Winter 2011
Issue Map
The Public Manager

Get Ready for Your Mentoring Relationship

Most professionals do not deny that mentoring is an important leader ship competency and often a professional responsibility. Yet, most leaders, while well intentioned, are underprepared for the mentor role.

Leaders who make the time to prepare themselves to be mentors report increased self-awareness, confidence, and competence in the role, and save themselves time in the long run.


Mentors with the best attitude see the work as an opportunity to expand and deepen individual and organizational learning. They also see themselves as partners in the shared enterprise of professional development and personal growth of their people.

So what are some of the things that you can do to prepare your self for this very important role?

Consider your personal motivation. It has a direct impact on your behavior and attitude and on the quality of your mentoring interaction.

Clarify what you are looking for in a mentoring relationship. What is driving your decision to be a mentor?

Get comfortable with the mentoring skills you may need to draw on. The more comfortable we are with a skill, the more likely we are to use it. Certain skills are especially important:

  • Coaching. Mentors often need to boost a mentees present performance to help them gain traction and momentum to realize their future goals.
  • Facilitating. Mentors are in the business of facilitating learning. It is the means by which they encourage self-reflection and ownership. Knowing how and when to support and challenge a mentee can unlock the door to future potential.
  • Goal setting. Well-defined goals steer the relationship and help it stay on course. Take time to collaboratively set goals and develop a work plan to achieve those goals.
  • Feedback. Mentees rely on mentors for candid and direct feedback. As a mentor, you need to be good at modeling feedback, asking for it, giving it, and receiving it. It will help your mentee make steady progress in the right direction.
  • Listening. Effective mentors are good listeners. It is the number one skill that mentees consistently say they value the most in a mentor. A mentor needs to be able to walk in a mentees shoes.

Identify a couple of stretch goals. No matter how many times you have been a mentor, you can always get better. Take the time to reflect on your skills and what you need to do to move from good to great. What is the gap between where you are now and where you want to be?
Create a mentor development plan. Identify success criteria and set three milestones to gauge your progress as a mentor.

Self-preparation for mentorship is a great opportunity for leaders to not only become better mentors but to expand and deepen their own learning. What better time to begin than now?

About the Author

Lois J. Zachary is an internationally recognized expert on mentoring. She has been cited as “one of the top one hundred minds in leadership” today. Her book, The Mentor’s Guide, first published in 2000 and revised in 2012, is the primary resource for organizations interested in promoting mentoring for leadership and learning and for mentors seeking to deepen their mentoring practice. With her bestselling books Creating a Mentoring Culture (2005), The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You (Jossey-Bass, 2009, with coauthor Lory Fischler), and the The Mentor’s Guide, five Mentoring Excellence Pocket Toolkits, and over one hundred published articles, Dr. Zachary has created a comprehensive set of resources for facilitating the practice of individual and organizational mentoring excellence.. Earlier this year her collection of poetry and reflection My Mother Has the Finest Eyes was released. Dr. Zachary is president of Leadership Development Services, LLC, a Phoenix-based consulting firm that specializes in leadership and mentoring, and director of its Center for Mentoring Excellence. Her innovative mentoring approaches and expertise in coaching leaders and their organizations in designing, implementing, and evaluating learner-centered mentoring programs have been used globally by a wide array of clients, including Fortune 100 companies, government organizations, and educational and other institutions, both profit and nonprofit.

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