• Mentoring

Mentor Development: Role Clarity

Read a case study about role clarity which includes thought-provoking questions and best practice solutions.

Role Clarity – Case Overview

Jaylene has reflected back on the past three months of her mentoring relationship with Joshua with mixed emotion. In early days it was obvious that Joshua was very enthusiastic about having a mentor to support his new business. Joshua operates a cycling rental and repair retail business that caters to the needs of tourists visiting Vancouver’s English Bay. He values Jaylene’s business experience and frequently asks very specific questions of the mentor about the choices he was making. Joshua has yet to disagree with her opinions.

While this is encouraging, Jaylene does have some concerns. At a recent meeting Joshua described an urgent crisis that he wanted to discuss with her but he didn’t want to ‘bother’ Jaylene by telephone so he delayed making a decision until the next mentoring meeting. Unfortunately, the delay ended up costing the business $700.

Also, on a couple different occasions there has been confusion over who was going to be leading the next mentoring meeting and no agenda was created for the discussions. There are frequently misunderstandings over who should call whom to initiate contact.

Jaylene knows that getting more involved in the business is vital to her success as a mentor. For example, she has noticed that Joshua gives all of his friends wholesale pricing on parts and could be making more of a profit. If Jaylene had access to more detailed financial information, she could prove to Joshua that he has many other ways to increase the profitability of his business.

Jaylene’s position at the bank also enables her to offer Joshua a discount on business account fees. If Joshua decides to move his accounts to her bank as she suggested, he would save money and she could easily monitor his accounts – a Win-Win solution.


  • How would you describe Joshua’s contribution to the mentoring relationship? What misconceptions might he have about the role of a mentor?
  • What could Jaylene have done to prevent the costly mistake resulting from the business crisis?
  • What advice would you have for Jaylene and Joshua over getting clarity around meetings and contact? Why is this important?
  • Do you agree with Jaylene’s opinion that increased involvement in the business will make her a better mentor? Why or why not?
  • What specifically is Jaylene doing that contradicts the role of a Futurpreneur Canada mentor? What could she do differently?

Role Clarity – Best Practice Solutions

  • Joshua has been a very passive participant in the mentoring relationship. He has a few misconceptions about the role of mentor including the expectation that his mentor will provide ‘right’ answers and should be the one to initiate contact. He also feels like he needs to consult with his mentor before making business decisions even in a crisis. In reality, his mentor is simply there to guide and suggest and he needs to be the decision-maker for the business. Joshua should feel comfortable disagreeing with his mentor and feel comfortable initiating contact when needed.
  • To prevent the costly delay in decision-making, Jaylene could have ensured that Joshua understood her accessibility between mentoring meetings. More importantly, Joshua appears to be confused about his role as the decision-maker for the business. Jaylene could use this example to both clarify his role and to increase Joshua’s self-confidence in making his own business decisions. If Joshua knew that it was acceptable to email or telephone her for guidance between mentoring meetings, he may not have deferred the decision and still could have received some guidance prior to making the important decision.
  • Establishing a clear meeting plan is important for getting the most value from mentoring discussions. Joshua and Jaylene should begin by identifying the topics to be discussed at the upcoming meeting – this can be done informally via telephone or email. The agenda will determine if additional information should be shared in addition to confirming the date, time and location of the meeting. At the end of each meeting the person responsible for leading the next meeting (including setting the agenda and confirming the details) should be agreed upon. In early days this may be either Joshua or Jaylene however over time the entrepreneur should feel comfortable in taking charge of this process.
  • Jaylene’s intentions are good when she expresses interest in helping Joshua become more profitable. Unfortunately, the role of the mentor is not to become ‘hands-on’ within the business. As an advisor, Jaylene should use questioning and listening skills to generate discussion around areas that impact profitability. A Futurpreneur Canada mentor should not be requesting detailed reporting of any kind.
  • There are three key areas where Jaylene is contradicting the role of a Futurpreneur Canada mentor:
    • Jaylene appears to be ‘telling’ Joshua what to do – Futurpreneur Canada mentors help entrepreneurs help themselves by providing ideas and options for the entrepreneur to consider and by developing the capability of the entrepreneur over time.
    • Jaylene is requesting detailed financial information – Futurpreneur Canada mentors use dialogue and discussion as the basis for advice. Periodic reviews of summary financial data being gathered for Quarterly Reporting purposes are a good way to introduce probing questions around profitability.
    • Jaylene recommended Joshua become a client of hers at the bank is a clear conflict of interest. Futurpreneur Canada mentors do not profit from their mentoring relationships as outlined in the mentor contract. Even though Jaylene’s intention to save Joshua money on fees was honorable, the notion of using this connection to monitor his business activity is completely unethical.

Role Clarity – Key Learning Points

  • Mentoring vs. Managing. A mentor uses advanced questioning and listening skills to create dialogue that helps the entrepreneur develop their knowledge and skills. Asking for any type of formal reporting of information transforms the mentor into a ‘manager’ role. The mentor’s role is defined in the Mentor Job Description and further clarified in the Mentoring Agreement
  • Roles evolve over time. As the entrepreneur becomes more comfortable in the mentoring relationship, his or her role will evolve to assume more responsibility for leading discussions and selecting mentoring topics. The mentor should encourage the entrepreneur to be comfortable disagreeing with the advice offered and may ask for permission to raise more challenging issues over time. After three months, we encourage mentors to review the mentoring agreement created in the orientation as a platform for encouraging the evolution of the roles.
  • Avoid Conflict of Interest. Mentors must avoid any situation where they may be any real, potential or perceived conflict of interest. This may arise from personal matters, contract for services or competitive positions and should be discussed with the Regional Director immediately.