The creation of a mentoring relationship means a great deal more than just going to meetings and having casual chats about the future. Statistics show that most mentoring relationships fail, with as many as one third ending when the protégé changes jobs/positions. Here are some suggestions that can help keep the relationship on the road to success:
1. Get the relationship off to a good start. The protégé should be involved in the selection of a mentor. If a mentor is “given” to the protégé in a structured program, the protégé should not be passive and accept just anyone.
2. Both mentors and protégés should be assertive if either feels that there is a mismatch. It is better to pull the plug on a relationship at the outset than to struggle to maintain a relationship that has little value to either party.
3. The first meeting is extremely important and should be structured with an agreed-upon agenda. The protégé must have clear objectives to discuss with the mentor and be prepared to discuss what is needed to be successful in his/her career. It is also important to clearly define what is expected of each party; the frequency and length of meetings; the boundaries around the relationship (what will and will not be discussed); and the length of the relationship.
4. The relationship will be successful if you meet your commitments; respect the time restraints that occasionally interrupt your expected schedule; confine yourself to the issues set out in the first meeting; never betray confidences; and, always show your appreciation for the time spent on the relationship.
There are many activities that mentors and protégés can work on together that will help reach specific goals. No activity should be undertaken simply as something to do; activities must be directly related to the reasons why the relationship was created. With that in mind, here are some potential activities that a mentor might assign:
1. Read a specific paper or article, or attend a lecture, short course or seminar that relates to the goals of the protégé
2. Attend an academic event or reception together and have a pre- and post-event discussion
3. The protégé prepares and gives a presentation related to his or her work and the mentor reviews and discusses aspects of the work
4. The protégé writes letters or brief reports that the mentor reviews and discusses with the protégé
The purpose of any development project is to expand the protégé’s understanding of the profession, to develop his or her skills and help solve problems. It is very important for the mentor to remember that the main purpose in creating a project is to develop skills and increase confidence, not to produce a product or directly benefit the mentor. It is important to begin discussing the potential for projects at the outset of the relationship.
As the mentoring relationship develops over the months, it may be apparent that the protégé’s development might be aided by work on specific projects. The idea is to give the protégé a new experience that will help him or her reach an important goal.
The assignment of projects is something that is negotiated between the two of you. If you do decide to assign a project, here are some guidelines on how to keep track of the process. These guidelines are basic project management and can be useful in any project.
Here, try this… (for pre-assignment discussion)
Let’s really look at this…
Refining the plan…
This is what I want you to accomplish…
In every relationship there are times when it is important to review how things are going. By now you have learned that having a mentoring relationship requires a great deal of effort. Like all human interaction, mentoring carries a certain amount of risk. If you are aware of what these risks are, you have a better chance of avoiding problems.
Possible Problem #1 – Not Enough Time
Everyone is short of time. Even the most casual mentoring relationship requires time. Intensive relationships require even more time: time to plan, time to meet, time for sending and answering e-mails, time for telephone conversations and time for thinking.
The problem is not just a problem for mentors who don’t have enough
time. A protégé whose mentor is very generous (and/or demanding)
with his/her time can be run ragged. It is very important to decide before the
relationship begins how much time will be devoted to the relationship.
Possible Problem #2 – Personal Problems
If a mentor runs into difficulty in his or her own life, either personally or on the job, it affects the protégé directly. If the problem is on the job, it may affect more than just the direct relationship – it may affect the protégé’s job prospects. If the personal problems restrict the mentor’s time to the extent that the relationship is suffering, the protégé is well advised to look for a new mentor.
If the protégé runs into serious personal or job difficulties, it can result in a serious increase in the amount of time the mentor needs to be with him or her. The mentor must make sure that he is not spending more time on the relationship than the protégé. Occasionally, a mentor may discover that the protégé is just not interested in doing any more than absolutely necessary to get by. This is more likely to happen in programs where the mentoring pairs are selected, rather than in a program where the protégé seeks out a mentor. If a relationship is not working, it is best for both the mentor and the protégé to end the relationship. If you are following the process outlined in these guidelines, you will have negotiated at the beginning how to end the relationship. Always end a relationship on a friendly note; this is extremely important. Always leave a door open.
Possible Problem #3 – Unrealistic Expectations
Being a mentor or a protégé for the first time will cause some concerns regarding just how much mentoring is enough. A mentor may feel that s/he is responsible for what happens to a protégé while the protégé may want a more distant relationship. If the mentor has a specific career move that seems a great way for the protégé to succeed, it may conflict with the way the protégé sees his or her own future. This may cause a case of guilt in the protégé if he feels that the mentor is really going out of his way to help.
Another unrealistic expectation occurs if a mentor expects the protégé to
do as he or she suggests. These problems can be avoided if the goals and objectives
of the protégé are defined and discussed in detail at the beginning
of the relationship. Do progress checks from time to time to see if the expectations
of the mentor and the protégé are reasonable.
Possible Problem # 4 – Expectations of Failure
Individuals generally perform at or near the level expected of them by others. Mentors with high expectations of the protégé inspire achievement. If a mentor has only accepted the role of a mentor because he sees it as a career move, and doesn’t care about the process or the protégé, the protégé begins the relationship with at least one strike against him. Expectations of failure can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The best solution to this problem is to avoid starting it. If a mentor has a genuine feeling that a potential protégé will not be successful, it is incumbent upon him/her to decline participation (in a structured program) or explain to the potential protégé that s/he should find a different mentor. When declining a protégé who has selected you, always try to suggest someone else who might do the job better.
Potential Problem # 5 – Protégé’s Feeling
It is common for protégés to do a little comparative analysis while working with the other protégés. If the protégé feels that he or she is not moving ahead as quickly as others in the group, it may lead to feelings of “failure”. Indeed, if the mentor selected for the protégé is less dynamic than other mentors, it can lead to the protégé’s feeling less important. If the mentor is a superstar, it can cause strong feelings of inferiority in a protégé.
It is very important for the protégé
to learn to avoid this problem by changing how
he or she judges success. This is all part of setting up the relationship. Remember
that good planning and clear procedures greatly strengthen mentoring relationships
and help avoid problems and pit-falls.
After setting goals, getting to know one another fairly well and doing a variety of activities together, it is time for a protégé and mentor to do a "check-up." The form below is intended for use after approximately 3-4 months or anytime some mutual, honest feedback would be helpful.
There are times in the mentoring relationship when the mentor sees a need to offer feedback or suggest changes.
There are ways to give feedback that can ruin a good relationship or conversely, improve it. Constructive feedback should never be given on the spur of the moment. It must be planned. The following worksheet provides a format for planning what to say and how to say it.
If it appears that something is wrong with your mentoring relationship, the easiest thing to do is walk away, but while walking away is easy, it is inappropriate and unprofessional. Think of the amount of time you have already invested in the relationship up to the point where you contemplate quitting. Also, consider how others, both inside the mentoring program and in the profession, may perceive your actions.
As mentioned many times in these guidelines, if you plan your relationship carefully, there will be little room for problems. You will have planned how to end the relationship if either the mentor or protégé is not comfortable with the arrangements, but ending the relationship should be a last resort. You need to determine logically and quietly whether the mentoring relationship can be saved, whether it is worth saving, and whether the time, energy and emotional costs will result in a win-win situation. This is not easy. The following worksheet is designed to help your through the process of deciding how to solve your mentoring relationship problem.
“The greatest problem in the world could have
been solved when it was small.”