The 5 Stages of a Mentoring Relationship

Dr Keller, a leading researcher in the field of mentoring, suggests that “every mentoring relationship has a life of its own … as with any other relationship, mentoring relationships have beginnings, follow diverse trajectories and ultimately reach their endings.” (2005:1) He also puts forward that “a better understanding of the processes involved in the formation, maintenance and conclusion of mentoring relationships holds promise for more effective intervention.”


Framework for 5 stages of a mentoring relationship (Keller, 2005)

According to Keller’s framework, there are 5 stages of mentoring relationship.

The first stage, known as the Contemplation Stage signals a time of showing interest in a mentoring relationship by both a potential mentor and mentee. It is also a time of preparation and envisioning why a mentoring relationship is desired.

The Contemplation Stage is followed by the Initiation Stage, which is to make the mentoring relationship official. As with any romantic relationship, where engagement or even marriage signals the seriousness of the relationship going forward, in formal mentoring such seriousness should also be communicated. Some sort of ‘contract’ that clearly communicates expectations between both parties, is highly recommended and forms part of mentoring best practice model (Oosthuizen 2016:137). Some clarification is needed when one uses the word ‘serious’: this should not equate to the mentoring relationship being solely goal-focused, excluding any fun or laughter. To the contrary, serious in this sense means that one is committed to the relationship, thus creating a space to express oneself comfortably and allowing the mentee to do the same.

The first communication between mentor and mentee kicks off the start of the actual mentoring relationship, which forms the basis of the Growth & Maintenance Stage. Like the trajectory of any other relationship, this stage will have many ups and downs, doubts about the relationship and where it is going, and encouraging positive events or achievements.

There will come a time when the relationship goes into a Decline Stage. With formal mentoring, this is often determined by the programme length and the original time commitment the mentor and mentee agreed upon. This stage can be seen as a second Contemplation Stage, where both mentor and mentee re-contemplate the relationship and prepare for the future. Will they continue the relationship? Will the dynamics change? Or are they going to close the relationship?

The final stage, Redefinition or Closure, follows shortly after and can also be interpreted as a second Initiation Stage, where clear expectations about the future are clarified between mentor and mentee. Oosthuizen (2016) has named this stage the Redefinition, since he suggests that “a good relationship might change dynamics, but will not end.” It is assumed that Keller chose the word Closure since research emphasizes how vital it is to close a mentoring relationship well. If the mentoring relationship does not continue at the end of the commitment, closing the relationship will determine the overall success of the mentoring; reflecting on one’s journey and personal growth solidifies learning, experiences and the belief that quality mentoring works!


Thomas E. Keller. “The Stages and Development of Mentoring Relationships” Thousand Oaks Handbook of Youth Mentoring (2005)

Johannes J. Oosthuizen. “Restoring the Circle of Courage in Youth-at-Risk through mentoring” University of Stellenbosch (2016)



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