and decisions at all times. Protégés set the direction, and mentors guide.

Protégé Responsibilities

  • Open and sincere communication
  • Effective use of mentor time and counsel
  • Setting relationship expectations with a mentor
  • Setting mutually clear developmental goals
  • Active listening
  • Sensitivity to the needs of the mentor


Mentors share knowledge, insight, perspective, and wisdom gained from having “been there” and “done that.” Mentoring requires an investment of time and energy to help the other person grow.

Mentor Responsibilities

  • Help the protégé feel closely identified with his or her professional environment
  • Guide the protégé through difficult situations
  • Build the protégé’s self confidence
  • Establish clear and open two-way communication
  • Provide career guidance, information and encouragement
  • Foster creative and independent thinking
  • Provide support – Since learning often occurs through challenging and questioning, the mentor’s support should never be in doubt.

Expectations for Mentors and Protégés

Meet monthly in person, at minimum. If you like, connect more often via e-mail, phone, etc. Mentoring partners often agree to meet for 3 to 6 months, then re-evaluate the relationship and goals. The duration of a mentoring relationship is flexible.

Protégés need to identify what they want to explore or learn, as specifically as possible. The Protégé Toolkit provides tools for reflecting on career development and mentoring goals.

Mentors should be prepared to share best practices, lessons learned, and helpful resources – as well as provide a listening ear and encouragement.

Both mentors and protégés can grow from this experience. If your needs are not being met, discuss this together and mutually decide what steps to take.

Formal Mentoring

Formal mentoring relationships are more traditional, highly structured and institutionalized. Often these relationships are focused on organizational needs and have assigned mentors, measurable outcomes, and a fixed duration and focus. The Ohio State University does not have a formal mentoring program.

Informal Mentoring

Informal mentoring relationships are voluntary, loosely structured, and more personal and relationship-based. These relationships often evolve naturally as people seek out advice or ideas, meet others with common interests, or seek to expand their network. Sometimes mentoring matches are made by someone else based upon the protégé’s needs and a mentor’s skills, knowledge and abilities. Informal mentoring relationships may have no fixed duration and can range from a just-in-time period to a relationship that lasts for years.

Reverse Mentoring

Reverse mentoring is the practice of more senior staff consulting younger or less experienced staff for their wisdom and perspective. For instance, what motivates, challenges and engages their generation? What technologies and approaches should be used to tap into that group’s thinking and behavior?

Benefits of reverse mentoring

  • Bridges generation gaps in organizations
  • Leads to significant insights and increased performance
  • Connects younger, newer or less experienced workers with the organization and enhances their engagement and commitment

Passive Mentoring

An active mentor knows the protégé and actively builds the relationship; a passive mentor is not aware they serve as a mentor to someone. We all have passive mentors – people we admire whose actions or style influence us from a distance. Passive mentors are a source of inspiration, wisdom or insight through their example or words. Consciously recognizing who serves as a passive mentor for you can help you learn more intentionally from that person.

Mentoring vs. Coaching

Mentoring and coaching can both help individuals accelerate their development and find solutions. Here are some key distinctions.


Coaching emphasizes supporting individuals through their own intentional change and discovery. The coach focuses on eliciting client-generated solutions and strategies (versus “telling” or “advising”). Professional coaching focuses on setting goals, creating outcomes and managing personal change.


A mentor is an expert who provides wisdom and guidance based on his or her own experience. Like coaching, mentoring focuses on solutions rather than problems. There is more “telling” in mentoring than in coaching, since the mentor serves as an advisor and guide. Mentoring may include advising, counseling and coaching.

For a more detailed explanation of how coaching differs from mentoring, therapy, consulting, training or athletic development, refer to the International Coach Federation website.

Who can become a mentor?

Anyone interested in developing their leadership skills through nurturing the growth and development of less experienced employees should consider mentoring. Mentors act as a trusted friend, advisor, and teacher. Mentors have a wealth of technical and professional knowledge and experience they desire to share with others to help them reach their fullest potential.

Who can be a protégé?

Anyone who wants to expand their skills, increase their professional network, or challenge themselves in new ways should consider participating in a mentorship opportunity. Protégés must possess a high degree of initiative and be committed to lifelong learning.

Do I have to make a specific time commitment?

The duration of a mentoring engagement is flexible. You and your mentoring partner decide how often you will meet and how long you will continue a mentoring relationship. Often mentoring partners agree to meet for 3 or 6 months, then re-evaluate at that point.