The stages of a maturing mentoring or coaching relationship can be fruitfully viewed as seasons, suggests Melanie Armstrong

The parallel process of a maturing mentoring or coaching relationship and the transitioning from dependence to independence can be compared to seasons, and can be mapped onto a cycle such as Thompson’s (2015) Mentoring Life Cycle, prompting potentially useful questions to reflect upon at each stage.

If we take Thompson’s model as a framework for an evolving mentoring or coaching relationship, the phases of nature would align themselves as follows :

  • Stage 1 – Spring
  • Stage 2 – Summer
  • Stage 3 – Autumn
  • Stage 4 – Winter

Let’s look at these in turn.

Stage 1 – Spring

In stage 1 of a mentoring – or coaching – relationship, as with spring time, there’s the opportunity of new growth, renewal and regrowth. For those of us in the Western hemisphere reading this in early 2020, spring may seem a way off. However, this is still a time of year for transitioning and transforming in a number of cultures, with New Year’s Eve and Day (31 December and 1 January, respectively), and Chinese New Year taking place on 12 February, for example, prompting thoughts of renewal and new resolutions for many.

As depicted by Thompson’s model, stage 1 is about the setting of expectations and building foundations for a successful mentoring relationship. Fostering renewal and regrowth of plants and trees requires the right climate and conditions. So, too, the climate and conditions of the mentoring/coaching relationship need to be conducive to building solid foundations for fruitful conversations.

Often when someone seeks a mentor/coach, it’s because they’re looking to make changes, they’re about to enter a period of transition, or want help navigating such a period they’re already in. It is therefore important at stage 1 as a mentor/coach, to be clear yourself about what your offering is and to be able to communicate this. It’s also important to have developed your knowledge around change and transition, particularly in the current climate when so many clients will be going through personal change as well as being part of a system rocked by the pandemic, for example.

Of course, you will need to be able to meet the client in whatever season they’re in to begin with. Some clients may be in the thick of what feels like autumn or winter for them, and they may need some time before they can think about the equivalent of spring.

Reflective questions

  • What is my body of knowledge around change and transition?
  • How can I convey this in my mentoring/coaching profile?
  • What does it mean for my practice as a seasoned mentor/coach?
  • How can I recognise which ‘season’ the client is in?
  • Are the client’s climate and conditions supportive of them taking steps towards renewal and growth?

Stage 2 – Summer

Summer time can mean long hot days but also thundery weather in many parts of the globe. How do these conditions translate to the mentoring or coaching relationship? The mentor or coach’s role is to facilitate the agreed expectation and working agreement. With warm weather there can be a period of stability followed by some potential rain or thunder. Perhaps less dramatic – although not always – in the mentoring or coaching relationship there may be some conversations at this stage that focus on teasing out exactly what the mentee or coachee is looking for from your relationship.

While not necessarily conflict, such depth of conversation may require back and forth discussion and reflection to ensure clarity and agreement on expectations and working agreement. The thunder might be experienced as colliding of thoughts, or once the work gets underway, perhaps a sense the honeymoon period is over. Now the real work is beginning, and things can get heated.

Reflective questions

  • Which are my most powerful questions that help establish expectations from the mentoring/coaching relationship?
  • How can I convey this in my mentoring/coaching profile?
  • What does it mean for my practice as a seasoned mentor/coach?

Stage 3 – Autumn

The process of heightening self-awareness is at the heart of mentoring and coaching. I’m reminded of analogies around the support associated with these interventions such as the net under the trapeze artist, tugboat alongside a ship coming to port – there when people need access.

Autumn, in many parts of the globe, sees the shedding of leaves from trees allowing them to survive potentially harsh winter conditions. Equally, in mentoring and coaching, clients have to be prepared to shed old behaviours and ways of being that no longer serve them well, with our support.

Stage 3 in Thompson’s model is about working towards accomplishing goals. While this is a very active process and promises to be ultimately satisfying, nevertheless, the learning of new behaviours and ways of being will involve letting go of old habits. While a tree losing its leaves can be very obvious, shifts in the mentee/coachee may be profound, but not always overtly visible. How, then, does the mentor or coach help the mentee or coachee see the progress they are making? How can we hold up a mirror for the mentee/coachee so they can witness the transformation, and invite others in their system to see the changes, too?

One way is to invite the client to participate in structured regular reflection. We can encourage them to adopt a regular practice of reflecting on certain growth situations to explore how they have developed, and the impact on their system. One such framework is Rolfe et al’s (2001) Reflective Model*: What, So What, Now What? There are many other reflective practice models around including Johari Window Model (1955), Gibbs’ six-stage Reflective Cycle (1988), and Moon Stages of Learning (1999). However, for the purposes of this article, I’ll stick with Rolfe et al’s, proposing below potential enquiries for mentees/ coachees for each question.


Example questions

  •  What was I trying to achieve?
  • What actions did I take?
  • How did I shift my way of being?
  • What was the response of others?
  • What did I learn about myself?

So what?

Example questions

  • What does this tell me about my relationship with others?
  • What was the impact on others?
  • What is my new understanding of self in this context?
  • What could I have done differently?

Now what?

Example questions

  • What do I need to do in order to stop being stuck?
  • What do I need to do to feel better?
  • What might be the consequences of this step forward for others?
  • How can I do this on my own?

Transitioning and transforming are not usually easy. When the client is transitioning, just like the tree losing its leaves in preparation for the next season, they can experience something similar to culture shock. The four key phases of culture shock are: honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, acceptance (Oberg, 1960). We can see how these phases mirror the experience of coaching and mentoring, for example, great excitement at having a mentor, and then the hard work begins – not just for the individual client.

As the mentee/coachee begins to put into practice the behavioural changes they wish to make, they and others will need to adjust. But not all parties may be accepting of the evidential changes. There may be frustration, anger, and so on. Eventually, usually, acceptance comes around as the desired behavioural changes become custom.

Stage 4 – Winter

Thompson’s model states that in this last stage, the focus will be on closing off the mentoring relationship now agreed goals have been achieved. However, it is also a period for redefining the relationship to meet the future. Things have changed. You have developed as the mentee/coachee, and may be conserving your energy during this phase to re-emerge with renewed shoots of growth. You know each other in different ways and, active or not, a relationship still exists.

Reflective questions

Key reflective questions for the mentor or coach may be around helping the client consider how they will maintain their newly formed independence:

  • What resources do I now have to help me when I am in a stuck phase?
  • When do I need to build in self-reflection to sustain growth?

Food for thought

This pandemic has turned everything around for us. We have hit the six-month wall and pandemic fatigue has probably set in for many of us. This is a time to take stock of what we are grateful for and to remind ourselves of what we love about our mentoring and coaching work. What energises us and what drains us, what do we need to let go and what do we need more of to nurture and sustain ourselves.

Some questions to explore as the mentor/coach to:

  • Which stages do I enjoy, and why?
  • Which stages, if any, don’t I enjoy, and why?
  • What do I need to do to integrate this learning in to my practice?
  • How will I know that I have accomplished this integration?


  • Melanie Judith Armstrong has an MSc in Human Resource Management from Glasgow Caledonian University, where she has worked since 2003. She is an ILM qualified coach, coach/mentor supervisor and in a private capacity a person-centred counsellor. Melanie is a board member of the Scottish Mentoring Network.


  • Sonia Thompson, 24 September 2015, Women and Career Mentoring. This four quadrant model is taken from a set of slideshare material from: www.trans-formations.co.uk
  • G Rolfe, D Freshwater & M Jasper, Critical reflection in nursing and the helping professions: a user’s guide, Palgrave Macmillan, 2001
  • J Luft & H Ingham, Johari Window – a model devised by American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham whilst researching group dynamics at the University of California Los Angeles, 1955
  • G Gibbs, Six Stage Reflective Cycle Model, Learning by Doing: A Guide to Teaching and Learning Methods Further Education Unit, Oxford: Oxford Brookes University, 1988
  • J A Moon, A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning: Theory and Practice, London: Routledge, 2004
  • K Oberg, ‘Culture Shock and the problem of adjustment to the new cultural environments’, in Practical Anthropology, 7, 177-182, 1960