ATD Blog

The Most Frequently Asked Questions About Mentoring, Answered

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Mentoring is a crucial aspect of how people get ahead in today’s professional world. A growing number of organizations are providing mentoring programs to help develop and strengthen their learning culture and create excellence in the workplace. But many people still do not know how to get started. Lisa Fain, CEO of the Center for Mentoring Excellence, and her staff get a lot of questions about mentoring; here are her answers to a few of those most frequently asked.

Why Create Mentoring Programs?

Q: Why is mentoring important?
A: For mentees, the value of having a mentor is undeniable. Among the many benefits, a good mentor can help a mentee become more efficient at work, learn new skills, develop greater confidence, and make more logical decisions. Mentors report many benefits as well, including satisfaction from seeing others develop; expanded generational and cultural perspectives; strengthening mentoring, leadership, and interpersonal skills; and continuing to experience new ideas and insights.

Q: Why do we need a mentoring program? Isn’t mentoring best when it happens organically?

A: Mentoring that happens organically can be terrific, gratifying, and a source of growth and satisfaction for mentors and mentees. However, organizations that have mentoring programs are able to create additional wins beyond those described above; these include:

· an opportunity to demonstrate that the organization cares about employee development and growth
· a more engaged workforce
· increased job satisfaction
· inclusion of more marginalized employees.

Think of it like a garden. If you want flowers to grow, could you get a few to bloom by providing the seeds and sprinkling them on some soil? Sure, and some might even flourish; but if you plant those seeds properly, provide the right soil, and water them, you’ll be following a much better strategy to create something that flourishes.

Who Is Involved in Mentoring?

Q: Who do I choose to be my mentor?

A: It is best to choose someone who can help you identify and reach your goals. For more on this, check out our webinar on March 30: 10 Essential Steps to Find and Choose the Right Mentor for You.

Q: Can I have more than one mentor?


A: Yes! This can be quite beneficial. However, it is important to have different goals for each of those mentoring relationships.

Q: Why can’t I just get my mentoring from my supervisor?

A: Because mentoring is a leadership competency, good managers are often good mentors; but the purpose of these relationships is distinct, and having a mentor who is not your manager provides clear advantages. First, the role of your manager is to make sure first and foremost that you are performing well in your job. The role of your mentor is to make sure first and foremost that you identify developmental goals that work for you, which may or may not have anything to do with your current job. Second, the allegiance of your manager will always be first to making sure the company succeeds; the allegiance of your mentor is to make sure you succeed. Finally, we often hear from mentees that their mentor can provide an unbiased, objective, fresh perspective that a manager may be unable to provide because they are mired in the details of day-to-day work.

On What Topics, When, and How Is Mentoring Most Effective?

Q: What do I focus on in my mentoring relationship? Can I have a personal mentor as well as professional mentor?

A: At its core, mentoring is about advancing the learning and development of the mentee. A mentoring relationship is most effective when the mentor and mentee take the time at the beginning of the relationship to set specific, measurable, and meaningful goals. This can be focused on any kind of learning—whether personal, professional, or otherwise.


Q: When is the best time in my career to have a mentor?

A: The best time to have a mentor is always now. Because mentoring is a learning relationship, it is beneficial to all people regardless of age or stage. It is never too early for learning and goal development, and it is never too late. We often hear from mentors that they, too, want to be mentored!

Q: How do I know if I chose the right goals to focus on?

A: Goal-setting is most effective when it is done in the context of a greater vision. This requires taking the time to think clearly about what the purpose of your mentoring is and where you want to be at the conclusion of the mentoring relationship. What skills, competencies, experiences, and knowledge will you need to have to reach your goal? Which of these do you have now? When you identify the gap between where you are and where you want to be, the goals will emerge.

Empowered with this knowledge, you can seek the mentoring relationship that works for you—or even create the mentoring program that works for your entire organization.

Lisa Fain will be presenting her webcast, "10 Essential Steps To Find And Choose The Right Mentor For You" on March 30, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.. Register here.

About the Author

Lisa Fain is CEO of the Center for Mentoring Excellence and an expert in the intersection of cultural competency and mentoring. Her passion for diversity and inclusion work fuels her strong conviction that leveraging differences creates a better workplace and drives better business results.

Fain brings her energy, enthusiasm, and engagement to any group, facilitating lively workshops and training and delivering interactive speeches with practical steps that can be implemented right away.

As senior director of the Diversity and Inclusion function at Outerwall, Fain spearheaded the development, establishment, and implementation of its diversity initiative. Prior to assuming that position, she worked as Outerwall’s in-house counsel, coaching leaders and partnering with HR to establish fair and effective policies and practices that would sustain the organization as it grew in size, revenue, and renown.

For almost a decade, Fain practiced law in the Chicago, Illinois, office of a major multinational firm, where she counseled employers on creating inclusive policies and practices. While in that role, she served as master trainer, training thousands of employees at a variety of companies large and small on how to create a better workplace.

Fain is also an executive coach, specializing in individual and group coaching for professional women looking to design and live their best personal and professional lives. She is a certified mediator. She graduated with a BS in social policy from Northwestern University and holds a JD from Northwestern University School of Law.

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.