The Developmental Model of Mentoring

Alexis Hutson, our mentoring skills workshop facilitator, on the model of mentoring we support.

Most people will have experienced mentoring in one form or another at some point in their lives. It could have been at school, via a sports activity or an insightful colleague at work. The point is that at different points in our lives and careers mentors can have a powerful impact in supporting us to navigate change and challenge. It is also important to remember that mentoring needs evolve over time, so taking time to consider what kind of a mentor you need now, and why is crucial.

Here we set out why we advocate a developmental model of mentoring at the Academy. Developmental mentoring emerged in Europe in the 1980s as a process for empowering others to take charge of their own development. This is in contrast to a ‘structured’ or ‘sponsorship’ model of mentoring that was more widespread at the time, especially in the business world in the United States. It is important to be clear on how different these two approaches are.

Developmental Mentoring

Structured Mentoring

The mentor is more experienced in a relevant field but ideally independent of the mentee’s direct professional life.

The mentor may have a hierarchical influence over the mentee and their career progression.

The mentor helps the mentee to discover their own wisdom and do things for themselves.

The mentor can promote and escalate the career of the mentee.


The mentor’s experience and wisdom are not necessarily passed on, but can be accessed when needed.

The mentor gives advice and guidance and the acquisition of skills or knowledge is paramount.

There is a recognition of mutual growth and learning together despite the different levels of experience.

The learning is one way; from mentor to mentee.


The primary focus is on the development of the mentee and their personal journey.

The primary focus is on career development for the benefit of the organisation.

Great questions are central.

Great advice is the focus.


Characteristics of developmental mentoring

  • Mentor and mentee are able to address difficult issues as they arise due to the significant level of trust built between the two.
  • There is no line of accountability, e.g. manager/direct report, supervisor/researcher, so the conversations are more likely to be free from bias.
  • Generosity of time and help by the mentor and the willingness of the mentee to take charge of their learning.
  • A focus on developing levels of understanding or taking on more responsibility.

Most careers are now in some form of transition and seeking a mentor through the Academy is an excellent way to gain the input of an independent, non-judgmental expert colleague who will help you negotiate what lies ahead.


This article is part of a fifteen day social media campaign celebrating our Mentoring programme, follow the Academy on Twitter @acmedsci and check #mentoringat15 for further updates.

For more information about our mentoring programme, please visit the mentoring pages of our website.

“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves." Steven Spielberg

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