How Assumptions Derail Good Mentoring Relationships

by Lois Zachary

Why is it that some people succeed at mentoring while others miss the mark?

For one thing, the word “mentoring” is not uniformly understood. Mentoring partners hold differing assumptions about what mentoring actually means. Mentees and mentors frequently come to mentoring as novices, unprepared for roles and responsibilities. Like a sage on the stage, the mentor’s role is often seen as dispensing advice and doling out guidance.

Mentoring partners assume they know each other and fail to take the time to build trust. If the goals of mentoring remain fuzzy, so are its outcomes. And finally, mentors and mentees sometimes fail to build in mutual accountability for their relationship and only one partner does the heavy lifting.

Rest assured there is no magic or mystique to achieving successful mentoring outcomes. What we do know is that conversations that take place during the first ninety days can determine the success or failure of a relationship. And, not just any conversation works. Many mentoring partners aspire to practice conversation, but more often than not, they fall short. The best mentoring relationships report moments when a conversation sparked big ‘aha’s’ for the mentee and deep satisfaction for the mentor. The mentor skillfully and thoughtfully uses conversation to help a mentee probe their own thinking and discover answers for themselves.

how to mentor book
So what does a really good mentoring conversation look like? This question was top of our minds as my colleague Lory Fischler and I wrote our new book, Starting Strong: A Mentoring Fable that will release this month from Wiley.

In Starting Strong, you become an armchair observer. You meet Cynthia, an experienced executive and savvy mentor, and Rafa, an ambitious Gen Y’er, who is impatient and wants to advance his career quickly. As their mentoring relationship gets started, you are privy to their conversations and their thinking. In the process, Cynthia and Rafa discover the importance of a well-launched mentoring relationship, the critical role of preparation, how to build a trusting, open and honest relationship, how to maximize their mentoring time, how mentors help mentees take charge of their own learning, and how to address stumbling blocks, without jeopardizing the relationship.

Lois ZacharyLois Zachary is the President of Leadership Development Services, LLC. and an international expert on mentoring and leadership development. She has written several books on mentoring. The newest one is Starting Strong: A Mentoring FableOther books include Creating a Mentoring Culture: The Organization’s Guide, and The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You.


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