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Learning from type?

McWhirr, Susan M.


Susan M. McWhirr


Anne Stevenson

Seonaidh McDonald


This thesis explores the impact of mentor and mentee personality type in formal mentoring relationships. The research sought to identify whether there were individual personality characteristics which impact on relationship dynamics and the learning derived from these relationships. The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was used to identify personality type thus ensuring that the research had practical utility in organisations. Twelve mentoring dyads from public, private and third sector mentoring initiatives participated in the study which adopted an exploratory and qualitative methodology. Multiple methods were used to collect data and an analysis framework was developed, using Activity Theory tenets, to synthesise the different data sets and create narratives of each mentoring relationship. The thesis argues that by enhancing understanding of Type Theory in mentoring relationships, informal learning can be enhanced for mentors and mentees. The research shows how informal learning within mentoring dyads often stems from social comparison and thus differences between mentor and mentee can provide a medium for learning in the workplace. The findings suggest that this will be particularly pertinent for mentors. In addition, the study conclusions highlight the value of using the MBTI to support mentoring relationship development thus enhancing the potential for further learning. The research finds that individual differences will determine the extent to which relationships operate on a traditional, peer or reverse level and not demographic differences as suggested in the extant literature. Furthermore, common personality preferences were identified in individuals who are drawn to the role of mentor and an initial framework for a typology of mentoring relationships was developed. There were two main limitations of the research. First, the study employed a cross-sectional design which resulted in data being collected from participants at different stages of the mentoring relationship. The second limitation concerned the small sample size. Whilst sample size is less relevant in qualitative research, the study sample cannot be considered representative of all formal mentoring programmes or even the programmes studied. The intention was to identify informative cases which would address the research objectives and this was subsequently achieved. The research has contributed to the body of mentoring knowledge by drawing theory from one academic field into another. The findings provide new insights into individual differences and mentoring relationship dynamics thus adding to a sparse area of knowledge in mentoring research. Further, the findings challenge some of the assumptions implicit in the extant literature and highlight the need to examine the construct of mentoring from a broader social science perspective.


MCWHIRR, S.M. 2016. Learning from type? An evaluation of the impact of personality type and relationship context in formal mentoring relationships. Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis.

Thesis Type Thesis
Publication Date Sep 1, 2016
Deposit Date Mar 6, 2018
Publicly Available Date Mar 6, 2018
Keywords Formal mentoring; Mentor; Individual differences; Relationship dynamics; MBTI; Type theory; Learning; Human resource development
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