The Effect of Mentor Intervention Style in Novice Entrepreneur Mentoring Relationships

Feb. 10, 2013

Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 21, No. 1, 96–119, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study is to determine whether mentor intervention styles influence benefits gained by novice entrepreneurs through their mentoring relationship.
Specifically, this study aims to test the proposal by Gravells (2006) that mentoring is optimized when the mentor exhibits both a maieutic approach and significant involvement in the relationship.

An empirical study conducted with 360 mentored entrepreneurs in the Réseau M of the Fondation de l’entrepreneurship, who had received mentoring services.
The authors used several measures of intervention style.
1. The maieutic approach was measured with three questions which the mentee asks: (a) The mentor helps me find my answers on my own; (b) The mentor asks the right questions to make me think; and (c) The mentor doesn’t tell me what to do.
2. To measure the level of involvement in the relationship, four items were created specifically for this study, based on mentor–mentee group discussion interviews and relevant literature.
3. The measure of mentor functions was developed for this study. It represents the level of mentoring received by the mentee. 
The following four measures of relationship outcomes were selected for this study:
Learning - mentoring is likely to improve a mentee’s knowledg and competencies.
Satisfaction with career choice - the mentoring relationship is likely to bring mentees to view even more positively their choice of becoming an entrepreneur.
Satisfaction with mentor- a mentoring relationship can be a positive experience for mentees to the extent that they are satisfied with their mentor’s performance; and
Entrepreneurial self-efficacy - the mentoring relationship can also help mentees feel more competent in their role as entrepreneurs.

Mentees were classified into four distinct groups on the basis of the mentor’s use of a maieutic approach and level of involvement in the relationship, as perceived by the mentee, which created four intervention styles: maieutic-involved, maieutic-disengaged, directive-involved, and directive- disengaged.


The results confirm the proposal by Gravells (2006) to the effect that a mentoring style with low directivity combined with a high level of involvement produces the best results.
In addition, an approach where a mentor is directive and not very involved in the relationship produces poorer results, and may even be potentially toxic.
In addition, style influences potential mentoring outcomes as well as mentor function deployment. Maieutic-style mentoring implies that mentors ask mentees questions with the purpose of helping them find their own answers to their questions. Novice entrepreneurs must draw their own conclusions concerning events they experience, including critical events.

The results indicate that it is preferable that mentors let mentees find their own answers and work through their own experiences.
The involvement dimension of the mentoring relationship requires mentors to play an active role in conducting meeting follow-ups to ensure mentee progress. They should behave proactively in an effort to provide oversight of the relationship and its development.
The results indicate that without significant mentor involvement, both in terms of time and energy, the relationship may be less successful.
In terms of outcomes, the directive-disengaged style is significantly less profitable than the maieutic-involved style for all dimensions studied. The authors note that for most outcomes, the directive-involved style does not produce results much different from the maieutic-involved style, with the exception of learning with the mentor.

The results also shed additional light on mentor functions. The style mentors adopt to deploy their functions have an influence on the functions themselves. Generally, the maieutic-involved style has been shown to result in the best mentor function deployment.
Furthermore, the results reveal that the maieutic-involved style is superior in all regards for only two psychological functions (reflector and reassurance) and the information support function. Results vary for the other functions. For example, the motivation and guide functions both appear to require mentor involvement. These two functions may require greater confidence in the mentor, and thus require his engagement in the relationship. Both the confrontation and role model functions primarily require a maieutic approach.
As for the role model function, the results suggest that mentors should avoid talking about their experiences as examples to follow, as it is up to mentees to draw their own conclusions about their mentor’s experiences. It is more useful for mentors to avoid touting their experience as an example to follow, and to have mentees understand that it is possible for them to act differently, without feeling judged about the choices they make.

The directive-disengaged style is the least profitable for mentees. Teachers, in fact, are instructed to avoid being directive when the task is poorly understood by the student, otherwise dependency could develop. In the case where a novice entrepreneur receives advice, but fails to understand the underlying logic, for example, where the adviser is more educated than the entrepreneur, a dependency situation is likely to grow with each intervention; the entrepreneur’s autonomy will diminish as a result, which is detrimental in the long term.
In light of these results, the authors recommend that organizations which sponsor business mentoring programs recruit and train mentors to adopt a maieutic and involved style.

Gravells, J. (2006). Mentoring start-up entrepreneurs in the East Midlands – Troubleshooters and trusted friends. The International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching, 4, 3–23.

Updated: Dec. 14, 2016