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Articles     by The The Growth Connection
© Copyright The Growth Connection Pty. Ltd. 1999-2012


The role of the mentor versus the supervisor

This question was raised at our first mentoring network meeting and is frequently asked when setting up a formal mentor program. It is an important issue - if the differences between the roles are unclear, the supervisor may react to concerns that their authority is being impinged upon. The mentoree can feel they have a conflict in loyalty or even career security.

In some programs the supervisor is nominated as the mentor which can further confuse the roles. This is often the approach used where mentoring forms part of a graduate development scheme, but we do not recommend this method. It is essential to ensure that the roles of the mentor and supervisor are clearly communicated and understood before the mentor program is launched.

Although there may be some variations between mentor programs, the roles differ in most programs in the following areas: the supervisor is responsible for managing the on-the-job performance of the mentoree and the mentor is not involved in performance assessment/appraisal.

the supervisor has authority or 'positional power' over the mentoree. The mentor may guide, suggest, coach but does not use power to direct actions.

A primary aim in the mentoring relationship is for the mentoree to become independent of the mentor. The supervisor/employee relationship by its nature is interdependent.

The supervisor's perspective is on the meeting of short term targets and day to day work where the mentor will usually have a longer term, more strategic focus on the mentoree's development.

The mentor does not have a vested interest in the mentoree's progress but the supervisor will be much more subjective.

The Growth Connection mentor program research results so far are indicating that supervisors have sabotaged the mentor relationship in some cases where they have felt threatened or isolated from the mentor process. What steps can you take to prevent these difficulties from arising in your organisation?

Involve the supervisors in the mentoring program from the beginning, if possible in the planning stages through focus group participation. The Growth Connection experience has found this to be very helpful in designing a pilot program.

When the mentor program project plan is completed, hold specific briefing meetings for the supervisors of potential mentorees so that they can have their questions answered and understand the process and project milestones.

Build contact between the mentor and supervisor into the program as soon as the mentoree has selected them.

Invite supervisors to follow up mentoring meetings and in the ongoing evaluation of the program.

The mentoring coordinator should ensure they liaise regularly with the mentoree's supervisors.

Guide the mentorees to keep their supervisor informed of upcoming meetings, overall progress (without the need to break confidentiality agreements) and openly discuss their mentoring development along with other forms of skill and experience development.

The most successful mentoring programs have the full and active support of the supervisors and managers outside the mentor relationship. A real measure of success is that these supervisors volunteer to be mentors in the next mentoring program.

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