Mastering Mentoring 10 How Many

September 11, 2021

The question of how many mentor relationships to have at any point in time will depend on a number of factors.  I will examine the question from the perspective of the protégé first, then I will discuss it from the point of view of the mentor. Finally, I will discuss the special case of mentoring leaders.

How Many Mentors Should a Protégé Have?

I recommend that every professional should have at least one mentor.  I have outlined the benefits of having a mentor in several articles in this series, and I will add more benefits in future articles. A professional mentor can guide you on your journey in your chosen career.

Naturally, having a mentor in your professional arena is of paramount importance, but there are other areas of your life where a mentor could be a significant advantage. 

Having a mentor for your volunteer and civic life really helps provide networking and skill-building advice. Seek out a respected community leader to help you. Your progress toward reaching your goals will be greatly enhanced. In fact, the act of identifying your goals can be significantly enriched by having a good mentor.

You may want to have a mentor who is like a life coach for your physical wellbeing. This person would have the requisite background to advise you on things like diet, exercise, disease prevention, recuperation, medications, sleep patterns, and other aspects of your health.

The only caveat here is to select a person who is reliable and not into things like fad diets or questionable medications or treatments.  Many people rely on their personal physician as this mentor, but you may want to have a personal coach in addition to your doctor.

A coach for your spiritual life can be a good idea in many cases. This would be a friend who can focus on how you are integrating the various influences on your soul and the future of it.

Keep in mind that your mentor in any of these areas does not need to be a physical presence. Your mentor might be an author that you respect. Many of my mentors have never met me, but they have had a significant influence on the quality of my life as a result of my study of their ideas.

You could have several mentors in one area that see the world from different perspectives. They do not always have to agree on everything. You have the opportunity to select which things you are going to espouse.

How Many Proteges should a Mentor Have? 

I advise that every professional should have at least one protégé. This is a way to give back and build up another person, so it is an act of kindness that pays big dividends. There is no reason to stop at only one protégé. You can have as many as you wish as long as you have the time and inclination.

I usually can count on more than 10 people at a time that I am mentoring. These relationships take on different levels of intervention and coaching. I might have an interface with a protégé on rare occasions. Others I might see weekly or sometimes even daily.

Keep close tabs on how much time you are spending with these people and scale things back if the situation gets out of balance. When you do not have enough time to service all of the people you are mentoring and they are getting frustrated, you have gone too far.

Likewise, if your professional or personal life is suffering due to the time you are putting in coaching others, you need to rebalance your own life.

Mentoring Leaders

I believe the highest calling for any leader is to grow other leaders. That is how you can leverage your leadership and get a multiplier effect.  I have seen many leaders who do not recognize this mandate and spend all of their energy maximizing their own performance while forgetting the responsibility of bringing along the next generation of leaders.

This selfish attitude is one of the reasons there is a shortage of great leaders in our time. If every leader would focus some energy on helping other leaders advance their skills, we would have fewer problems in this world. If you are a leader, consider if you are giving back enough to grow other leaders for the future. 

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Mastering Mentoring 9 Advocacy

September 4, 2021

Advocacy is one of the most valuable benefits of having a mentor.  The mentor usually travels in different circles than the protégé, so there is an opportunity for the mentor to advocate for the benefit of the protégé.

At Lunch

It is common for a mentor to sit with a different (usually higher) group in the lunchroom.  In large organizations, there may be management lunch facilities.  During the informal discussions that go on during lunch or breaks, there is plenty of opportunity for one manager to describe an opportunity for someone. The mentor can mention that she has a great candidate ready to move up. 

The only caveat here for the mentor is to not overplay the advocacy of the protégé. Mention the possibility of a good match only when there is an excellent fit, and refrain from making the same referral too often.

In Social Circles

The same dynamic can be effective in networking organizations or volunteer groups. The same precaution applies in these venues. If the mentor advocates for the protégé too often, then it does a major disservice to both people.

As a Reference

Sometimes the protégé may be in a career search mode. When this occurs, the mentor is in a perfect position to act as a formal reference. Usually, the reference is given in written form. When this happens, a follow-up phone conversation is often desirable because it allows both parties to explore topic areas that may not have been obvious in the initial request.

Be Totally Candid

In advocating for the protégé, it is important for the mentor to be honest if there are some potential trade-offs.  We all have strength areas, but nobody is perfect all the time.  If the mentor mentions an area of opportunity for growth, it will actually enhance the level of trust because it represents transparency and candor.  Of course, it does matter that the wart is minor in nature.  If there is a serious area of doubt, then revealing it will work to the disadvantage of the protégé.  In that case, there should be some coaching going on anyway. 

Conclusion

The mentor can help the protégé in a number of ways provided it is done in the right spirit and quantity. Be particularly alert to the body language reactions when discussing another person with someone else.  That is the easiest way to determine if you may be coming on too strong. 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Mastering Mentoring 8 Networking

August 28, 2021

Mentoring and networking are not the same concepts, but I think the two actions can be synergistic such that the power of each is enhanced. The purpose of this article is to share my thoughts on both mentoring and networking and solicit alternate views or enhancements to my points.

Directional

Most people believe that mentoring is directional in nature.  One person acts as the mentor and the other as the protégé. My own opinion is that in a good mentor relationship, both people are gaining in different ways. Both people have the advantage of seeing their points through the lens of another person, so there is an opportunity for growth for both people.

Frequently, the mentor has more years of experience than the protégé, so there is substantial content knowledge being passed along in one direction. The younger person has value to add as well because he or she is from a different generation and can help the mentor understand how actions are being interpreted by others.

Non-Directional

Networking is rarely directional in nature.  It is two people who have become interested in getting to know each other for purposes of expanding their network of acquaintances. The conversations take the form of “getting to know you,” where substantial background information is shared. Also, these meetings center on who the other person knows.

Good networking practices can expand the reach of both people exponentially.  It does take time to nurture a network of friends, but the reward is that both parties gain far more exposure.  One tip about effective networking is to grab onto a person who is highly into the technique.  That one person can open dozens of doors for you that would otherwise not be available.

Using the LinkedIn system is an excellent way to increase your network, especially if you use the “Groups” function to reach people who share your views and interests.  

Using Both Simultaneously

I have been lucky to have several people in my life who look to me as a mentor but who also bolster my network by introducing me to their friends. Likewise, I introduce these people to folks in my network who I believe can benefit from knowing them. This ever-expanding circle of acquaintances and knowledge sharing is a most rewarding combination.

Several of the people who have been introduced through networking have become close enough to consider me a mentor.  That is why I believe the two practices are synergistic.

Conclusion

Both mentoring and networking can be significant enhancements to the life and career of any professional.  While these two techniques have different purposes, using them in tandem leads to the most rapid progress. 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Mastering Mentoring 7 How Are We Doing

August 21, 2021

A Mentoring relationship is intended to be satisfying and mutually advantageous to both parties, so both people feel they are doing something highly useful. 

I think it is a good idea to check in on how things are going occasionally, but not so often it becomes a burden.

How Are We Doing

Plan to initiate a discussion of how the relationship is progressing. Have both parties describe what is going well and also any things that are getting in the way.  Be as candid as possible in these discussions, because this is how you can manage the relationship for optimal benefit in both directions.

Don’t settle for someone saying “things are going fine,” and leave it at that.  Ask more probing questions like:

  • What do you want to work on?
  • Where do you need support?
  • Do you have the resources you need?

Feel free to make up your own questions based on the unique relationship you have with the other person. Just come to an agreement that this is an informal process you can use to maximize the benefit.

Working this reflection into your routine will help keep the relationship fresh and growing for both people, but there is a precaution to address.

Caveat 

The key point to remember is to not let the process itself become a burden or a barrier to trust.  When the discussions of how we are doing become the main event, then you have gone too far.  I suggest if you are meeting in person or remotely, on a weekly basis, the frequency for this self-evaluation should be about every 2-3 months, but you get to choose the right frequency for you.

These relationships are multi-leveled. They involve specific skills, styles, insights, emotional intelligence, leadership, team building, personal development, and a host of specific topics depending on the people involved.

Each person should understand that it is safe to speak up if something isn’t working.

Keeping any mentor relationship fresh and useful for both parties requires some introspection. The trick is to find the right pattern and timing for these evaluations. It is a matter of personal preference and style. 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Mastering Mentoring 6 Surviving Let Downs

August 14, 2021

In any kind of relationship, there are going to be times when one party is disappointed with the other. That is just human nature. Even in the most supportive mentor relationship not everything is going to be positive and happy all the time. You need to anticipate that there will be times of angst and have a recovery plan in mind.

The recovery action will depend on which party let the other down and the genesis of the fault. Here are some common problems that come up in mentor relationships.

One party has to cancel a discussion at the last minute 

In the hub-bub of everyday organizational life, unexpected things are going to come up. The protégé may have an emergency at home and be unable to attend a scheduled meeting. The Mentor may have a crisis at the office and need to cancel a discussion at the last minute.

This kind of thing is inevitable, and the repair is to forgive and forget. If the last minute cancellations become a pattern or habit, then it is necessary to adjust the relationship accordingly. Have a chat with the other person and see if there is a way to make scheduled interfaces more robust.

One party fails to do preparatory work that was promised

If there was a promise that one person would get some material ready prior to the next interface and it does not happen, then there is an obvious let down. It could be caused by a temporary lapse, but you should look into what happened because it might be that the errant person is losing interest in the relationship.

It could also could be a pattern (having nothing to do with the mentor) that could impact the person’s career. The mentor should have a conversation about the root cause and stress that part of developing trust with other people is being prepared.

Have a discussion on the issue before it repeats. Ask if there is still high value in the mentor relationship, or if perhaps it is time for a hiatus.

One party is being duplicitous

One party may be all smiles and positive with comments when the other person is around, but is somehow undermining that person when in discussions with other people.  This is a trust violation that must be confronted immediately upon detection. Do not procrastinate; this problem needs to be addressed immediately.

If the other party is having a problem in this area, you may not be aware of it for a while, but eventually some information will leak back to you.  Keep in mind that the violation may simply be in the body language of the other person. If he or she simply gives a smirk or shrug when your name comes up, that is a major problem that needs to be addressed.

The relationship has become a burden

This can happen in small steps over time. Any one step is insignificant, but put together in a pattern, and it is time to refresh the underlying basis for the relationship. Have a frank discussion with the other person about what is happening. Body language is particularly useful when trying to pick up on a lowering of the tolerance for investing time with the other person.

You might say something like, “You don’t seem as energized with our weekly discussions as you were a few months ago. Am I becoming a burden to you?” Investigate the source of lower dedication and see if a change in pattern or something will help bring back the good feelings.

The problem could also be a temporary high stress situation caused by work or non-work demands.

One thing that really helps 

In any mentoring relationship, if both parties frequently express their pleasure and gratitude for what is happening, it will help to sustain the good will. Be careful not to overdo the feedback with too much drippy praise, but do express your thankfulness to the other person. Remember, that in a good mentor relationship both parties are gaining by the activities.

It is good to verbalize how you are benefiting by the relationship from time to time. Just don’t go overboard with the praise. 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition:


Mastering Mentoring 5 Mentoring Myths

August 7, 2021

There some myths about a mentoring relationship that I want to address in this article.  The first one is that the mentor should be there to protect the protégé from making mistakes.

The Importance of Mistakes

Actually, human beings learn much more from their mistakes than their successes. Think back at how you learned to walk. You took many a spill on your backside before you could walk with confidence. 

If the mentor is too quick with advice on how to do things, it may reduce the number of mistakes, but it will also hamper the learning. I believe the best posture for a mentor is to intervene if the protégé is about to make a serious or hurtful error. We used to call these CTO’s (short for Career Threatening Opportunities). But, if the protégé is contemplating a bit of a risky step that may or may not work out, it is better to let the person take the action then do a debrief if it was a bad call.

The idea here is to make sure the protégé captures the learning consciously through a discussion on what went wrong and what would work better in the future.

Asking for Advice

If the protégé is asking for specific advice, then the mentor should share an accurate assessment of the possibilities and even offer a best course of action. The caveat here is to not let the mentor become a crutch for every decision. The mentor is there to teach the protégé to think for herself and learn to deal with risks in a rational way.

Covering for Mistakes

Another myth about mentoring is that the mentor is there to cover for any misteps the protégé might make. That is a formula for lowering the credibility of both the mentor and the protégé. If the protégé makes a blunder, it is a teachable moment for the mentor to demonstrate that integrity demands she admit the mistake and apologize.  Believe it or not , in the vast majority of situations, admitting a mistake will increase rather than reduce the level of trust.

Seeking Opportunities

A third myth about mentoring is that it is a responsibility to always seek out new opportunities for special assignments or promotions. Obviously the mentor will keep the best interests of the protégé in mind, but there is a fine line when it comes to advocating too much.

I once had a manager who was the mentor for a female supervisor. At every possible moment he was advocating for moving her ahead in the organization. He totally overplayed his hand and became an annoyance. Ultimately, other senior managers became aware of the ploy and the protégé was actually disadvantaged by all the hype.

Conclusion

The best way to configure a mentoring relationship is to have the mentor always model best behavior for the protégé. A significant part of the equation is knowing when to step in with advice and when it is better to let the protégé learn by experience. Always be sure to debrief each significant action so the protégé understands the logic behind what is going on in the relationship.  

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Mastering Mentoring 4 Communication Modes

July 31, 2021

A mentoring relationship is mostly about communicating ideas in both directions. It is a consistent effort to provide value from the mentor to the protégé and vice versa.

At the start, it is worth it to have a serious discussion about the various options of communication and the advantages or limitations of each one.

The methods, frequency, and types of communication should be agreed upon after this discussion.  Then the relationship begins, but do recognize the patterns you have just invented are general guidelines rather than hard and fast rules. There will be circumstances where you operate outside your normal pattern or even consciously modify your pattern based on new information or special circumstances.

This article will focus on some tips and caveats for the various modes of communication.

Face to Face

This will likely be the most common method of communicating. It may be from informal chance meetings, or the discussions may be formally scheduled. It will depend on the physical layout and how booked each individual is.

Some people like to schedule a set time each week for a one-hour discussion.  You might schedule a lunch meeting each Wednesday with your mentor. The caveat here is to not be too rigid about a set meeting. If there is nothing new to discuss or if there is some priority job that needs to be done during the scheduled time slot, by all means take the opportunity to test each time if the meeting will be value added. 

Many mentor relationships end up on the rocks because the schedule had become an albatross for the mentor.  Stay alert to this possibility and keep testing.

Email or Text

In conjunction with live face to face discussions, it is fine to probe ideas or share data via electronic communication.  Depending on the person, the email may provide a more positive interface or it may turn out to be unreliable. 

I recall one situation where I was dealing with two mentors due to the matrix organization I was in.  My main mentor was highly reliable on picking up email information, so that mode worked perfectly well. The other mentor was spotty at best with getting back to requests by email.  I operated very differently with these two mentors due to their differing communication styles.

Remote Video Interfaces

Sometimes the situation will require most communication be done on one of the remote video platforms (like Zoom or Teams). These modes are helpful in that you can see if the other person is in a position to listen and consider what you are saying.  Watch the body language to pick up a signal that the other person is distracted or rushed.

Voice Mail

One of my mentors was most reliable using voice mail.  This form was excellent for access, but the asynchronous nature of the communication led to some awkward lapses at times. Sometimes I would find myself needing a reply but not getting one in a timely manner.  I found myself debating whether to bug my mentor that I needed a response or waiting a longer period.

The good part about voice mail is that we were able to keep the dialog going 365 days a year without being a burden.  In fact, it turned out to be an advantage when my mentor once said, “You know, Bob. I can always count on you to be there every time I dial in. You are much more active and dedicated than your peers.”

Conclusion

There are dozens of ways to have meaningful dialog with your mentor.  The advice here is to have an open discussion about which modes will be most useful, and select those as your primary vehicles.  The caveat is to remain flexible to operate outside your normal convention when circumstances make that a better choice. 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Mastering Mentoring 3 Questions

July 24, 2021

Any mentoring relationship will have lots of time to dialog. It is the exchange of ideas that leads to growth for both the mentor and the protégé. The fundamental objective is to learn from each other by a series of discussions.  How these discussions are conducted will have a lot to say about the relative effectiveness of the relationship.

Use Questions

Try to slant your verbal expressions to the other person in the form of open-ended questions.  An open-ended question is one that cannot be answered “yes” or “no.”

I think it is possible to overdo this advice. I know one consultant who is a former lawyer. He frames up every single thought in the form of an open ended question.  It is just in his DNA, like he is incapable of making a declarative statement..  Whenever I meet with this person I come away exhausted as if we are playing some kind of communication jousting match. If you ask him a question, he will respond with another question.  It is annoying. 

It will be tempting to suggest techniques or actions in a declarative form. The reason is that the effort has the feel of one person teaching another.  Let me share a couple examples to contrast the two styles.

Examples

If you are the mentor, you might be tempted to advise the protégé with a statement like, “Never interrupt another person who is in the middle of a thought.” That is good advice, but it might be better to frame it up as follows, “How do you react when someone cuts you off before you have finished your point?”

A protégé might be tempted to say, “We should plan to meet at least once per week.” A more fruitful discussion of timing might start with the question, “How can we tell when it’s time for us to meet physically?”

Vary Your Communication Style

Be a bit flexible, and vary your style of communication so that most, but not all, of your ideas are presented in the form of questions. The flow of conversation should take on the feel of two people who are respectfully exploring the ideas under consideration by doing a lot of listening. Mentors would do well to shoot for conversations being 70% listening and 30% speaking and remember to use all forms of communications.

Keep in mind that not all communication will be face to face,  All modes of communication will be used at times in the relationship. Electronic communication is frequently used to coach a protégé. Typically, exchanges using e-mail or texting can be an efficient mode of mentoring. Even body language will become part of the method of conveying meaning between the parties.

Conclusion

A great mentor relationship can last for years or even decades, because both parties are getting benefit from the relationship. If both parties frequently point out their gratitude for the relationship, you are on the right track. Invest in these relationships because they will bring out the best in both people.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Mastering Mentoring 2 Getting to Know You

July 17, 2021

At the start of every mentoring relationship, I take the time to do a deep dive into the other person’s background, preferences, hobbies, personal family life, and any other thing I can think of as a baseline for the other person.

Many leadership mentors feel it is inappropriate to probe into matters outside the professional life of a protégé. I believe that mindset is flawed, because in order to be of maximum assistance to this person, you need to really know what makes him or her tick.

Note: for the remainder of this article, I will use the male pronoun in order to avoid the cumbersome “he or she” structure as much as possible. The concepts should apply to each gender equally.

You are not embarking on a casual relationship here. You are entering into a relationship that will impact every aspect of the other person’s life. I am not advocating that you pry into areas where he wants privacy.

Caveat

The caveat here is to gently test the comfort level for any topic before getting involved in a discussion in that area. For some topics, it may take a long time to build up enough trust to share details about the individual’s past. Other times a person may be perfectly comfortable sharing any detail from the past right from the start.

 I believe it is important for you to know as much as you can in the following areas:

What does he find motivating?

We each have a key to what gets us excited.  We may not even be able to articulate it accurately, but it is there. If a person draws a blank on this issue, try using a “Strength Finder” instrument that may help uncover some hidden keys to the person’s motivation.

When is he most happy?  When does he feel most fulfilled? What does he dislike? What are his opinions on different management styles?

Identify his background

In as much detail as he will offer, find out about his upbringing and what events shaped his life up to this point. Pay particular attention to how he describes his feelings as he talks about his background.

Find out his current family situation, if he will share that

What forces are acting on him at the moment, and what is he proud of? What does he worry about? Who were some of his heroes when he was growing up?  How did he get along with the other kids in the neighborhood?

Hobbies

What does he like to do with his free time?  What things does he avoid at all cost? Who does he like to hang out with and to what groups does he belong? What was it about these groups that was of interest to him?

Annoyances

What types of situations get him angry, and why does this occur? How does he act when angry? How does he go about resolving his anger?

Aspirations

Where does he want to be in 5 or 10 years?  What steps is he taking to get there? What does he think are the biggest obstacles?

How can you be most helpful to him?

The person may not have a good grasp of this variable at the start, but there may be some directional ideas he can share that will be useful.

Conclusion

Learning these things about the other person will enhance the relationship in many ways. First, you will not be making false assumptions about the individual. Second, you can relate to his personal traits as you brainstorm what actions might be helpful next. Third, it will be easier to show empathy for the person when times or topics get tough.

You can often find out about these and many other personal traits in just a couple hours of chatting. You may also want to let him know these things about you, since a good mentoring relationship is bilateral.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Mastering Mentoring 1 A New Series

July 10, 2021

I have been writing a series called “Leadership Barometer” for the past couple years. Thus far there are 100 articles in the series.  At this point I am not tapped out, so  that series will continue, but there is a subset topic that deserves a new series of its own. The topic is mentoring: specifically mentoring for leaders.

My observation has been that there are many candidates to become great leaders, but the world still suffers from a shortage of great leaders. The problem is not having enough candidates but having adequate teachers. When teaching skills such as leadership, we usually refer to the activity as “mentoring.”

The reason so few high caliber leaders take the time to mentor other leaders is that they are so consumed with being successful themselves; there is very little time to mentor others.  I consider that mindset as a big mistake. Unfortunately, the problem is very common.

For this series, I will use my experience to recall many techniques that I have found helpful when mentoring would-be leaders.  I will also share some caveats or things that do not seem to work very well.  Each article will focus on just one facet of mentoring.

One negative practice has sunk many a well-intended mentoring effort. If we start to think of a mentoring effort as a “program,” we start off on the wrong foot.  Often groups will do a kind of “matching” effort in order to pair people who should work well together.

The more senior person (called the mentor) is introduced to a protege, with whom he or she will work in the future. This mechanical pairing of people has a low batting average in terms of a solid long term mentoring relationship. The reason is simple; to achieve a sustainable effort both parties must benefit by the relationship.

The way to avoid this common trap is to not think of mentoring as a program. Instead, encourage individuals to seek out a person who would resonate with them personally and who is willing to provide access. Don’t over administer the relationship with fixed meeting schedules or forms to fill out.  Let the relationship progress at a rate and with such tools as the two people invent themselves.

This “ownership” by both parties is a critical first step.  Each party will be interested in making the relationship work and be willing to invest time and effort into a process that they mutually own.

In my own case, I was blessed with a very strong mentoring relationship with a senior leader.  We did not call it “mentoring,” we just had a very close relationship where we both got large advantages out of spending time together. There was no paperwork or fixed schedules to adhere to, rather the interfaces occurred naturally as the opportunities for coaching became evident.

Communication was almost daily, and it was mostly done through the mode that was most comfortable for the mentor. In this case voice mail was used extensively to coach each other. I, the protege, gained insights and techniques in the form of ideas or suggestions. My mentor gained by my sharing my observations of how my mentor was engaging the entire population. So, we were kind of coaching each other along on a daily basis for more than 25 years.

The first piece of advice in this series is to encourage the organic formation of mentoring relationships and do not over-administer the effort as a “program.”  You will be much more successful in the end.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.