Objectively, mentoring is the transfer of power, in the form of understanding, from the senior party to the junior party. It is a joining of bubbles, just as in friendship, but a partial joining under the careful control of the mentor. Mentoring normally includes a temporary and voluntary expansion of the mentor's will to manage the protégé's behavior. It is not a normal learning process, as through a teacher with the vocation of transferring skills to students.

The protégé benefits from this association through privileged access to his or her mentor's associates. He or she has the opportunity to observe and emulate their conduct, as well as acquire new skills. Conversely, the mentor is able to use the association to extend the scope of his goals. Examples of this magnification are the production studios of the Renaissance, where journeymen artists prepared the canvas for the Master's final touch. The movie "The Color of Money" illustrates the destructive potential of the mentoring relationship, although the contrary pattern, in which the student consumes the mentor, is also possible.

The most difficult stage of the process begins when the student is sufficiently capable to apply his skills to accomplish goals separately. The mentor's ability to manage his activities lessens. This may occur due to superior natural talent, or as the protégé's peer group fills positions vacated by the mentor's peers. Hopefully, the mentor relinquishes control upon assuming new responsibilities. If no such opportunity exists, the mentor and protégé become competitors.

In the worst case, the mentor may feel that his accomplishments are being consumed. In a professional context, the sponsoring organization must ensure that a tangible benefit accrues to the mentor, or his or her tendency will be to undermine the process to protect existing privilege. Withdrawal of the mentor and reassignment of the protégé are two ways of defusing this crisis. Alternatively, the organization may use the competition created by the protégé to reinvigorate a sedentary mentor.