By Niel Steinmann
December 11, 2023

In the world of mentoring, we often find ourselves drawn to the practical aspects of the relationship—the conversations, the guidance, and the milestones that mentees should achieve. However, what if I told you that there’s a profound paradigm shift just waiting to be embraced? It all begins with an idea that challenges the very core of mentorship as we know it. The idea is that consciousness should precede the activity. This means that mentors offer a game-changing perspective if they are more conscious at the start of their mentoring relationship. Welcome to the world of the conscious mentor, where the power to build meaningful connections, is not only in “what” we do, but in “who” we are and “how” we do it. Let’s embark on a journey that encourages mentors to pause, reflect, and understand the profound impact they can make when they are more conscious of their mentor-mentee relationships.

Let us explore 2 key concepts right at the start of this article: What is a conscious mentor? A conscious mentor is an individual who engages in the mentoring relationship with a heightened level of self-awareness and intentionality. This mentor is not merely focused on the transfer of knowledge or skills but also on how meaningful the connection is and then to understand what the mentee needs and the importance of the holistic development of the individual.

What is a meaningful connection? It could be described as the vitality that exists between people when they are seen, heard and valued.

Greater consciousness for the mentor involves a deeper level of 1. self-awareness, 2. a fervent focus on the quality of the relationship, 3. a reflection on the role to fulfil as a mentor, 4. the complexity of the moment and 5. serving as a guide and facilitator of the outcome -the holistic growth and development of the mentee.

  1. The Foundation – Greater Self-Awareness

Conscious mentoring begins with the mentor’s self-awareness. It is the ability to focus on yourself and how your actions, thoughts, or emotions do or don’t align with your values and beliefs.

Self-aware mentors are mindful of their own biases, assumptions, and limitations, and seek to challenge these in their interactions with those they lead and mentor. Mentors should also be aware of their limitations and areas of expertise. This can help them identify when to seek out additional resources or support for their mentees, and when to refer them to other mentors or professionals who may be better equipped to address specific needs. When mentors are ignorant they could hold on to established roles and positions within the organisation or even act as custodians of the organisational culture that should change.  Mentors should also recognise that their skillset or experience in certain aspects might not be relevant anymore. For example, if a mentor achieved success in a field or industry that has since undergone significant changes, their past experiences may not be as applicable or useful to the mentee.

Mentors who can talk about their own vulnerabilities can approach their mentoring role with humility and an open mind.  They demonstrate that they trust their mentee with their innermost thoughts and feelings. Many mentees may feel like they are alone in their struggles or that successful people have it all figured out. Sharing such vulnerabilities encourages mentees to be honest and open about their own challenges.

  1. The bridge – Build trust and safeguard psychological safety

When mentors are conscious of the quality of the relationship, they cultivate trusting relationships and work hard at creating a safe place where their mentees can share their thoughts, ideas, and feelings without fear of criticism, judgment, or retribution.  This is called psychological safety. Think of the importance of psychological safety this way. How valuable is mentoring when mentees feel afraid to speak up or ask questions? When they worry that their mentor will judge them or view them negatively if they don’t understand something or make a mistake. They may avoid sharing their thoughts and ideas, which can impede the learning and growth process. Moreover, they may feel demotivated, disengaged, and disconnected from their mentors, which can lead to a breakdown in communication, trust, and commitment to the mentoring process.

Timothy R Clark identified four levels of Psychological safety in which individuals grow and learn. For conscious mentors, it provides great insight and awareness as they would want to succeed in their relationships on all these levels.

The first level is where a mentee will feel included, accepted and valued in the mentoring relationship. The mentor could validate why he/she is willing to fulfil the role as mentor.  To solidify this phase, mentors should be mindful of their availability, and the interest they show in their mentee’s life, to honour appointments and check in on the mentee regularly.

The second level is when the mentee feels safe to learn. Mentors should explore the development needs of the mentee, share personal stories and create opportunities where the mentee could ask questions, participate as an observer or even be exposed to carefully planned initiatives. Mentees should feel free to ask questions and express their fears, inadequacies and development areas.

The third level is when mentees feel safe to contribute, to bring and share their own views and feel comfortable to experiment and innovate. In the process, they bring their own personal touch and strengths to the mentoring relationship. They feel appreciated as a partner in a reciprocal relationship.

The fourth level of psychological safety is when the mentee feels safe to challenge. The mentee is allowed to disagree, offer their own feedback and even challenge the views, ideas and progress of the relationship.

  1. The key – Conscious listening “Observe with your ears”

Conscious mentors understand their role in the relationship. They are not just advisors or instructors; they are guides, coaches, and confidants. This deep understanding of their role allows them to provide comprehensive support. None of these outcomes can be achieved without listening. Being a thoughtful listener, asking questions, seeking clarification, and encouraging others to share their perspectives, will be vital for any meaningful relationship. I would like to describe this resolve to listen as an effort to “observe with your ears”. (Think about how animals use their ears as a key sense organ. Their ears allow them to pick up the slightest sound or vibrations which provide valuable information and cues about their surroundings.)” Observe with your ears” emphasizes the importance of active listening in mentoring. It means that a mentor should not only listen to what their mentee is saying but also pay attention to how they say it. It involves more than just hearing words; it involves paying attention to tone, inflection, hesitation and also what is not said. Being able to observe with your ears also means being able to ask thoughtful questions that encourage the mentee to open up and share their ideas and feelings. It means being patient, non-judgmental, and empathetic. It confirms to mentees that there is a better understanding of the message they convey and that it is a safe space to express their thoughts, feelings and viewpoints.

  1. The classroom – Embracing Complexity and Work Challenges to acquire experience and skills

Conscious mentors appreciate that complexities and work challenges offer unique opportunities for learning and growth. They recognise that mentoring cannot wait for an ideal time or when ideal conditions present themselves. I have often witnessed how mentoring relationships could be affected by /or benefit from the following complexities.

Organizational Culture: The organizational culture and organisational structure can and will influence any mentoring relationship. In an environment where competition prevails over collaboration where production outweighs people development or even where hierarchical structures inhibit open communication, mentors and mentees may struggle to establish meaningful connections.

Workload and Performance Pressures: Excessive workloads, tight deadlines, and performance targets can impact the availability and focus of both the mentor and mentee. Mentors may find it challenging to allocate sufficient time and attention to mentoring responsibilities during a financial year-end or an operational crisis such as a technical breakdown while mentees may struggle to fully engage or implement suggestions due to their demanding workloads.

Organizational Changes: Changes within the organization, such as retrenchments, restructurings, mergers and leadership transitions, can create uncertainties and disruptions that affect mentoring relationships. These changes may lead to shifting priorities, role adjustments, or even the dissolution of the mentoring program itself.

Political and economic changes: Economic factors such as economic growth, stability and even recession, or industry-specific trends can impact a mentor and mentee’s ability to remain positive and focussed on their relationship and the mentoring opportunities. During economic downturns, organizations may be severely impacted and face budget constraints, leading to a negative business outlook and reduced growth opportunities and resources for mentorship initiatives.

Mentors should recognise that these “complexities of the moment” actually provide great opportunities for reflection, real-time exposure and meaningful conversations. It is after all during times of uncertainty and change when we learn about ourselves, understand our motivation, where our skills are tested, and greater resilience developed. It is in these challenging times that we become more change fit for a world that will constantly require agility, innovation and emotional intelligence.

  1. The canvas – The holistic development of the mentee

Conscious mentors understand that their mentees are complex beings and that all aspects of their lives are interconnected. Therefore, they focus not only on assisting their mentees to achieve their functional competence and career goals, but also on discovering greater purpose and developing personal strengths, values, and networks. To achieve holistic development, mentors may use various strategies such as guiding the relationship with profound questions for greater self-awareness, or to offer support and advice to a mentee who is struggling to balance their work and personal life. They may also provide resources and referrals to help their mentees develop in areas such as emotional intelligence, communication skills, learning agility and greater personal resilience.


Imagine we could be more conscious as leaders, managers and mentors – having the ambition to build meaningful connections with those we lead and mentor. It begins with the foundation of the mentor’s self-awareness and extends to the holistic development of the mentee. As mentors embrace these principles of conscious mentoring they play a more prominent role in the lives of their mentees, guiding them towards growth, self-discovery, and success. For mentees, finding a conscious mentor can be a pivotal step in their journey of growth and development, one that can change the course of their lives.

Author: Niel Steinmann
Extracted & Edited from Crucial Mentoring Conversations (2nd Revised and Updated Edition)

Niel Steinmann is a specialist business consultant and registered Industrial Psychologist. He has invested more than a quarter century studying mentoring, coaching and leadership development. In 1999 he founded People’s Dynamic Development, a management consultancy that utilises African analogies to develop people and organisations to increase their performance capacity significantly. Niel is the author of Crucial Mentoring Conversations and Fundamentals for effective mentoring: Raising giant killers which received international recognition and endorsements from prominent and renowned leadership consultant Dr Ken Blanchard.Niel will discuss how to navigate through challenging mentoring dialogues surrounding purpose and vision, performance, career advancement and mobility, as well as interpersonal relationships at our upcoming complimentary online Author Coffee Session, on 31 January 2024Click here for more information.