What is Mentoring?

Dee Elliott

Dee Elliott, NAWBO-OC Mentoring Program Founder

Mentoring is the latest buzzword. We’ve heard it in business and in our personal lives. Businesses currently invest thousands of dollars in mentoring programs. The DEC program provides similar benefits to NAWBO-OC members. Research has found that the quickest way to achieve your goals is by having a single dedicated person help you along the way. From the Mentor’s perspective, you will be partnered with someone who wishes guidance to identify her goals and help her attain her personal and professional objectives. You and your mentee do not necessarily have to be in the same profession. Mentors only need to possess skills in the areas where you want to grow and more importantly have similar values to her mentee. Mentoring is about someone’s personal and professional development. As a mentor, you will grow and share your knowledge and expertise with someone who wants to learn. As a mentee you will gain valuable experience from someone who has been on this path before you.

Creating Successful Mentoring Programs

For organizations considering a mentoring program, there are certain things that just must be included to make it successful.  My name is Dee Elliott, of Dee Elliott Consulting, and I brought the 9-month-long program to NAWBO-OC 10 years ago. During that time it has been touted as one of the most successful Mentoring Programs in California.  It draws interest from existing NAWBO members and from women business owners who join NAWBO specifically because of the program.  Its success has been shown by the ever increasing number of women in the program and the business and personal successes they have shared.  In my research, which included both profit and not-for-profit organizations, there were certain commonalities to the successful mentoring programs.  And after running our program for 10 years, history has taught me that there are certain things that just must be a part of a Mentoring Program if it is going to be successful.  Here are just a few:

  • Thorough preparation and research on mentoring.
  • Training and assessment of both mentors and mentees.
  • Establishment of a formal program with a beginning and an end.
  • A committee to oversee the endeavor, making any needed adjustments, and evaluating results.

I had previously created mentoring programs for other organizations and had gathered extensive research. I found out that mentoring partners must be paired according to shared values to ensure the greatest success of the match. The OC program included professional values tests as well. Values are much more important than being in the same industry. These along with skill set matching and personal demographics helps DEC to create an 95% success rate in our matching efforts.

It’s also important to make expectations realistic.  We tell our mentees not to expect a “fix” for an ailing company. The mentors are told not to “run” their mentees’ businesses. The emphasis is on guidance, assistance and communication.

I am adamant about keeping a formal structure and operation.  We do not keep just a casual list of volunteer mentors or allow anyone that wants to be a mentor to do so.  Mentors must go through a personal interview and then a rigorous training before being asked to join the program.  This is crucial to providing real value. Our Mentees are trained as well on what being a good mentee looks like and what the commitment of this program means.  Many of the partners developed such a close relationship that they continue as friends and some of the mentees decided to hire their mentors afterward as coaches.

Role of the Mentor

  • Communicator
    Mentees respond best to mentors who listen well, ask open-ended questions, and establish an environment for open interaction. A successful partnership is characterized by a two-way exchange of information, with mentors sharing examples based on their successes and failures and providing honest and candid feedback.
  • Guide
    The best mentors become guides who help mentees plan their own journey of discovery. Because most mentors are natural problem-solvers, they must curb their tendency to tell rather than coach. Mentors can point to opportunities and pitfalls but they should not make the mentees decisions. Mentees learn most from mentors who present a variety of options, allowing the mentees to work through the analysis and make the final decision.
  • Ally
    An honest ally is essential in the mentee/mentor partnership. As an ally, the mentor should be able to appraise behaviors and demonstrate how others may perceive them. Because the mentoring partnership is built on trust, confidence, and commitment, mentees can receive honest feedback about their strengths and weaknesses – feedback that few people have the opportunity to receive. The mentor also serves as a sounding board, providing a risk-free environment for those who want to vent frustrations, share difficulties, and seek other perspectives.
  • Catalyst
    A catalyst is the outside force that inspires action. Mentors can help their mentees look at unanticipated possibilities and not just concentrate on what they expect to happen.

*~*  Click here to APPLY as a MENTOR *~*

Becoming an Effective Mentee

The power of mentoring has been recognized throughout the ages. Your membership in NAWBO allows you to take advantage of this unique and rewarding mentoring experience.

Through our research, we have observed the behaviors that lead to the most effective and productive partnerships. What we have learned is that the best partnerships occur when mentees:

  • Respect the commitment being made by their partner.
    This respect manifests itself by being prepared and on time for meetings, following through on action items, and acknowledging the mentor’s dedication and support.
  • Participate fully in the program.
    Commitment to the program and your peers is essential if you are to reap the benefits of your mentoring experience. For example, attending monthly meetings and building networking and support relationships with your peers show your commitment.
  • Assume responsibility for the partnership.
    The responsibility for managing the mentoring partnership clearly belongs to the mentee. The best mentoring experiences occur when mentees take ownership for their growth, invest in the partnership, and create a vision for their journey of discovery. Where mentees lead, mentors will follow; mentees should select the destination and make the journey memorable.
  • Be open to new ideas.
    The purpose of the mentoring experience is to open mentees to new possibilities and perspectives. The best mentees are willing to consider new ideas and recognize that growth can sometimes be uncomfortable; they come to the program wanting to learn and not expecting to be taught.
  • Make honest communication a priority.
    Communication is key to the success of the partnership. Mentees have responsibility for accepting and encouraging honest feedback from their mentors and for providing the same kind of feedback to their partners. Mentors, like mentees, want to know how they’re doing.

*~*  Click here to APPLY as a MENTEE *~*


NAWBO OC does not guarantee a mentee or mentor spot for everyone who applies and reserves the right to match those best suited for the program. Mentor and mentee applications can be obtained by contacting the NAWBO-OC office.

Note: Copyright of this Mentoring program is by Dee Elliott. Program or any parts thereof are not to be copied or used by anyone without her written permission.