Definitions

Mentoring is a process of creating a supporting relationship that has benefits for both parties. Mentoring originates from Greek mythology and  was used to describe a relationship where an older, wiser more experience guardian would serve as an advisor, teacher, friend and nurturer to a younger, inexperienced person.
 
Although contemporary definitions of mentoring vary, most people identify it with someone more experienced & knowledgeable providing information and advice to someone less experienced.
 

Mentoring and Counselling

Although there are many similarities between counselling and mentoring, such as exploring personal issues to increase self awareness, and facilitating personal goal achievement, there are also distinct differences that a mentor needs to remain aware. Mentors needs to work within their area of personal competence and refer their mentee to other professional parties when appropriate. 
 
Counselling issues are generally more personal in nature, and often relate to deep underlying issues that may be impacting on the mentee's level of motivation, low self-esteem, attitude towards colleagues, or poor performance. A mentor is not expected to deal with these issues. A mentor is primarily concerned with a more practical agenda such as assisting the mentee with setting career development goals, actioning plans and navigating barriers that may exist in their immediate environment.
 
It is important that mentors watch for signs and symptoms that a mentee may be in need of referral to a counsellor or psychologist. Effective mentors have the ability to assess when to approach this discussion with the mentee, and the ability to do so in a manner that is respectful, sensitive and empathic.
 
If you believe counseling assistance is more appropriate for your mentee, you can refer them to the University's Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which is a free service available to all UNSW staff.
 

Mentoring and Coaching

Mentoring differs from executive coaching in that coaching is generally focussed on identifying specific strengths and weaknesses and designing strategies to improve or develop skills in relation to the mentee's role. Mentoring, however, is generally more about career development and general guidance about the mentee's role in terms of understanding the key 'political' aspects of a role, and identifying potential barriers and pitfalls, with some guidance provided around how to deal with these.
 
However, many formal mentoring programs do incorporate some component of specific skills development or assistance with practical coaching activities such as preparing for a promotion interview or assistance with how to write a grant application.
 

Mentoring and Academic Supervision

In academia, a mentor is often associated with an academic supervisor, as the role of an academic supervisor is provide advice and guide the student in the completion of an assignment or thesis.
 
However, the power relationship is quite different to that of a mentor, as an academic supervisor does carry some authority or ability to directly influence the student's career. In an organisational context a mentor does not have any direct power or influence over a person's work or job.