The mentor-mentee relationship comes in many guises and can be part of a formal structured programme initiated by the organisation or a more spontaneous arrangement developed between two people. Whether the mentoring situation is organisation or initiated person-to-person, there are undoubtedly pitfalls that the inexperienced must avoid if they wish to become a good mentor.
1) In a manager to direct report situation it is within the realms of possibility that a mentor-protégé relationship can develop, after all, it is highly likely that the manager has selected the staff member for their potential, and to encourage the junior staff member to develop professionally is part of people management. So, you may ask, where does the pitfall lie? If the manager has a single chosen protégé within their team of staff, particularly when this was person rather than organisation oriented, this can cause jealousy or discontent as those not selected to be mentored feel that they do not receive the same level of attention or support in their career. There is a strong argument for making mentor-mentee relationships across departments.
2) Some of the key foundations to successful mentoring include willingness, interest and engagement in the process. Sadly, where mentoring programmes are formalised processes they can be viewed as a bore or as yet another thing to be crammed into an ever increasing workload, meaning positive attitudes can be missing for both mentor and mentee. It is essential that the mentor is willing to be a mentor (if not, it’s best to speak up at the outset), is interested in how they can help their mentee develop, and engaged in what it will entail, only then can they ensure the mentoring relationship they are attempting to build doesn’t come crashing down.
3) A big hole that many inexperienced mentors often fall into comes from thinking that, because they are a mentor, it is their goal to shape the mentee into a carbon copy of themselves or to attempt to make the process of mentoring about them. Yes, the mentor is likely to have been selected, approached, or approach a mentee due to their experience and knowledge within the business arena, but this doesn’t mean that they have, or are expected to, provide all the answers. In the majority of cases, listening, exploring and talking through options is far more helpful to a mentee than telling them what to do.
4) In the rush to get to the end of the game, mentors who are new acquisitions often forget something vital, setting out the goalposts. Establishing what is expected of both parties at the outset is essential for discontent not to set in; how often to meet, acceptable times of contact and methods, areas in which the mentor can assist, areas in which the mentor cannot, how the mentee is expected to prepare. It is also important that both parties are appreciative of the others time, turning up on time for arranged meetings, giving as much notice as possible of cancellations and so on. It is only when the goalposts have been set out that a goal can be scored.
In this modern, connected world it is not always possible or even necessary for mentor-mentee partnerships to be with people who are in the same office, or even the same time zone. This of course means that meetings will not always be face to face, with email, skype and phone calls bridging the distance.
But what can often be lost when mentor-mentee relationships are electronically based is the rich information the mentor can pick up from body language which they can utilise to ascertain much about the mentee, and indeed areas which may be focus areas for improvement.
The way a person presents themselves through email can be quite different to how they do so in person. The experienced mentor will ensure that tasks they set include visual elements, asking the mentee to film themselves making a presentation for example, plus ensuring initial meetings are through Skype or FaceTime, so that they can develop a rounded understanding of their mentee.