In her TED Talk “No one is talking to mentees” Victoria Black describes her research study which examined mentoring program websites across 187 post-secondary institutions. She found that only 19% addressed ‘mentorability’ by defining mentee characteristics and expectations, compared to 37% which defined mentor characteristics and expectations. Her conclusion? That, on the whole, mentoring programs do a pretty poor job of preparing participants, especially mentees, for the mentoring engagement.
We know about this. We advise that training mentees is just as important as program briefing for mentors. It raises the probability that mentees will engage from a ‘mentorable’ stance, and that mentors know what is expected of them.
But what do we mean by ‘mentorability’? There is very little in published research about mentorability. On the other hand, there are studies of what makes someone ‘coachable’ – a very closely related term. Kretzachmar¹ studied ‘coachability’ or ‘readiness for coaching’ and developed a ‘coaching client readiness’ theoretical model which has six themes that influence coaching readiness.
- Culture and class. Whilst it may seem politically incorrect to mention this, the researcher argues that the person’s context and background determines whether they have essential skills like reflexivity, self-awareness and the ability to take responsibility.
- Knowledge about coaching. Many people don’t really know what coaching (or mentoring) is. How can I be ready for something, if I don’t know what to be ready for?
- Access to coaching. Cost and lack of time can make coaching inaccessible to many.
- Psychological interpretations. Being ready for coaching is influenced by how people interpret themselves and the world. Lack of confidence and self-esteem is a reported barrier to engagement in the coaching process and indeed, to participating in adult learning. Being psychologically and emotionally stable enables people to deal with feedback and explore deeper issues that allow movement forward.
- Feeling safe. A coachee needs to feel safe within the coach-coachee relationship, but also in the organisation offering the coaching.
- Commitment to change. It’s more than just turning up. time and place play an important role in the change process. People who make the most of coaching feel a sense that this is the perfect time for coaching to be happening.
These 6 factors could just as readily be applied to ‘mentorability’ as coachability’. The factors are a combination of knowledge, skills, experiences and attitude. It’s not just a matter of telling potential mentees to have the ‘right’ mindset in order to be mentorable. As mentoring program managers, it is incumbent upon us to:
- Understand that some people, by virtue of their context, prior knowledge and personality, will be immediately more mentorable than others.
- Educate potential mentees about what mentoring is, what their roles and responsibilities are, what they can expect of a mentor and the organisation offering mentoring, and what they can achieve if they commit themselves to the process.
- Suggest that a mentorable mindset includes such characteristics as openness, willingness to be vulnerable and viewing feedback, not at criticism, but a valuable tool for their development.
- Help provide a safe environment by emphasising confidentiality, making sure mentees and mentors feel well-supported and that mentors are equipped to undertake the role of a mentor.
- Make mentoring as accessible to as many people as possible, from different backgrounds. It should not be just for an elite few. Suggest ways that mentoring can fit easily into busy schedules, so it remains accessible.
So how mentorable are you? Try this quiz:
- What do I know about mentoring, and if not much, how could I find out more?
- How will my cultural background and prior experiences affect my openness to mentoring? Do I have the skills for reflection and self-exploration?
- Will I make time for mentoring? Being too busy is just an excuse – we make time for the things we find important. Is now the right time?
- Do I feel emotionally ready to take feedback and try new things that my mentor might suggest, even though it might scare me?
- Am I willing to work hard to build rapport with my mentor so that we can establish a trusting relationship? (sometimes chemistry takes a bit of time and takes a little work)
- Will I do more than just turn up and wait for my mentor to ‘do it for me’?
I don’t believe mentorability is a fixed state. I know that there are times when I am not at all coachable or mentorable. It’s a question of being self-aware enough to know how ready you are for mentoring, moment by moment, and working towards having more mentorable moments.
© 2020 Melissa Richardson
- Kretzachmar, I. (2010) Exploring Client’s Readiness for Coaching, International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring Special Issue No. 4, October