I’ve heard it said, a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. What I’m talking about here today is the fake news about mentoring that’s criss-crossing the globe and the fallout we’re suffering, today, because of it. Through challenging these myths about mentoring, I’m going to reveal the truth and what actually works.
- Structured mentoring no longer works
The truth: Humans yearn for structure when they are uncertain
It can be hard for people to admit that they’re not sure how to start a mentoring relationship. Structured programs provide tried and true results and are probably needed even more today than ever before. Structured programs train mentors and mentees in their responsibilities and expectations. They train mentors in listening skills to help mentees discover their own goals, and solutions by prompting reflection and deep thinking around their work challenges. Mentors untrained in the art of listening can derail even the best mentoring relationships, by giving misguided advice, forming judgements about the mentee and simply not hearing what the mentee is saying.
- Any manager has the skills to mentor
The truth: Any manager has the potential to mentor.
Managing and mentoring are two very different skill sets. Managers come to the table to guide their team to achieve organisational goals. Good mentors, on the other hand, are expected to provide a safe and trusting environment for the mentee to explore and discover their own goals. Mentors use the art of listening and conversation to guide the mentee to their own solutions.
In AIM’s 2020 Leadership Survey, it was found that the average manager overrates their performance in a number of areas – most notably in Coaching and Mentoring (41.81%), Displaying Emotional Intelligence (39.25%), and Displaying Honesty and Integrity (34.3%). Most managers have a lot to learn when it comes to mentoring – if only they would admit it.
- It’s easy to reach out to a mentor
Truth: It’s not easy to approach potential mentors.
In times past, when it was common to have elder members of the community spend unstructured time with less experienced people, the art of mentoring may have been handed down through generations. Today, it’s rare for younger generations to have access to wise counsel through their family and community, particularly for those who come from underrepresented groups in the workplace. Not only that, introverts find it intimidating to reach out to senior members of the workforce for career guidance.
Structured mentoring can make it possible for people from all walks of life to tap into the knowledge and wisdom around them, by having the match made for them.
- People choose mentors wisely
Truth: Most people choose a mentoring partner just like themselves.
Choosing mentors can be tricky: There is no one size fits all, and a lot of it comes down to luck and persistence. Left to their own devices, people may try to connect with mentors that are too senior for them, or mentors with whom they feel too comfortable because the mentor looks just like them, just a bit older. There needs to be enough stretch in the match to be sufficiently challenging for the mentee without intimidating them.
- Mentoring programs are easy to implement
Truth: Mentoring programs are surprisingly difficult to implement.
There are so many moving parts, including the sheer individuality and unpredictability of humans, it’s no wonder many programs fail!
Yet when a program is successful, participants will unanimously tell you (and everyone they know): “That was the best experience of my life”.
- The best mentors are the most successful in their careers
Truth: Career success and the ability to mentor are two very different beasts.
You may have discovered how to achieve excellence in your work by figuring out your uniqueness and how to apply this to the needs of your workplace. Yet helping a mentee to do precisely this is another story.
The best mentors achieve excellence in their ability to help a mentee discover their unique gifts and how to use them to best advantage at their place of work.
They’re gifted in the art of developmental conversations.
- The best time to start a mentoring program is when things are stable
Truth: A good time for mentoring can be in periods of disruption.
Organisations facing massive change or disruption change may avoid beginning mentoring programs for team members because they think it will overload them. Yet this is precisely when less experienced team members would benefit from talking with wise mentors. After all, it’s within the process of upheaval that people discover their real strengths and what they’re capable of achieving. The 2020 pandemic has revealed the great extent to which mentoring can be instrumental in maintaining meaningful connections with others – and social connection is important for wellbeing.
- The number of participants in a mentoring program equals success
Truth: The number of participants in a mentoring program frequently only reflects the budget!
No, seriously, participant numbers are meaningless. Quality trumps quantity every time in mentoring. It is the mentee’s satisfaction level and goal achievement at the close of the program that truly reflects its success for the individual participants. Did the mentee emerge from the program with a better understanding of their career aspirations, their professional development goals and how to get there? Do they feel more optimistic about their career direction? And did mentors also learn from the experience? These dimensions are how we gauge success.
- Mentoring is a “nice to have” but should not be high priority for organisations
Truth: Mentoring delivers a high ROI against many important people goals.
The benefits of mentoring to organisations are numerous. They include helping employees be more successful in their work, reducing turnover, increasing loyalty and helping create new development opportunities for participants. Mentoring programs have the potential to improve these and other measures of employee engagement. Most leaders would be hard pressed to say these are not high priorities for all organisations today.
There you have it—the nuts and bolts of what makes structured mentoring so great. Who would have known that mentoring conversations can deliver such fabulous results? Looks like the truth has put on its pants.
© Melissa Richardson, 2021