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date: 01 December 2022

Mentoring and Coachingfree

Mentoring and Coachingfree

  • Fariyal Ross-SheriffFariyal Ross-SheriffHoward University
  •  and Julie OrmeJulie OrmeHoward University


This article provides a synopsis of mentoring and coaching, with a focus on the importance of mentoring in academia. Although there are considerable differences between mentoring and coaching, both of these processes share similar goals and foundational elements. Over time, the traditional concept of mentoring has evolved to become more relational in nature. Scholars have noted the benefits of this contemporary type of relational mentoring, as well as the challenges of mentoring with select populations (i.e., women and people of color) who have historically experienced barriers to receiving appropriate mentorship. Theoretical frameworks and practice recommendations are presented for understanding and developing mentoring relationships. By using a relational and holistic approach to mentoring, social work educators and practitioners can help to advance the next generation of leadership within the profession.


  • Administration and Management
  • Social Work Profession


This article provides a broad overview of mentoring and coaching, which are useful methods for helping individuals enhance their personal and professional lives. The historical origins and development of mentoring and coaching are reviewed, along with several definitions and the similarities and differences between mentoring and coaching. The evolution from the traditional to the relational mentoring approach, the high value placed on mentoring in academia, and the role of mentors within the social work profession are presented next. Relational and othermothering theories are useful theoretical frameworks to guide the mentoring process. The article ends with a discussion of the role that mentoring can play in academic achievement and professional advancement in social work.

Historical Overview of Mentoring and Coaching

Mentoring is a term generally used to describe the process of an experienced individual training, guiding, and supporting a protégé in a one-on-one relationship. The process usually occurs over an extended period of time, with the purpose of assisting the protégé to gain knowledge, skills, and values for advancement and achievement in education or a particular profession. The concept of the mentoring relationship in the Western world has evolved from classical Greek literature. In Homer’s poem, The Odyssey, the king of Ithaca, Odysseus, selected a guardian to care for his son and kingdom during his lengthy absence (Murray, 1991). This guardian, named Mentor, served faithfully in the roles of teacher, advisor, father figure, and friend to the prince (Murray, 1991). In ancient Greece, mentoring relationships between boys and older males were quite common (Murray, 1991). In the Middle Ages, apprenticeships in craft guilds were established based on mentoring principles (Murray, 1991). In the late 1970s, mentoring flourished throughout the United States, with a special focus given to career advancement (Allen & Eby, 2011).

The approaches and programs of mentoring vary widely across the globe due to cultural influences. The concept of mentoring, referred to as the guru/shishya tradition in Hinduism and Buddhism, dates back thousands of years (Monier-Williams, 1899). Significant systems of mentorship were practiced in India, whereby a guru (which means “teacher” in Sanskrit) transmitted understanding and knowledge to the shishya or chela (which means “disciple” in Sanskrit). Such knowledge, which is generally spiritual but also could be musical, architectural, or in other fields, was imparted and continues to be imparted in India, Tibet, and other parts of South Asia through the developing relationship between the guru and his or her disciple (Jones & Ryan, 2007). It is generally presented as a student sitting near a teacher while receiving knowledge. This relationship between the teacher and the disciple is based on the genuineness of the guru, the respect of the student for the guru, the devotion and obedience of the student, and commitment on the part of both. The mentoring relationship is considered the best way to master advanced knowledge.

Parsloe and Wray (2002) noted significant differences between the mentoring styles in the United States and European nations. The so-called American style of mentoring tends to emphasize career advancement, with a mentor who has some professional clout. On the other hand, the European style usually focuses on the personal growth and development of the protégé.

In the United States, mentoring has traditionally involved a hierarchal relationship where the mentor imparts knowledge and expertise to the protégé to promote his or her development (Ragins, 2011). In essence, the mentor fills the role of the “godfather” in this unidirectional mentoring relationship (Ragins, 2011). This type of mentoring relationship progresses through four phases: initiation, cultivation, separation, and redefinition (Kram, 1988). The initiation phase marks the beginning of the mentoring relationship, where expectations are formally or informally shared in order to give direction to the mentoring experience. During the cultivation phase, the relationship is enhanced with significant involvement from both mentor and protégé in activities that support the protégé’s development. The mentor and protégé then proceed through the separation phase, where the relationship is disrupted structurally, psychologically, or geographically (Scandura & Pelligrini, 2007). In the final redefinition phase, an interdependent relationship develops, in which the mentor and protégé experience more peerlike interactions and mutual support. Over time, the traditional mentoring relationship has evolved to become more relational and reciprocal in nature (Ragins, 2011). In addition to gaining knowledge and skills, in relational mentoring, the protégé develops attitudes and values similar to the mentor, and over time, the mentor and protégé influence each other and benefit from the relationship.

Coaching is a method of instruction that focuses on improving performance and enhancing skills. The coach and student focus on a narrow outcome (i.e., enhancing the student’s skills so as to improve her or his performance). The coach-student relationship can be either short or long-lasting. It may or may not include development of the student’s values and attitudes. It can be a one-on-several or a one-on-one relationship. The term coach first appeared in the 1830s and was defined by Oxford University as a colloquial term referring to a tutor (Morrison, 2010). The concept of coaching developed in the 1880s and has mostly been associated with the field of sports. In the 1990s, coaching was further established as a professional discipline, with an emphasis on coaching in the workplace (Morrison, 2010). More recently, the concept has been applied to numerous professions, including business and executive coaching, career coaching, financial coaching, health and wellness coaching, life coaching, and organizational coaching.

Although differences have been noted in the amount of emphasis placed on goal setting among coaches in Europe and the United States (David, Clutterbuck, & Megginson, 2014), the foundational elements of coaching are comparable around the world. However, rather than using a Western framework, Geber and Keane (2013) suggest the use of indigenous knowledge and values while conducting coaching research and training in South Africa. By using and implementing the relationship-centered concept of Ubuntu, often interpreted as “humanism,” coaching research and training can be more inclusive and culturally relevant to people of color within the nation (Geber & Keane, 2013). Similarly, Wilson (2013) urges mentors and coaches to develop a global mindset to be effective in an increasingly multicultural world where the concepts of mentoring and coaching may differ.

Definitions of Mentoring and Coaching

Mentoring is a formal and informal process of imparting knowledge, social capital, and psychosocial support for professional development that usually occurs in a dyadic, one-to-one relationship over an extended period of time (Bozeman & Feeney, 2007). The “mentor-protégé relationship” has been researched and analyzed in depth, especially within the corporate and academic arenas (Paglis, Green, & Bauer, 2006, p. 451). The literature has documented the benefits of mentorship to protégés, mentors, and organizations with regard to career advancement (Allen, Poteet, Russell, & Dobbins, 1997; Aryee, Chay, & Chew, 1996; Chao, Walz, & Gardner, 1992; Donaldson, Ensher, & Grant-Vallone, 2000; Higgins & Kram, 2001; Kram, 1988; Payne & Huffman, 2005; Scandura, 1992). In addition to vocational support, providing psychosocial support to protégés is considered an important function of mentorship (Kram, 1988). After providing advice or feedback, mentors sometimes invite protégés to practice self-reflection to promote growth. The process of mentoring “relates primarily to the identification and nurturing of potential for the whole person” (Megginson & Clutterbuck, 2005, p. 4). Thus, mentors assist individuals in developing both personally and professionally.

Coaching has been defined as “a process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve” (Parsloe, 1999, p. 8). The coaching process usually has a set, limited duration, although coaching sometimes refers to an ongoing type of management (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2014). Coaching often “targets high performance and improvement at work and usually focuses on specific skills and goals” (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2014, para 2). According to Megginson and Clutterbuck (2005, p. 4):

Coaching relates primarily to performance improvement (often over the short term) in a specific skills area. The goals, or at least the intermediate or sub-goals, are typically set with or at the suggestion of the coach. While the learner has primary ownership of the goal, the coach has primary ownership of the process.

The coaching process usually involves direct and immediate feedback to the person being observed, as contrasted to the self-analysis that occurs during mentoring (Megginson & Clutterbuck, 2005).

Mentoring and coaching use similar techniques to promote an individual’s knowledge, skills, and performance. Both of these relationships draw upon the trainer’s experience and involve giving advice (Clutterbuck, 2008). Mentors and coaches use goals and directive or nondirective approaches to assist protégés or students in achieving personal ambitions (Clutterbuck, 2008). Both mentors and coaches provide constructive criticism and support to protégés or students. Due to the similarities between mentoring and coaching, the terms are sometimes used interchangeably (Clutterbuck, 2008). However, there are significant differences between the two.

Mentoring involves a significant focus on the relationship between the mentor and the protégé, compared to coaching, which has a task focus (Management Mentors, 2013). Mentoring is often meant to address career self-management or advancement in higher education, whereas coaching tends to emphasize performance change. Unlike mentoring, which normally occurs in a long-term arrangement, coaching generally has a limited time frame. During the mentoring process, the interaction between the mentor and protégé is reciprocal in nature and results in mutual change. On the other hand, the emphasis of the coaching relationship is mostly on the transformation of the student and has less impact on the coach (Management Mentors, 2013). Although mentoring often has predetermined goals, measuring the success of the process is more challenging due to the subjective nature of the relationship (Management Mentors, 2013). Conversely, the results of the coaching process are easier to evaluate due to the focus on performance. Coaches are often compensated for their services, and mentors might not be (Management Mentors, 2013). Ultimately, coaching generally involves a behavioral transformation and mentoring entails a holistic personal transformation (Management Mentors, 2013).

Mentoring and coaching have been valuable societal tools in helping individuals to achieve academic, professional, and personal enhancement. Mentoring and coaching occurs successfully within and across gender, racial, and ethnic groups. Although several studies highlight the benefits of mentoring and coaching, marginalized populations (specifically women and people of color) have had different experiences with these processes (McClain, Bridges, & Bridges, 2014; Thomas, Willis, & Davis, 2007). Due to the importance of mentoring within academia and the social work profession, the remainder of this article will focus on mentoring (i.e., mentoring with select populations, mentoring in social work, and theories on mentoring).

Mentoring and Select Populations

The importance of mentoring has been well documented for healthy adult development. Levinson (1978), in a seminal study on career patterns of men’s lives, characterized mentorship as one of the three important factors, in addition to the career dream and the resolution of midlife crises, for their success throughout their lives. Thereafter, several other studies have documented the importance of mentorship for healthy adult development in women as well (Allen & Eby, 2011; Kanter, 1977; Kram, 1988; Roche, 1979; Vaillant, 1977). Thomas (2001, p. 99) discovered in his research in corporate America that people of color who are able to climb the corporate ladder successfully had one revealing commonality: they all had “a strong network of mentors … who nurtured their professional development.” Several scholars have argued that mentorship has predominantly benefited white males, and then a relatively small number of women and persons of color as well. The mentoring relationship needs to be adapted and extended for the benefit of greater numbers of women and marginalized populations [e.g., African Americans, Latinos/as, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer (LGBTQ) persons (Ek, Quijada Cerecer, Alanis, & Rodriguez, 2010; Hunt & Michael, 1983; Lee, 1999; McAllister, Harold, Ahmedani, & Cramer, 2009; Thomas et al., 2007; Tillman, 2001)].

Mentoring has also been described as an effective strategy for increasing diversity in higher-education settings (Cullen & Luna, 1993). In a review of research on women’s mentoring experiences in academia, Chandler (1996) summarizes that while mentoring experiences are very beneficial for career development of women in the sciences, the traditional mentor-protégé model does not meet women’s needs due to several factors. Gender role stereotypes and power disparity between males and females generally do not work to the best interest of women. Sex differences in the socialization of females may require different forms of mentoring. In addition, women who plan to have families and interrupt their careers to take on child care responsibilities, or limit their participation in professional roles during the period when their children are young, are likely to need support from peer mentors. Thus, the psychosocial aspects of mentoring may be more appropriate for these women, who can receive support from peer relationships with others who are going through similar challenges, rather than the more hierarchical relationships found in traditional mentoring.

Cross-gender mentoring has been described as particularly challenging due to differing communication styles and expectations, as indicated through qualitative research (Bruce, 1995). For example, society views male leaders as more direct, but women leaders as “bossy.” Bruce (1995) also suggests that concerns about sexual harassment in cross-gender mentoring relationships present another hindrance to the advancement of women in academia. As men have generally dominated academia, many higher-education institutions have male-oriented expectations (Cullen & Luna, 1993). Many professional networking activities were dominated by senior male mentors and precluded women from entering certain positions (Cullen & Luna, 1993). Relatively small numbers of women role models within academia was an additional impediment to gender diversity in higher education (Cullen & Luna, 1993). While some women benefited and continue to benefit from cross-gender mentoring, same-sex role models are important to many female students (Cullen & Luna, 1993). As a result, women mentors are often overburdened with the task of mentoring multiple female students (Cullen & Luna, 1993). With recent increases in the numbers of women in higher-education and professional positions, the number of women likely to benefit from mentoring also will increase.

Similar questions have been raised about mentorship for African Americans. The historical exclusion of African Americans and their systematic lack of access to higher education, as well as their experience of discrimination, have resulted in challenges for African Americans in educational and professional advancement (Willie, Reddick, & Brown, 2006). Even though discriminatory practices have changed since the end of legal racial segregation in education, racial disparities in access to higher education and educational accomplishments remain. Since the civil rights movement in the 1960s, special efforts have been made by universities across the country to recruit and support minority students (including women) through financial resources and mentoring. Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) also have played and continue to play an integral role in leveling these racial disparities (Allen, 1992), often through providing mentorship by professors to students of their own racial background. For many African American students, HBCUs provide close, familylike faculty-student mentoring relationships that are especially empowering (Allen, 1992; Brooks, 2011).

Mentoring in Social Work

Since the beginning of the social work profession, field work with mentorship has been a critical component of practice training and later emerged as a foundational element of social work education. Abbott (1915) described field work education as learning by arranged opportunities, whereby experienced professionals provide oversight and supervision to students. This learning process involves a mentor-protégé relationship that is vital to the personal and professional growth in social work education at the bachelor- or master’s-degree level. At the PhD level, academic development of students is achieved through a multidimensional relationship between the faculty and students as the students navigate through graduate education while working as graduate research assistants or teaching assistants for their mentors, and prepare for successful careers for research, teaching, advanced practice, and knowledge generation. In these arrangements, students are mentored through an experiential learning process in the context of mutually supportive and dyadic mentoring relationships.

High-quality mentoring provides unique opportunities for the advancement of students in higher education. Having a mentor is also a critical factor in career advancement, while lack of a mentor may result in untimely advancement or hindrance to a successful career. The Group for the Advancement of Social Work Education (GADE, 2013) calls for mentoring as one of the essential needs for timely completion of PhD programs. Mentoring research in social work indicates that the mentor’s role is highly esteemed by social work faculty, students want closer mentoring relationships with their mentors, and the mentoring process can have a significant impact on students’ career development (Brown, Dilday, Johnson, Jackson, & Brown 1998; Gutiérrez, 2012; Pearson, 1998; Pomeroy & Steiker, 2011).

In social work education, mentoring also has been explored among diverse populations, including women, African Americans, new social work faculty, and LGBTQ populations (Cascio & Gasker, 2001; McAllister et al., 2009; Simon, Bowles, King, & Roff, 2004; Simon, Roff, & Perry, 2008; Wilson, Valentine, & Pereira, 2002). Women and African Americans are underrepresented in high-ranking and administrative positions in social work education (Sakamoto, Anastas, McPhail, & Colarossi, 2008). Research on mentorship experiences of African Americans in academia is limited, although academic journals do focus on their experiences anecdotally and identify mentoring as a critical factor in their retention and completion of PhD degrees (Allen, 1992; Crawford & Smith, 2005; Garrett, 2006; Simon et al., 2008; Carter-Black, 2008).

With advancement in knowledge about the benefits of relational mentoring, mentorship relations are now prevalent in academia and in the social work profession. Two theories for understanding high-quality relational mentoring (namely, relational cultural and othermothering theories) are presented next.

Mentoring and Theoretical Perspectives

Relational cultural theory and othermothering provide a framework for understanding relational mentoring in general, and for women and African American groups in particular. Relational cultural theory, developed by Miller and Stiver (1997), has developed over time and can be applicable to most social work mentoring experiences. The theory of othermothering, which originated from the African American historical experience, also can be applied selectively to marginalized, poor, and oppressed groups to meet the social justice goal of social work profession.

Relational cultural theory, when applied to mentoring, becomes a reciprocal process that is guided by mutuality rather than a hierarchical relationship. It deconstructs the traditional model of mentoring. Drawing from Kaplan (1991, p. 208) relational mentoring entails “a capacity to be attuned to the affect of others, understanding and being understood by the other, and thus participating in the development of others”. Relational mentoring is a two-way process in which both mentors and protégées experience mutual support and personal enrichment, resulting in feelings of empowerment and educational and/or professional enhancement (Edwards & Richards, 2002).

The term othermothering was introduced as a form of mentoring by African Americans in higher education by Hirt, Amelink, McFeeters, and Strayhorn (2008). Collins (2000, p. 178) described othermothering as “women who assist blood-mothers by sharing mothering responsibilities.” From the beginning of slavery, caring for orphaned children of other slave mothers became a necessity due to the death or sale of those mothers. The practice was extended to children of impoverished women (Collins, 2000) and for educating children beyond basic care (Dubey, 1995). Good teachers in segregated schools provided care beyond formal education in their classrooms and provided support as fictive kin (Dempsey & Noblit, 1993). Othermothering has been discussed in teacher training of African American children and youth in secondary schools and at HBCUs (Foster, 1993).

The concept of othermothering at HBCUs includes the following principles: (1) an ethic of care that promotes student welfare, (2) a moral responsibility on the part of African American professors to advance their culture and education, and (3) guardianship of HBCUs that is committed to their institutional maintenance and advancement (Hirt et al., 2008). Using othermothering, the mentors (male and female) take on the responsibility for those who do not have family, for those whose family members are unavailable, or in situations where families do not have adequate resources to support the progress of students.

While the concept of othermothering has been applied to mentoring among African Americans, the principles can be used effectively by whites and other groups as well. This holistic approach to mentoring requires a protégé-centered philosophy in academia. Within an increasingly diverse educational system, relationship-based mentoring can be applied for the advancement of many.


Mentoring and coaching are important strategies that can be used to improve student and faculty outcomes in academia and the social work profession. Due to the numerous responsibilities of educators, mentoring and coaching relationships may not receive sufficient emphasis. Making time for relational mentoring should be a high priority for educators and social work practitioners. By using culturally relevant mentoring strategies that recognize the value of nurturing connections with protégés, social work professionals can uphold the profession’s ethical values of the importance of human relationships and providing service in order to inspire and uplift future social work leaders.

Further Reading

  • Boyle, P., & Boice, B. (1998). Systematic mentoring for new faculty teachers and graduate teaching assistants. Innovative Higher Education, 22(3), 157–179.
  • Brownhill, S., Wilhelm, K., & Watson, A. (2006). “Losing Touch”: Teachers on teaching and learning. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 34(1), 5–26.
  • Cascio, T., & Gasker, J. (2001). Everyone has a shining side: Computer-mediated mentoring in social work education. Journal of Social Work Education, 37(2), 283–293.
  • Kim, S. A. (2012). My tapestry of mentoring relationships: Weaving the threads of cultural competency and international social work. Reflections: Narratives of Professional Helping, 18(3), 13–19.
  • Kochan, F. K., & Pascarelli, J. T. (Eds.). (2003). Global perspectives on mentoring: Transforming contexts, communities, and cultures. Greenwich, CT. Information Age Publishing.
  • Paglis, L., Green, S., & Bauer, T. (2006). Does adviser mentoring add value? A longitudinal study of mentoring and doctoral student outcomes. Research in Higher Education, 47(4), 451–476.
  • Payne, S. C., & Huffman, A. H. (2005). A longitudinal examination of the influence of mentoring on organizational commitment and turnover. Academy of Management Journal, 48(1), 158–168.
  • Salter, T. (2014). Mentor and coach: Disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and multidisciplinary approaches. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching & Mentoring, Special Issue 8, 1–8.
  • Scaffidi, A. K., & Berman, J. E. (2011). A positive postdoctoral experience is related to quality supervision and career mentoring, collaborations, networking, and a nurturing research environment. Higher Education: The International Journal of Higher Education and Educational Planning, 62(6), 685–698.
  • Waldeck, J. H., Orrego, V. O., Plax, T. G., & Kearney, P. (1997). Graduate student/faculty mentoring relationships: Who gets mentored, how it happens, and to what end. Communication Quarterly, 45(3), 93–109.
  • Wang, J. (2001). Contexts of mentoring and opportunities for learning to teach: A comparative study of mentoring practice. Teaching and Teacher Education, 17(1), 51–73.


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