“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.”
– Warren Buffett
“Lori, I’m so excited! My company is starting a mentoring program and my boss has asked me to be a mentor.”
Ryan, an up-and-coming 30-something IT analyst, approached me at a recent speaking engagement and couldn’t wait to tell me his good news.
“Really? That’s great, Ryan. Did your management let you know what’s expected of you?”
His brow wrinkled slightly. “Not really, they just said they’d matched me with someone that needed mentoring. She’s just down the hall from me and new to the company.”
“Have you had someone mentoring you so that you know how it’s done?”
More brow wrinkles.
“No, not really. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever had a mentor, per se. Is there a fast course I should take so that I know what to do or maybe I can read some Mentoring SparkNotes to get a summary version of how-tos?”
Oh boy. I sense trouble for Ryan if he doesn’t get some coaching… and soon. I had concern for him and at the same time I felt annoyance with the company that was kicking off the “Grand Mentoring Program” and not setting him up for success.
What’s a KEY reason why mentoring initiatives fail? From my research, interviews and focus groups it’s this:
The mentor does not receive adequate training and support.
Then mentoring becomes “Too Baffling!”
Mentors do not receive the vision, the strategy and the tools to know what to do when they first meet up with their mentee and then beyond. The company mentoring program is rolled out, the mentors and mentees chosen and matched, and it’s off to the races.
Other names for this phenomenon:
Getting pushed off the deep end.
Getting in over your head.
Getting thrown to the wolves.
At least Ryan was willing to jump in and give it a try. Many potential mentors stop short because they feel they have a lot of knowledge in their area of expertise, but don’t really know the “whats” and “wherefores” of mentoring.
Perhaps they are smart to stop short. “Mentoring blind” could cause it to be a less than wonderful experience for both mentor and mentee.
Here are some ideas for the knowledgeable, willing mentor who might feel s/he does not have enough mentoring chops.
- Take inventory of your strengths and experience
What can you teach/share right here, right now? When you’ve taught someone in the past, what skills/attributes did you use? What areas cause you to feel the most confident? Begin sharing in those areas.
- Do some strategic risk taking
Plan mentoring opportunities so they progress at a comfortable rate for you. Ask your mentee to join you where you are confident – perhaps a program meeting you’ve run before or a discussion with a client with whom you have a long-standing relationship. Don’t start out in “high-risk” activities like negotiating a tough deal or a difficult conversation with a customer.
- Utilize a time proven and effective mentoring process
Naturally, I would recommend the MentorShift® process. Through its four steps, it can guide your relationship so you productively equip your mentee in their areas of interest. The process offers much needed structure and yet allows you to be creative where it benefits you most.
You’ve heard the saying, “An expert in anything was once a beginner.” Mentor, you might be an expert in your field but a novice at mentoring. No worries; begin with these ideas and you can ultimately lead a successful mentoring experience for both of you.
Lori Bachman is on a mission to help businesses improve their organizational results and bottom line ROI of their mentoring programs. She is founder and CEO of The MentorShift Group, where she writes, speaks and consults on impactful mentoring.