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5 Reasons Mentors Need Help

Tuesday, April 23, 2019
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An unfortunate trend pertaining to mentoring programs has recently come about: Organizations are investing in the design and launch of mentoring without investing in the development of their mentors.

Mentoring has a profound strategic impact when implemented well, and part of that implementation should be ensuring that mentors are prepared with the right skills to develop their mentees. Let’s look at five common problems organizations face regarding mentorship and how to address them.

1. Mentors Aren’t Sure Where to Start

Most first-time mentors, from junior associate peer mentors to senior executives, have some reservations about starting a mentoring relationship. It could be that they’ve never had a mentor themselves and don’t have a great role model to draw upon. Perhaps they’ve had poor mentoring experiences. Or, as is too often the case, there’s an “awkward blind date” feeling of being thrown into an ongoing relationship with a stranger.

Program leaders and administrators should provide direction to mentors so they can initiate the relationship in a way that is meaningful and builds trust and rapport. Consider providing welcome guides, videos from executives, or seasoned mentors and quick resource guides.

One of the most effective ways to help mentors feel capable and confident is to invite them to a learning program where they can try mentoring behaviors and learn about important tools. A program could, for example, demonstrate the principles of mentoring (like coaching and self-reflection) so participants have the opportunity to see skills in action.

2. Building Trust Is a Priority

In most cases novice mentors aren’t aware that they need to take time to build trust and rapport with their mentee. Just as building complete trust in a close friendship, it takes purpose and focus to build trust within a mentoring relationship.

Mentors, however, don’t have the luxury of building trust over a long period of time. In a mentoring relationship, which often lasts only six to 12 months, the longer it takes for the mentee and the mentor to feel a mutual sense of trust, the longer it will take for the mentee to truly start learning and growing.

Some easy ways to build trust include:

  • Share a learning experience that shows vulnerability and puts the mentee on more even footing with the mentor.
  • Honor your commitments, which include completing tasks, showing up on time for meetings, and being prepared.
  • Be actively present during the meeting. Don’t check your email or phone and ask questions to show involvement in the conversation.

Constrained roleplays can also help mentors see the behavioral aspects of trust. Assign half of the group to be “mentors” and half to be “mentees” for the activity. Mentors are assigned a specific set of behaviors such as looking at their phones every 10 seconds or interrupting. Conduct roleplays and watch the light bulbs go on as mentors see how these behaviors affect the overall feeling of the relationship.

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3. Mentors Need Boundaries

Boundaries are an important component of effective mentoring relationships for the mentor and the mentee. Not all mentors, however, are sure of where to draw boundaries. Some of that information should come from the program administrators and some should come from the participants. Program administrators need to clearly state, in either the welcome guide or other materials given to the participants, what is acceptable behavior per organizational mandates.

At the beginning of the relationship, mentoring partners need to have a frank discussion about expectations and preferences. Some type of mentoring agreement that outlines these expectations, which both partners can agree on and keep for reference, is beneficial. This understanding allows the mentor and the mentee an easy way to start a conversation if boundaries have been crossed and expectations are not met.

4. Mentors Can Groom Future Mentors

One of the best ways to build scalable, sustainable mentoring programs that drive success for years to come is to ensure mentees graduate and become mentors in future cycles. Mentees in effective mentoring relationships will be excited to develop others and share their expertise. In that case, you need capable and confident mentors to lead the way.

Mentors who have been given robust resources, skill development, and helpful guidance in their role are more likely to model the right behaviors for mentees. Engaged and intentional mentors will demonstrate the value of this skill and relationship.

Some of the effective behaviors that you want your mentors to develop include:

  • facilitating problem-solving
  • giving feedback
  • assisting mentee goal-setting
  • expanding mentee networks
  • enhancing confidence and providing challenges for mentees.

After a few program cycles, effective mentoring behaviors, demonstrated by mentors and witnessed by mentees, will reach further into the organization and promote a mentoring culture.

5. Mentoring Is Leading

Mentors need help because the skills required to be a stellar one are essential leadership skills that drive results in any role. The best mentors are present and engaged when communicating and prioritize development for themselves as well as those around them. Effective mentors can collaboratively help others identify skills gaps and potential learning road maps. They know how to build trust, respect, and influence while drawing from a diverse skill set.

Mentoring programs drive strategic results more effectively than other types of talent development, in part because individuals who participate in these programs refine and enhance their mentoring and leadership skills. Mentors from all levels of the organization often describe the experience as fulfilling, insightful, and valuable.

While mentoring is one of the most effective tools we have to build talent within the organization, a large part of a program’s success is having skilled mentors leading the learning relationships. It is in everyone’s best interest to provide tools and resources for the mentors, to communicate expectations for the program and the participants, and to provide opportunities for mentors to practice building their confidence and abilities. By investing in the mentors, organizations will show a commitment to having a mentoring culture, which will also encourage current mentees to become effective mentors in their own time. And most of all, leveraging essential mentoring skill sets increases leadership development throughout the organization.

Want to learn more? Join me at ATD 2019 International Conference & EXPO for the session, Mentorship as a Leadership Accelerator. We will explore how to leverage tools and resources to bolster mentee experiences within mentoring programs.

About the Author

Jenn Labin is the owner of TERP Associates, a team that seeks to grow talent and ignite potential. For 15 years, Jenn has had success working with a wide spectrum of organizations, including large private sector businesses, government and military operations, and higher education institutions.  Jenn is the author of Real World Training Design, a visual quick guide for creating exceptional results within tight budgets and timelines. Her second book on mentoring is expected in 2016. Jenn co-authored a chapter in the ASTD Handbook, 2nd edition, and has been published in the Pfeiffer Annual: Consulting journal three times. Jenn’s work can also be found in 101 Ways to Make Training Active, How to Write Terrific Training Materials, and the ASTD Trainer’s Toolkit app. Jenn has a BA from the University of Maryland Baltimore County in digital art, and an MA in instructional systems design.

1 Comment
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Wow, @Jenn. A wonderful way to put it. Really insightful. I believe that there are various ways of doing it. One of the ways to do it would be to assign studies through softwares in the form of games and quizzes, in short, to make it fun. Try implementing it through our software today at www.peoplehum.com.
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