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ATD Blog

Four Things to Avoid in a Mentoring Relationship

Monday, August 11, 2014
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If you're entering a mentoring relationship, you're probably eager to get going—dreaming of all the good things that will result. While it's important to focus on the positive, you should also be aware of potential pitfalls.

Here are four things to avoid.

Business as usual

When you meet every week or every other week for nine to 12 months (the typical length of a formal mentoring relationship), it's easy for complacency to set in and for the relationship to feel routine. While structure is essential to an effective relationship, you want to avoid the sense that you or your partner is simply "mailing it in."

Of course, even the best-intentioned mentoring pair can fall victim to this. After all, how do you avoid routine if you're meeting every Wednesday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. in the company cafeteria? One easy way is by occasionally shaking up your routine. Instead of 3:00 on Wednesdays, maybe you meet for breakfast one week, a bagged lunch outside the next, and then resume the normal schedule.

Sometimes a simple change of scenery is all you need for a fresh perspective.

Groupthink

Groupthink occurs when the members of a group (yes, even a group of two) either get along so well or are so polite with one another that no one wants to disagree—ever. An effective mentoring relationship is one that challenges, probes, debates, and pushes (in both directions, not just the mentor to mentee).

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In other words, if everyone always agrees, where is the growth going to come from? Sure, the mentors and mentees might describe their experience as "pleasant," but wouldn't you rather have a relationship that's "transformational" rather than one that's merely pleasant? If you said "yes," then avoid groupthink.

Keeping your program manager in the dark

When a mentor and mentee connect, it's a wonderful thing. But no matter how well the relationship is going, you should never cut off the mentoring program manager.

Perhaps, you’re thinking: "But everything is going great! There are no issues whatsoever. Besides, I don't want to be a bother." To that, I respond, “You won't be a bother.”

Your program manager is there for the good, the bad, and the ugly. And here's the thing: if your great relationship hits a pot hole somewhere down the road, it will be much easier for the manager to come in and help you and your partner navigate it if he or she has been riding along with you for your entire mentoring journey to date.

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Bottom line: don't shut him or her out.

Asking for special favors

A mentoring relationship, when done right, is a safe, productive place where mentors and mentees work together towards common goals that foster the mentee's professional and personal development. This requires the mentor's support, insight, and, occasionally, specific help, but it's the mentee who does the heavy lifting.

Through the course of a nine to12 month relationship, mentors and mentees learn a lot about one another and grow close, or at least, closer. Neither the mentee nor the mentor should take advantage of this close relationship by asking for special favors.

For example, let's say the mentor learns his mentee is related to an industry bigwig—someone whom the mentor has been trying make inroads with for months. The mentor should not ask his mentee to make an introduction. Sure, the request might seem innocent enough, but asking for this special favor shifts the power balance (which should be more equal than not).

This puts the mentee in a difficult situation. What if the mentee isn't comfortable making the introduction, but feels obligated to do so because her mentor asked? Nope, it's best to keep favors—even the most benign—out of the relationship altogether.

Remember, a mentoring relationship is like any other relationship you embark on. You'll have good times and down times, quiet times and "loud" times. Embrace the positive, keep an eye out for the things to avoid, and enjoy the journey.

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About the Author

Rene D. Petrin is the founder and president of Management Mentors, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2014. Management Mentors’ philosophy is simple: Show companies how structured mentoring programs are the most powerful and effective strategy for professional development within an organization. Visit www.Management-Mentors.com to learn more.

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