Coaching Research

How Mentoring Functions Have Become a Dangerous Distraction

By Prof. David Clutterbuck

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When Kathy Kram carried out her seminal research into mentoring at the beginning of the 1980s, she focused on a small number (22) of informal mentoring relationships, taking place within a specific cultural context – educated North Americans.

She identified a number of themes that recurred in these relationships and, as she herself has readily admitted, struggled to find a word that categorised them all. Eventually, she settled on the term “function” as a term that encompassed a mixture of behaviours, personal attributes or qualities, and roles.

That excellent piece of research has spawned a vast array of mentoring research – but much of this research is of marginal value, because it is based on a fatal misunderstanding of the nature of “functions”.

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