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ATD Blog

Say Goodbye to Mentoring Lulls

By and

Mon Nov 24 2014

Say Goodbye to Mentoring Lulls

Mentoring is about movement, growth, and development. A mentor’s work helps create the momentum for mentees to grow into persons who have the capability, competence, and confidence to get to the next level—however that next level is defined. The challenge for both mentors and mentees is to set relevant and challenging goals, and then keep up the momentum. It is easier said than done. 

Mentoring partners must work at avoiding the common traps can create a lull and subsequent derailment of their relationship. We believe it is easier to prevent a problem, than try and cure it.  


If you have ever had a mentoring relationship that didn’t work out, check out these five traps. Evaluate how they contributed to the problem, and then apply the strategies to keep the momentum going. Or, if you do veer off course, these strategies may help you course correct.

Trap #1:  Three cups of coffee 

Mentoring is more that just getting to know your mentoring partner. Conversations that build trust and a safe relationship should encourage your mentee to be more open and vulnerability. Mentoring discussions are deeper and more meaningful when you explore where your mentee wants to be, what she wants to be doing in the future, and who she wants to become.  Otherwise, the conversations remain on the surface and mentoring becomes three cups of coffee: “How’s it going?”...“How’s it going?”...“How’s it going?” After the third meeting, you don’t have much to go on or talk about and you have hit a lull. 

Strategies:  Make sure conversations focus more on the future than on present work issues. The day-to-day challenges are a good place to start and to catch up, but they shouldn’t be the prime focus of your interactions—that is the job of the supervisor. 

Trap #2: Low hanging fruit 


Learning is the purpose of mentoring. This means that mentoring partners need to explore the mentee’s  learning needs and what will be most effective in moving your mentee from where he is to where he needs to be. Avoid setting low-level goals that are too easy to achieve or unexciting. 

One mentee, after listening to his fellow mentees summarize their achievements at the end of their mentoring year told the group he wished he could have a “redo.”   “I took too easy a path,” he confessed, “and made it more of a fun year, getting to know my mentor and having interesting conversations.  I never actually invested any time and effort into doing anything. Now I regret that.”  

Strategies:  Check on the quality of your mentoring goals. Use the following questions as a guide to get to high level goals with your mentee. “Yes” answers indicate you are on the right path. Rework the goals if you can’t get to yes. 

  • Will this goal push you? 

  • Will it challenge you? 

  • Will it take you out of your comfort zone? 

  • Will you feel more capable and confident as a result of achieving this goal?  

Trap #3: Call if you need me 

One of the biggest contributors to the “lull syndrome” is failure to meet regularly.  When there is too much time between connections, it becomes easier not to meet than to try and create a re-connection. There are many reasons why mentees don’t reach out to their mentor: 

  • They get caught up in their current work.

  • There more immediate payoff comes from working on tasks rather than personal development.

  • They don’t want to burden their mentor.

  • They don’t believe their issues are deserving of the mentor’s time.

Strategies: Set a regular meeting schedule and schedule dates on your calendar in advance.  Mentoring partners who avoid lulls tend to meet more frequently in the beginning (the first 90 days) and less frequently as they work on goals. Agree on how to handle cancellations, and hold each other accountable for keeping appointments. 

Trap #4: What have you done for me lately?

If the work together is meaningful and valuable to both the mentor and the mentee, they will find a way to meet. The converse is also true. Without substantive issues to work on, progress to report and items to discuss, it is easy to let other priorities trump the mentoring relationship. And, once again, the lull sets in. Here are some contributing factors than get in the way: 

  • The mentee doesn’t perceive value from mentoring meetings.

  • Mentoring has become more transactional and series of checklists than a real relationship.

  • Progress has slowed down. 

Strategies: Send your mentee questions to think about in advance of your mentoring meetings. They will help your mentee come prepared and be ready to engage in deeper conversation. Anticipation of discussion creates energy and enthusiasm. Get in the habit of sending thought questions or articles to discuss. Here are some questions that trigger thoughtful discussion: 

  • What are you doing now that is making a difference in your results?

  • What kind of feedback would help you? 

  • What quality or attribute do you admire in others that you would like to develop in yourself?

  • What strengths are you currently underutilizing at work? 

Trap #5: Is it really you? 

Mentees truly value a mentor who is real and honest with them. When you share your journey, struggles, successes and failures, it helps your mentee see their own potential. It invites the mentee to access lessons in a more meaningful way. When you reveal your own defeats, it builds trust and strengthens the relationship.  Lulls are less likely to occur when mentors and mentees engage in honest feedback with one another. Regularly scheduled check-ins, where you and your mentee contribute input keeps the relationship real, and on a continuous path to improvement. 

Strategies: Tell your stories—successes and failures and lessons learned along the way. This makes you real to your mentee. Build in regular feedback about how the relationship is working. Talk about the process, the learning and the relationship, and what could you both be doing to make it better.  

THOUGHT QUESTION: What Are You Doing that Might Be Creating a Lull?

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