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Stephanie Evans Mentoring – from Greek mythology to current times!

There is a saying “what goes around, comes around”. I don’t know its origins but it is certainly true – trends, fashions, fads - you name it, it has probably been seen before in some shape or form. The same is true for mentoring and in fact coaching.

In the 1600’s ‘to coach’ meant ‘to transport a valuable person from one place to another’. Today, we are all valuable people who are encouraged to develop our skills & knowledge so as to transport ourselves from one level of development to another.

Greek mythology tells us of the goddess Athene who took the form of a nobleman called Mentor to act as friend and guide to the son of Odysseus. Today, ‘mentors’ act as trusted friend and supporter of an individual in their career development.

Not a modern phenomenon then! So how do we make the most of this in today’s workplace? I thought I would share some of my experiences as a mentor, a mentee and introducing a mentoring programme into the development options in the workplace.

Some of you reading this may say ‘but we have coaching and it’s working really well so why add in another complication with mentoring – it’s the same sort of thing anyway’.

In some respects you may be right so I want to share my experiences and views to highlight the differences and give you an alternative where both can be valuable, opening up this type of development to more individuals. As we all know ‘one size does not fit all’ and by utilising both mentoring and coaching in the workplace you provide more choice to individuals, enabling them to develop in the best way for them and their particular needs.

Coaching vs Mentoring

There are many definitions of both so I have selected one for each that I think work well.

Coaching is… "a process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve. To be successful a Coach requires a knowledge and understanding of process as well as the variety of styles, skills and techniques that are appropriate to the context in which the coaching takes place."

(Eric Parsloe, The Manager as Coach and Mentor (1999))

Mentoring is… “an off-line process where one person offer help, guidance, advice and support to facilitate the learning or development of another.”

(Clutterbuck, D & Megginson, D, Mentoring Executives and Directors (1999)

For me the two processes are steps on the development journey:

Development Journey


The following diagram illustrates not only the differences between coaching and mentoring but also the fact that there are two different types of coaching – direct and indirect.


Direct Coaching

This is guidance or instruction on how to undertake a task, follow a process or use a skill. In addition to the instruction, additional underpinning knowledge is also provided. The person who coaches is usually seen as an expert in the task, process or skill they are coaching in. The coaching session will also provide the person being coached with the opportunity to practise or demonstrate what they have learned. There are limitations with this type of coaching as the person being coached can become dependent on the coach.

Indirect Coaching

The person who undertakes the coaching does not need to have all specific knowledge or significant expertise in the area they are coaching in. They do not give advice or guidance unless it is absolutely necessary. Instead, their expertise lies in their skill to be able to get others to resolve issues, overcome obstacles or achieve specific goals for themselves by questioning, challenging and providing different perspectives. The outcome of the coaching is that the person being coached identifies for themselves some specific actions that they are going to take that help them to make progress. This type of coaching creates insight and the ability to think and solve problems for the person being coached.


This uses broadly the same skills as coaching but they are applied in a slightly different way. Mentoring is the sharing of specific knowledge, skills or expertise in a way that enables others to understand and utilise these in their current or future role. The knowledge and skills are provided by someone who is seen as an expert in this and who is usually more senior than the person they are mentoring. Unlike direct coaching, the mentor rarely gives advice or instruction but instead provides information and the benefit of their expertise for others to use, thus enabling them to be more effective and expand their skills or knowledge.

I have been lucky to have been recipient of all three of these:

  • When I was new to HR, or Personnel as it was referred to then, I was coached (direct coaching) by another experienced Personnel Manager and then attended training run by experts in HR where we had opportunities to practice what we had learned
  • Later in my career I participated in many indirect coaching sessions – from my line manager, more senior colleagues and professional coaches - to develop my skills and abilities to both succeed in my chosen career and to support me in my personal life. I built my confidence, my ability to manage my emotions (especially when receiving feedback!), presentation skills, handling conflict – and many others
  • I would say I have had two key mentors in my career – both business managers in the organisations where I have worked who provided several of the mentoring roles for me – safety valve; sounding board; advocate; sponsor; influencer; mirror and protector and I have a lot to thank them for as they have helped me shape my career

The indirect coaching and the mentoring were not part of any formal workplace programme and the indirect coaching was a mix of happenstance and programme participation. At this time I also trained as a coach for the organisation I was working for and then went on to complete a Career Coaching accreditation and developed an in-house programme following this. Career Coaching is one of the services I offer still today.

Benefits of Mentoring



  • Own learning through feedback on and understanding of their own skills/style
  • Insight into relationships with own direct reports
  • Opportunity to be challenged
  • Satisfaction at seeing someone else grow
  • Deeper insight into organisational issues and feelings
  • A way of being in touch with new ideas,
  • Esteem and recognition through mentee’s achievements
  • Source of advice and guidance
  • Reassurance
  • Personal reflective space
  • Source of challenge
  • Access to new networks
  • Safe learning environment
  • Increased self-confidence
  • Personalised help in resolving challenges
  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Increased understanding of business
  • Increased self–awareness


Line Manager


  • A reinforcing second opinion
  • Better relationship with mentee and between mentee and team
  • Shared responsibility for developing the mentee
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased motivation of mentee
  • Reduced absence (potentially)
  • Information feeds into appraisals -additional support
  • Free up time for other management duties
  • Better recruitment and retention
  • Empowered staff
  • Increased productivity
  • Improved communication
  • Improved succession planning and management development
  • Positive orientation to learning
  • Development of organisation culture towards being a ‘learning organisation’


Interesting Statistics about Mentoring

  • 71% of Fortune 500 companies have a mentoring program (Lydell Bridgeford, August 1, 2007)
  • 69% of surveyed companies, representing a wide variety of industries, have formal mentoring programs, and of those, 74% have mentoring programs dedicated to women (Catalyst, 2006)
  • 60% of UK business leaders have had a mentor, and of these, 97% said they had benefited from the advice given (DDI, 2005)
  • 47% of organisations recently surveyed have mentoring programs (The Institute for Corporate Productivity, 2007)
  • An analysis of 151 studies on mentoring found that over 90% reported evidence of positive outcomes from mentoring programs (B.C. Hansford, L.C. Ehrich and L. Tennent, 2003).
  • 25% of employees who enrolled in a mentoring program had a salary-grade change, while only 5% of workers who did not participate in a mentoring programme had a change
  • Mentors were promoted 6 times more often than those not in a mentoring programme
  • Mentees were promoted 5 times more often than those not in a mentoring program
  • Retention rates also were higher for both mentees (72%) and mentors (69%) than for employees who did not participate in a mentoring program
  • Mentees experience higher career satisfaction, career commitment, career mobility, and positive job attitudes (B.R. Ragins, J.L. Cotton, and J.S. Miller, J.S, 2002).
  • Mentoring also benefits the organisation by reducing turnover, increasing organisational commitment, promoting knowledge sharing and retention, and enabling early identification of top talent (C. Gibb, 1999, and G.L. Lewis 1996)

Keep an eye out for my next blog, ‘Introducing mentoring into your workplace’, on 10 December.

Sign up to our webinar 'Using mentoring as a development tool' which takes place on 9 December. Register now.

Contact us now to discuss how we can help you incorporate a mentoring programme into your organisation.


Stephanie Evans, Coaching and Mentoring Consultant, Bray Leino Learning

Copyright © 2014 Bray Leino Learning

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