The Mentor’s Way: An Introduction to the Eight Rules of Mentoring

by Rik Nemanick, Ph.D.

The Mentor's Way Book CoverIt has been eleven years since I started working on my first mentoring program at Anheuser-Busch. It was a modest program (twelve mentoring pairs) for the IT organization, and it started me on a course of learning more about mentoring. Over that time, I have trained over 2,000 mentors and have observed what works and what doesn’t in mentoring. Over the next few weeks, I am going to share these this learning here.

About two years ago, I took up running. I started running casually with a friend, two to three miles at a time. It wasn’t long before I was signing up for 5k’s and 10k’s, leading to my running two half marathons in 2011. Along the way, I sought out advice and mentoring about running. One piece of advice stuck with me about long distance running was this rule: run within your heart rate. The rule means that if you run too fast at the beginning of the race (pushing your heart rate too high), you won’t have enough energy in the last few miles to keep up your pace. While the rule seems simple, it is a powerful tool when running long distances and gets you into trouble when you break it (as I found out both times).

I have organized my learning about mentoring into rules that are intended to do the same thing: give mentors simple guides for approaching their mentoring partnerships. These rules are written for mentors who are in mentoring partnerships that will last a year or longer. Like a marathon (or, in my case, a half marathon), what you do in the beginning will have an impact later in the relationship. Following these rules early will help mentors establish productive, trusting partnerships that will benefit themselves and their protégés over time.

UPDATE: The eight rules of mentoring have been turned into a book, which is published by Routledge. You can order the book from the publisher’s website (use discount code FLR40 for 20% off) or from Amazon.

Here is a preview of the eight rules:

  • Rule 1: Lead by Following: Mentoring should be led by the protégé. Mentors need to let the protégé know it is her or his job to drive the partnership.
  • Rule 2: Chart a Course. Good mentoring starts with an exploration of where the protégé wants to end up. These goals become the foundation of the partnership.
  • Rule 3: Create a Safe Place. Trust is the key to mentoring. Mentors need to focus on developing trust with a protégé so that the true benefits of mentoring can be realized.
  • Rule 4: Good Questions Beat Good Advice. The best mentors challenge us to think. A mentor who only dispenses advice misses opportunities to expand a protégé’s thinking.
  • Rule 5: Balance Empathy and Action. Part of being a trusted advisor is giving the protégé a place to vent frustrations, but not allowing them to consume the protégé. Good mentors find the balance between showing empathy and encouraging the protégé to take action.
  • Rule 6: Foster Accountability. One of the hidden powers of mentoring is the accountability that it creates for the protégé to take action. Mentors can create a subtle accountability that encourages action while still offering support.
  • Rule 7: Fill the Toolkit. Many potential mentors do not step up to the role because they fear that they have to have all the answers. Great mentors know when to reach out and help a protégé find the answers by tapping into other resources that can help.
  • Rule 8: Honor the Journey. Mentoring has a natural life cycle, and there will come a time in most partnerships when the mentor needs to step back and play a less active role with the protégé. Good mentors recognize this transition as a sign of a protégé’s growth and use it as a time of reflection, celebration, and transition.

Over the next few months, I will explore each of these rules. I welcome your comments and thoughts on the rules.

To comment on this article or to learn more about mentoring, contact Rik Nemanick at