What kind of a mentor do you need?

by Eszter Ernst-Kurdi

Eszter Ernst-Kurdi, Training Coordinator, SIL Francophone Africa

In 2017 I conducted small-scale research with the participation of 41 students coming from 17 African countries; all involved in language development work with different organisations. 

Two of the questions I asked in focus group discussions were:

  • What kind of support do you need the most in your work? 
  • What would that support look like?

These two wordcloud images show the responses that were given by the English-speaking and the French-speaking groups:

Needs expressed by the Anglophone groups
Needs expressed by the Francophone groups

As you can see, the top felt need was a mentor in both groups. But what did the participants have in mind when they referred to the support they needed the most as a mentor?

When asked to describe what this support would look like, the participants expressed the need for a mentor who:

  • Understands their work and context 
  • Listens well
  • Gives advice and feedback (both positive and negative)
  • Helps to clarify what is expected of the mentee in their job within the organisation
  • Explains the vision, the values and the unspoken rules of the organisation
  • Models good leadership and management
  • Does not inquire only about the mentee’s work but also shows interest in the mentee’s personal and spiritual development and family life (holistic approach)
  • Develops a genuine relationship and keeps in touch
  • Encourages the mentee
  • Helps the mentee navigate conflict situations and cross-cultural issues.

Some quotes from the focus group discussions:

  • “A mentor is someone who is close to me and can encourage me.”
  • “A mentor is someone older and experienced who can give me advice. In my culture we ask the elders for guidance to see whether we are on the right track.” 
  • “I need encouragement and advice from others who are more mature.” 
  • “I would appreciate it if someone could give me intentional support to become a consultant.” 
  • “Someone who understands the challenges I face at work and encourages me.”
  • “To have someone who knows what I am working on and who prays for me.”
  • “I would like to have someone to sit down with and find a solution together to a problem.”

The findings suggest that mentoring is very much needed among African colleagues who work in language development. It seems that a robust and effective mentoring program could help people feel more at home and at ease in their organisations because they would have someone who could show them the ropes and answer their questions in a safe relationship. In many of these cultures that operate with high power distance, asking questions from one’s supervisor is not a straight-forward matter. Strong mentoring relationships will help orient people both in their jobs and in the culture and values of their organization. This is particularly important in multicultural organizations.

The responses also indicate that for a mentoring relationship to be effective in these contexts, it needs to have a genuine and deeply relational component that includes: giving advice, commitment to a long-term relationship and showing care in practical ways.

What expectations do mentees have in your context? Tell us by leaving a reply below.

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

4 thoughts on “What kind of a mentor do you need?

  1. This is a great article and there are two words used here that resonate with me when it comes to mentee expectations: ‘Listen’ and ‘Intentional’.

    In my experience, a mentee will embrace a mentor who is an active listener. Each mentee will be coming from a different place along their professional, personal, and spiritual journey. It is important for them to know that their mentor is able to ‘meet them where they are at’, and not make assumptions about their needs, desires or interests.

    Being intentional is a sign of caring. It means being prepared and deliberate with each mentoring interaction, and assuring the discussions are personalized and impactful. Author Jim Elliot writes “Wherever you are, be all there”. I interpret that as meaning focus on your time together and bring your thoughtful energy.

    I’m currently involved in a mentoring program with 10 year old kids here in the U.S. who are in a ‘high risk’ category. My mentee is a different nationality than me and English is not his mother tongue. We meet for 90 minutes once a month in a structured environment. It has been amazing to see the connection with, and transformation of, my mentee just through listening and being intentional every single time we meet.


  2. Hi,

    This is helpful information. Thanks.

    Just one comment

    In 2017 I conducted small-scale research….

    Two of the questions I asked…

    Who is the author? He/she remains hidden, which I found strange. Any document which uses ‘I’ should also identify the author.



    1. Thank you, René for this comment. The author is identified right at the top. The name is written across the image. But thanks to your comment, I realise that it is possible that someone might read the text without downloading the images on the page and then miss out on that crucial information. In the future, I will include the name of the author in the text, too. Thanks again for your helpful feedback!


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