Strategies to Maximize Mentoring Relationships

Posted on March 6, 2013 by


The mentoring relationship has the potential to benefit the mentor, protegé and the organization.  Social exchange theory can provide a theoretical framework for the context of the mentor-protegé relationship.  Research has identified several factors that maximize mentoring relationships. These include but are not limited to trust, cost-benefit ratio and reciprocity.  How these factors can influence the effectiveness of the mentor-protegé relationship should be considered so that they can be effectively managed.


Trust plays a key  role in the success of mentoring relationships.  Studies have shown that the effectiveness of the mentoring relationship is predicated in part on the level of trust that develops between the two parties (Erdem & Aytemur, 2008; Goldner & Mayseless, 2009; Ensher, Thomas & Murphy, 2001).  The greater the level of trust developed, the stronger the mentor’s ability to enhance the protegé’s self-esteem and self efficacy through the acquisition of new knowledge and skill (Ensher, Thomas & Murphy, 2001).  Further, the mentor is able to assimilate the protegé into organizational culture, specific professional social networks and expose the protegé to new opportunities within the organization (Erdem & Aytemur, 2008; Goldner & Mayseless, 2009; Ensher, Thomas & Murphy, 2001).

Cost-Benefit Ratio

Relationships are formed, maintained or ended based on the perceived ratio of relationship benefits to relationship costs (Erdem & Aytemur, 2008; Goldner & Mayseless, 2009; Ensher, Thomas & Murphy, 2001).  In the context of the mentor-protege relationship, the benefits outweigh the costs as long as both parties perceive they are “getting something” of value from the relationship.  Once the costs outweigh the benefits, the mentor-protegé relationship is terminated (Erdem & Aytemur, 2008; Goldner &Mayseless, 2009; Ensher, Thomas & Murphy, 2001).  For the mentor, greater rewards such as reputation enhancement and increased status reflect potential benefits that outweigh some costs (time constraints and investment) of the mentor-protegé relationship.  For the protegé, social support, role modeling and career support, reflect potential benefits that may outweigh some costs (vulnerability) of the mentor-protegé relationship (Erdem & Aytemur, 2008; Goldner & Mayseless, 2009; Ensher, Thomas & Murphy, 2001).


Research has noted that in a relationship, individuals engage in behaviors that reflect giving and receiving.  Mentors and protegés have expectations regarding reciprocity and those expectations are both explicit and implicit in nature.  Explicit expectations include promoting protegé development through increased confidence, independence, critical thinking skills and knowledge.  Implicit expectations include increased career and organizational satisfaction, better organizational socialization, and increased promotions (Erdem & Aytemur, 2008; Goldner &Mayseless, 2009; Ensher, Thomas & Murphy, 2001).  Perceptions of reciprocity can have a significant impact on satisfaction within the mentor-protegé relationship. So long as the protegé feels able to both give and receive benefits, the mentor-protegé relationship is viewed as being a satisfactory one.

By examining the factors that influence the effectiveness of the mentor-protegé relationship, mentors and protegés can take steps to manage these factors to ensure a satisfactory relationship.  Because of the intimate nature of the mentor-protegé relationship, the mentor can create an environment that supports the development of trust within the context of the relationship through behavior such as maintaining confidentiality. Additionally, both the mentor and protegé can define and manage the cost-benefit ratio during the relationship to ensure that the costs don’t outweigh the benefits.  For example, the protegé can recognize that investment of time is a significant cost for the mentor and engage in behaviors that demonstrate respect for the mentor’s time. Finally, while the protegé is the primary beneficiary of the relationship, both parties should recognize the opportunities for reciprocity that occur and use them as a means to further strengthen the bonds of the relationship and increase overall satisfaction.

Ensher, E.A., Thomas, C. & Murphy, S.E. (2001).  Comparisons of traditional, step-ahead, and peer mentoring on protegés’ support, satisfaction, and perceptions of career success: A social exchange perspective.  Journal of Business and Psychology, 15(3), 419-438.

Erdem, F. & Aytemur, J.O. (2008). Mentoring – A relationship based on trust: Qualitative Research. Public Personnel Management, 37(1), 55-65.

Goldner, L. & Mayseless, O. (2009). The quality of mentoring relationships and mentoring success. J Youth Adolescence, (38), 1339-1350. DOI: 10.1007/s1964-008-9345-0.