The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing

Teaching Tips 


Karren Kowalski, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, ANEF, FAAN


This article focuses on the definition of mentoring and what mentors need to know. It also describes a mentoring mindset and specific mentoring behaviors. Negative behaviors and approaches are also identified to facilitate differentiation between actions that work and those that extinguish mentoring relationships. [J Contin Educ Nurs. 2019;50(12):540–541.]


This article focuses on the definition of mentoring and what mentors need to know. It also describes a mentoring mindset and specific mentoring behaviors. Negative behaviors and approaches are also identified to facilitate differentiation between actions that work and those that extinguish mentoring relationships. [J Contin Educ Nurs. 2019;50(12):540–541.]

In the Greek epic poem “The Odyssey,” Homer tells of Odysseus giving his son Telemachus to his faithful friend Mentor both to teach and to guide the prince's development while Odysseus was off fighting the Trojan Wars. This is the origin of the word “mentor,” which describes a wise and trusted advisor (Harvard Business Review, 2004). Thus, a mentor is a person who offers advice, information, and guidance to the mentee, who would otherwise grow more slowly or not at all without the mentoring. This process involves sponsorship, protection, challenge, and increased exposure and visibility of the mentee in an organization or profession (Harvard Business Review, 2004). This is a very different approach than coaching or precepting.

What Do You Need to Know to Be a Mentor?

Maxwell (2008) stated that to be a successful mentor you must first seek to understand yourself, then others. This idea correlates with being a leader, which also involves knowing and understanding yourself. Tools are available to facilitate this effort, such as the DiSC® work style profile, Myers–Briggs Type Indicator®, the Emotional Quotient Inventory or emotional intelligence, and Strengths-Finder 2.0 (Kowalski, 2019). Such tools can identify what you perform well and how you interact with coworkers with a primary focus on behaviors. In other words, what do you do or how do you act in certain situations? Are these unconscious behaviors helpful or distracting? These tools also provide suggestions for how you might improve interactions with others. Often, different or opposite work styles can lead to conflict because two people can see the world completely differently.

Mentoring is not about “what is in it for you.” Mentoring comes from a more selfless perspective. It is important to consider your purpose in mentoring. Do you perform it as a task to be completed for promotion? Or to benefit you in another way because you want to support others in learning and growing, to raise them up to a higher level, to support them to be all they can be?

What Mentors Need to Know

First, mentors need to understand the concept of acknowledgement. They need to understand how to create an environment where people feel valued and have a sense of positive self worth. In other words, make others feel important, useful, and productive. The mentor's focus needs to be on positive reinforcement (Johnson & Ridley, 2018). Most individuals can excel when the focus is on approval rather than criticism and correction.

Motivation is an internal drive that sometimes is forced from people with consistent ongoing criticism, lack of support, stress, inadequate resources, poor communication, and minimal preparation or training for specific jobs. Rebuilding motivation often is connected to relationships. If a mentee knows the mentor and begins to build a relationship with the mentor, the chances for a successful mentor and mentee connection are greatly enhanced.

Adopting a Mentor's Mindset

Maxwell (2008) stated that who you are as a human being and mentor is more important than what you do. A mentor's mind set focuses on making people development your top priority. Especially in our busy society and work places, it is easier to skip over people or shut them out than to devote the time to helping them grow or develop. At the same time, do not over commit with the number of people you attempt to mentor. Use the Pareto Principle (Business Dictionary, n.d.), which focuses on spending 80% of your time developing 20% of your people—the people with the most potential and the best linkages to the mentor. A positive and supportive relationship with the mentee is critical to the process, and it begins with a relationship. Maxwell (2008) suggested that mentoring help and support is unconditional for those with a mentoring mind set. No expectations for gaining something in return can be present because one could be disappointed if there are no returns. This can lead to bitterness, a result that is the opposite of the core aspects of mentoring previously discussed. Mentors want to see their mentees succeed and to grow and learn, and to implement all of these aspects. They do not focus on what is in it for themselves.

What are Mentoring Behaviors?

Lois Zachary (2012), an internationally recognized expert on mentoring, has developed a guide for mentors and what behaviors are needed. She organized these behaviors into phases of the mentoring process. The context consists of mentors understanding themselves and what they bring to the process. This process includes how to develop relationships and is grounded in adult learning principles and emotional intelligence. Zachary (2012) defined these elements as being an active partner and facilitator, and that these relationships are focused on goals, as well as process oriented in which critical reflection and application of learning occurs. She emphasizes that we have multiple mentors over a lifetime.

She focuses on mentors asking deep and reflective questions while using paraphrasing for clarifying what the mentor hears. Mentors are not afraid of summarizing and making suggestions. Mentors help the mentees formulate agreements for behaviors and the mentee provides feedback and support for the process, as well as overcoming obstacles. They help the mentee identify the next steps in pursuit of their goals. The mentor often challenges the mentee both in thinking and in behaviors. She is a great proponent of reflective practice for both the mentor and the mentee and has multiple tools in her book to facilitate the mentoring process. Other mentoring tool kits can also be used, including the Ontario Nurses' Association's Mentor Toolkit (2013).

Things Mentors Should Not Do

Chopra and Saint (2017) identified behaviors that mentors should avoid, such as slowing your mentee's work or progress because you are slow to get back to them or respond to their telephone calls and questions. It is valuable in the mentoring relationship for the mentor to respond in a timely fashion and to honor scheduled meetings. Another behavior is requiring exclusivity in the relationship or demanding that mentees not have relationships with others who could be considered mentors. This could be seen as insecurity on the part of the mentor. Additionally, failing to provide appropriate feedback to a mentee when he or she repeats common self-destructive behaviors is to fail in the role of mentor. Taking credit for work done by the mentee or attaching the mentor's name to work done by the mentee is inappropriate. Although these behaviors may not seem overt, they are more common than one might think.


Mentoring is one of the most powerful experiences leaders enjoy. The role of mentor facilitates the ability to leave a legacy of significant work both in specific organizations and the profession. When approached in a positive and constructive manner, mentoring can make a significant difference in people's lives.


  • Business Dictionary. (n.d.). The Pareto Principle or 80–20 rule. Retrieved from
  • Chopra, V. & Saint, S. (2017). 6 things every mentor should do. Retrieved from
  • Harvard Business Review. (2004). Coaching and mentoring: How to develop top talent and achieve stronger performance. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
  • Johnson, W.B. & Ridley, C.R. (2018). The elements of mentoring: 75 practices of master mentors (3rd ed.). New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.
  • Kowalski, K. (2019). Self-assessment and the DiSC. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 50, 347–348. doi:10.3928/00220124-20190717-04 [CrossRef]31356671
  • Maxwell, J.C. (2008). Mentoring 101: What every leader needs to know. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
  • Ontario Nurses' Association. (2013). The ONA mentor toolkit. Retrieved from
  • Zachary, L. (2012). The mentor's guide: Facilitating effective learning relationships (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Dr. Kowalski is President and CEO, Kowalski and Associates, Larkspur, Colorado, and Professor, Texas Tech University, School of Nursing, Health Sciences Center, Lubbock, Texas.

The author has disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

Address correspondence to Karren Kowalski, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, ANEF, FAAN, President and CEO, Kowalski & Associates; e-mail:


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