What’s in it for me/you?: New study explores how motives shape mentoring

Liu, Y., Abi Aad, A., Maalouf, J., & Abou Hamdan, O. (2021). Self- vs. other-focused mentoring motives in informal mentoring: Conceptualizing the impact of motives on mentoring behaviors and beneficial mentoring outcomes. Human Resource Development International, 24(3), 279-303. https://doi.org/10.1080/13678868.2020.1789401


Informal mentoring, unlike formal mentoring, occurs spontaneously and reflects the voluntary investment of mentors in their protégés. 

Liu and colleagues (2021) propose a conceptual model that highlights the relationship between mentor motives, mentoring behaviors, and the resultant outcomes at individual, relational, and organizational levels.


The authors explore how different self or other-focused mentoring motives predicts specific mentoring behaviors, and in turn influences various mentoring outcomes. Mentor motives and behaviors are examined as self or other-focused:

Self-Focused Motives are driven by personal benefits such as career advancement, recognition, and personal learning, and Self-Focused Behaviors are calculated with regards to assessment and sensitive to instrumental rewards.

Other-Focused Motives by contrast are aimed at benefiting others (e.g., protégé, the mentoring relationship) and Other-Focused Behaviors similarly are evidenced by low sensitivity to instrumental rewards and high inclusivity in initiating relationships.


The study develops a model linking mentoring motivations to outcomes, through mentoring behaviors: 

Mentors evidencing self-focused mentoring behaviors are highly selective, focusing on protégés who can offer high returns on investment. Such behaviors are associated with inconsistent mentoring quality,limited diversity among protégés, and suboptimal mentoring outcomes.

Other-focused mentoring behaviors instead lead to beneficial outcomes for both mentors and protégés, fostering high-quality relationships and enhancing organizational performance.


The discussion highlights the critical implications of mentor motives on mentoring outcomes, emphasizing the need for a shift towards more other-focused mentoring behaviors to optimize the benefits of informal mentoring.

The authors highlight the need for research supporting their model, noting, “empirical support for our theoretical propositions would offer insight to individuals who desire to be involved in informal mentoring to better understand what kind of benefits to expect based on the focus of their motives”.

Implications for Mentoring Programs:

  • Mentor training and supervision should discuss the role of motivation on mentee outcomes and further strategies to address motivation
  • Mentoring programs may want to consider assessing mentor motivation prior to program recruitment, to maximize mentor engagement and mentee outcomes
  • Programs may further consider partnering with researchers to assess mentor motivation longitudinally, and examine the connection between motivation type and mentee outcomes over time

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