Mentoring Group FAQ

Our response team answers hundreds of e-mail inquiries each month. Following are some of the most frequently-asked questions and our responses. Watch this space for periodic additions and feel free to contact us with your questions.

What's a mentor?

The broad definition is this: an experienced person who goes out of his/her way to help a mentee set important life goals and develop the skills to reach them. An informal mentor provides coaching, listening, advice, sounding board reactions, or other help in an unstructured, casual manner. A formal or enhanced informal mentor agrees to an ongoing, planned partnership that focuses on helping the mentee reach specific goals over a designated period.

How can I find a mentor?

We suggest that you start by reading the articles on our website. In particular, read the items in the Archive that have to do with personal vision and development plans. Take an hour or two to work through the exercises there. They'll help you clarify your goals and the kind of help you want.

Here's a brief outline to guide you:

1. Reframe your own role and responsibilities
2. Identify what - then whom - you need
3. Evaluate yourself as a prospective mentee
4. Identify potential mentors
5. Prepare to approach your potential mentors
6. Approach your potential mentors

In a nutshell, make it easy for someone to help you. Know what it is you want and be specific when you make your request. Take responsibility for your development. Have realistic expectations of others and be sure to express your appreciation for any help you receive.

Don't overlook the pools of potential mentors that probably exist right in your community. It's unlikely that one person can provide all the help you need, so look for several individuals who might each play a part. Take a fresh look at people you already know. Are there former instructors or associates who might be able to help you (or point you in the direction of someone who can)? Service and professional organizations are full of individuals with varied interests and expertise. They can also be a wonderful source of assistance.

Make sure you're well prepared before you make the contacts (and be thinking of ways you might be able to offer assistance in exchange for the help).

What do mentors and mentees do together?

Here are several of the common activities: talking together (e.g., about the mentee's past experiences, goals, plans, and skills; the mentor's career path; useful problem-solving strategies); attending meetings, conferences, and other events together (and discussing these later); working together on activities; having the mentee observe the mentor handling challenging situations; role-playing situations faced by the mentee; exchanging and discussing written materials (such as a document written by the mentee or an article valued by the mentor); co-authoring a publication; interacting with other people (including persons who could be of help to the mentee and other mentor-mentee pairs).

Who should manage the relationship?

There's been a big shift on this important point. In the past, mentors initiated and managed the process. Mentees followed the mentors' lead. Now, mentees are managing the partnerships. Since it's the mentees' lives and careers, what's accomplished is directly more important to them than to their mentors. What's more, mentors are usually very busy and have limited time.

As a result of this shift, prospective mentees generally initiate the relationships, negotiate the arrangements (e.g., goals to work on, how long the partnerships will exist, when the pairs will meet, confidentiality expectations, and the like), and monitor and adjust progress as the pairs go along. Ideally, the mentees will also end the mentoring aspect of the relationships at the agreed-upon time on a positive note.

While this is a modern shift of the mentoring arrangement, primarily in the U.S. and Canada, wise mentees also show respect to their more experienced mentors and are sensitive to mentors' needs, schedules, and cues as well as cultural differences.

What are some of the problems that can occur in mentoring relationships?

Not enough time and energy to spend on the mentoring relationship; mentees unsure of their objectives; resentment on the part of individuals not participating; unreasonable expectations of each other; one member taking unfair advantage of the other; lack of mentoring skills on the part of the mentors or mentees.

How can these problems be prevented or solved?

Both parties should aim for realistic, focused goals and maximize their time by using the phone, e-mail, and other timesaving strategies. Mentors and mentees should talk honestly about their relationships, including expectations, limits, preferred ways of interacting, and the fact that they'll need to part one day. Mentors and mentees should work on improving their mentoring skills. In formal programs, resentment will be minimized if would-be mentees who didn't participate in the first pairing are matched in a later round.











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