Effective Mentoring

Written by: Alan Rodway - Your Coach Online

The word ‘mentoring’ is widely used /but to have an effective mentoring relationship requires structure and commitment. According to Wikipedia, “mentoring is an ongoing relationship of learning, dialogue, and challenge. … a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person … more than just answering occasional questions or providing ad hoc help”. The only part of that I don’t like is that the mentor is ‘more experienced or more knowledgeable’ … not sure that always has to be the case.

Here are some necessary elements for an effective mentoring relationship:

  1. The person being mentored must have set down the qualities, attributes, skills, knowledge and practical circumstances relating to their mentor, prior to engaging them . These should have been sorted into ‘Must Have’, ‘Should Have’ and ‘Nice to Have’, prior to selection. It’s also vital that the mentor has aligned values with the mentee. With respect to the practical side of the relationship, the mentor has to be adequately ‘available’ and affordable. As a personal opinion, I would think it to be an advantage if the mentor has already experienced some of the successes in life that the mentee is aspiring to achieve him/herself. Another important point to consider is the network of the mentor .. how extensive does it need to be and what entree to the network is expected by the mentee?
  2. It’s critical that the mentor is not conflicted in the mentoring they give the mentee, and this can affect the choice of mentor. Family members, close friends, work colleagues, etc. can so easily be conflicted depending on the issues covered. It does not mean that such people can not be the mentor; but it does mean that the conflict has to be acknowledged and dealt with objectively. If conflicting situations are arising often, then that goes to having to change mentors I would think.
  3. I’m not sure that one mentor is the best way to go; I prefer two or even three mentors . I think it’s very difficult, if not impossible, for a single individual to fulfil all of the requirements of someone’s mentor. Multiple mentors gives greater breadth and even opportunities for more than one opinion when critical decisions need to be made. And the potential for differing advice is not a problem; it’s just part of life. The mentee has to become skilled at deciphering this.
  4. There have to be agreed objectives at the outset of the mentoring relationship, and these should be revisited and updated, over time. Without clarity of what’s trying to be achieved, it’s too difficult. The objectives can be both tangible (measurable) and intangible (not strictly measurable). Some of the most important objectives can be intangible, such as ‘just feeling better about one’s self’ or ‘better relationships’, and the importance of these should not be underestimated just because they can’t be measured in numbers. Further, the objectives can be across financial, professional, physical, personal, emotional or even spiritual. This impacts the breadth of content to be included in discussions and activities.
  5. Should there be a fee involved from the person being mentored? In my view there should, so that both parties treat the working relationship seriously .. in a practical sense. Without a fee, it’s too easy for either party to cancel sessions or not uphold the necessary accountabilities to make the relationship work. When a fee is involved there’s ‘skin in the game’ and the sessions are more likely to be held as well as in a productive manner. A side point here is whether the fee can or should be paid by the mentee’s organisation? My experience with that approach is it’s less effective because the mentee has ‘less’ skin in the game. But if it is be in the case then the mentee should be funding at least half of the fee. If a monetary fee is either not possible or acceptable to both parties then a non monetary arrangement could be agreed, e.g. work done by the mentee for the mentor or for someone else, in return for the mentoring. It’s all about having a ‘price’ to pay for the relationship from the mentee, in some form.
  6. The mentoring relationship must be proactive . Ongoing and regular sessions should be set up in both parties calendars and adhered to. The frequency of these sessions could be anything from weekly to monthly. Irregular, one off sessions, can of course be set up as well, when particular issues arise.
  7. I hear many people declare they have mentors but, in my view, they are more like ‘important people’ than mentors. I think that’s fundamentally different. An important person might just be a trusted friend or colleague, whereas a mentor is someone formally engaged to help achieve well laid out objectives. An important person in someone’s life can and often does give advice to the other, but that doesn’t constitute mentoring in the true sense. Mentoring is deeper, more frequent, more clearly defined and more ‘expected’ than that. The two forms of ‘help’ can and should co exist.
  8. Mentoring can take various forms during and beyond the formal sessions. It can be advice, clarification, challenge, teaching, information, feedback, upskilling or demonstration. An effective mentor will know when to engage which of these approaches.
  9. Mentoring must be underpinned by agreed accountabilities , or there is nothing. This means that when either party agrees to ‘do’ something, it must happen and within agreed time frames, or consequences occur. The consequences don’t have to be drastic, obviously, but there must be some.
  10. Communication to the mentee cannot all be suggestive of change; it must be balanced with praise and encouragement of some current behaviours as well … or it can be too difficult for the mentee. A balanced mix of praise and suggested behavioural change is best.
  11. An extremely effective aspect of mentoring is the concept of ‘teachable moments’ … an unplanned opportunity that arises for a mentor to offer insight. It’s spontaneous and has to be seized upon and therefore represents a sideways step in the communication. It’s powerful mentoring because it utilizes timing .. ‘timing is everything’. A teachable moment could lead to a full ‘session’ of itself.
  12. Should a mentor’s role include introductions for the mentee into the mentor’s own network ? This depends on the terms of the mentoring relationship, as set up at the outset. It’s also why a mentee should have more than one mentor, with at least one of them agreeing to make such introductions.
  13. I think a mentoring relationship can usefully (or should?) include an element of growing a sense of community for the mentee . Discussion around community importance, maybe even activities for community engagement and giving back, can really help the mentee, not just from a holistic development perspective but also for their leadership. The danger of mentoring without this aspect is it can become ‘all about me’.
  14. I think it’s important that the mentor witness the efforts of the mentee with some consistency and not just give advice from afar (just from discussions with the mentee). This has some practical implications that should be built into the initial choice of the mentors.
  15. It is important to evaluate each mentoring relationship, at least yearly. And this should include evaluation of the mentor’s performance as well. How effectively is it all working? Are the objectives being achieved with input from the working relationship?
  16. How long should someone ‘keep’ a mentor? I have no problem with one person being retained for quite a long time, even a lifetime, but the other mentors should be changed out every three to five years, for diversity of experience, skill, knowledge and network, as well as a fresh pair of eyes.
  17. Once someone has been mentored for two to three years , it adds to their development to become a mentor of someone else . The old saying ‘the best way to learn is to teach someone else’ is true. The responsibility of mentoring someone else usually heightens performance when back in the mentee role, as the person sees both sides of the process.
  18. Summarizing some of above, an effective mentoring relationship requires a Process : a) What’s to happen, b) When it’s to happen, c) Where it’s to happen, d) Who is involved, e) Written down, f) Stipulated consequences when either party fails to comply with agreed behaviours, actions or the process. Without a process it either won’t happen or it won’t be effective.

Previous Newsletter Articles

Bookkeeping Tips

Business Tips

HR Information

Contact Us

1300 022 270


Book An Appointment