Effective Mentoring Relationships:
The Mentor’s Role (Part 1 of 2)
by Dr. Linda Phillips-Jones

Whether your mentoring relationship is thriving or merely coasting along, it makes sense to take a close look at it now and then to see what is and isn’t working well.

The Mentoring Group has found that planned mentoring relationships tend to produce more satisfaction for both parties when certain elements are in place and when both the mentor and the mentee take active roles. (These can also occur in totally informal or what are called enhanced informal relationships. However, the factors are much more difficult to assess and influence without explicit agreements between you and your informal mentees.)

We invite you to take a look at one or two of your more intentional or formal mentoring relationships, perhaps one that seems to be succeeding and another that doesn’t feel completely right to you. Read over the following elements, and begin thinking what is and isn’t a strength in those relationships. Next month you’ll have a chance to assess your performance formally on these factors.

Key Ingredients of Intentional/Planned/Formal Mentoring Relationships

1. Purpose

This relationship is a high priority for both of you. You consider being a mentor as one of the main purposes of your life. You and your mentee are clear on why you’re together and the reasons you’re meeting. You’ve discussed and agreed upon what you’ll work on, and you’ll recognize when you’ve completed your purpose. You feel good about the focus of your relationship and what you’re doing in it. From time to time you check in to see if you should change that purpose or focus in some way. When you’ve accomplished the purpose of your relationship, you’re willing to see the relationship shift focus or perhaps end for the time being.

2. Communication

You communicate in the ways (in person, phone, email, mail) you both prefer. You get back to your mentee in the timeframe you’ve agreed upon. Your mentee does the same. The communication between you adds up to at least one or two hours a month and is frequent enough for both of you. You’re an effective listener, and you remember what your mentee tells you. You ask appropriate questions, and your mentee responds. You share information about yourself. You monitor your nonverbal language to be sure it's conveying what you want it to. You help your mentee recognize how he/she is communicating and, where appropriate, you make suggestions for improvement.

3. Trust

The trust between you is growing. You welcome and keep in confidence the information your mentee shares with you. Your mentee knows he/she can count on you to be honest yet safe and to follow through on your promises. You avoid any trust-breaking behaviors such as canceling appointments without compelling reasons, talking negatively about others or unfairly criticizing your mentee. You’re increasingly sharing more of yourself and are becoming less guarded than when you first got together.

4. Process

Your meetings and other interactions are moving along at the right pace. You meet often enough to suit you both, and those sessions are usually the right length. You both like where you’re meeting. You’re aware of the four stages of formal mentoring (planning, building relationship/negotiating agreement, developing the mentee/maintaining momentum, and ending the formal mentoring part of the relationship) and are helping guide your mentee through them. You like how you operate as a mentoring pair and check in with each other to see if you’re both satisfied.

5. Progress

You’re helping your mentee identify appropriate life goals and build competencies to reach those goals. You help him/her identify interesting learning experiences and process the results of these together. Your mentee has made significant progress toward the goals since starting to meet with you. You’re making significant progress in your ability to mentor.

6. Feedback

You asked your mentee how he/she wanted positive and corrective feedback from you. You’re doing your best to give this feedback in an honest and tactful manner and as frequently as agreed upon. You give your mentee much more positive reinforcement than you give correction. When you give your mentee feedback, you observe how he/she applies it and, if necessary, mention points again. You invited him/her to give you positive and corrective feedback on how you’re doing as a mentor. When you receive feedback, you’re non-defensive and take immediate steps to apply it.

For more learning on these critical factors, check Tip for Mentees. You’ll see that your mentee has similar responsibilities to make your relationship a success. See you next month when you’ll have a chance to rate yourself on each of these factors and behaviors.

For more ideas on being an effective mentor, check our Archive and Products. If you haven’t yet, consider ordering a copy of The Mentor’s Guide and 75 Things to Do with Your Mentees.

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