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Stages of a Mentoring Relationship

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The concept of phases occurring in a mentoring relationship is well known. There are a number of explanations given but most describe mentoring as a developmental relationship with four phases and time frames - initiation, cultivation, separation, redefinition (Kram, 1985) or list the behaviors necessary to progress through the relationship - preparation, negotiating, enabling, closing (Zachary, 2000). Regardless of how the stages are specified, all can agree that there is a natural flow from one stage to the next, usually with some overlap between the phases. Here is an overview of each concept.

Phases & Time Frames


Turning Points

Initiation   (Apprentice*)

(6-12 months)

Relationship begins & develops an importance for participants as the level of commitment grows

Mentor is admired as role model and for the ability to provide support & guidance. Interactions revolve around work tasks

Cultivation   (Colleague*)

(2-5 years)

Career & psychosocial functions expand to a maximum level; relationship expectations are tested against reality

Both participants continue to benefit from relationship; the emotional bond strengthens; more frequent interaction opportunities occur

Separation  (Mentor*)

Occurs after significant change in roles or emotional experiences within relationship

Mentee desires more autonomy; mentor is available on less frequent basis; unattained goals create disappointment and frustration


An indefinite time period for relationship to transform from inequality  to become  more peer like

May begin with ambivalence or discomfort that transforms into gratitude & possible friendship; peer status is achieved

From Dalton, 1977

Stages of a Mentoring Relationship



Building Points


Each explores motivation and readiness for initiating relationship; discussion sets tone for relationship

Mentor evaluates skills and readiness to become mentor; mentee acknowledges a commitment to the process


Business phase of relationship; partners agree on parameters, expectations and goals of the relationship

Partners agree on learning goals; also agree on details of relationship (i.e. how & when to meet, accountability, closure)


Implementation of the learning relationship; longest and most complex phase

Partners work to maintain trust level to achieve goals, build quality of relationship & promote learning; open communication essential


Natural end to a relationship; include protocols in negotiating phase to ensure an appropriately timed and positive closure to the relationship

Reflecting on earlier phases allows a healthy evaluation of relationship, providing learning opportunities and an acknowledgment of successes achieved during the life of the relationship

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© 2013 by Office of Faculty Development, Wake Forest School of Medicine.

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Evelyn Anthony, MD
Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs
Shannon Suggs
Program Coordinator

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