CHAPTER 5 – WORKING
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
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. Suggest reading a specific paper or article,
or attend a lecture, short course or seminar that
relates to the goals of the protégé
2. The protégé and mentor attend
a business reception together with pre- and post-reception
3. The protégé prepares and gives
a presentation related to his or her work and
the mentor will review and discuss the 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. Mentors, however, must remember that
the idea of assigning a project is not to get
your own work done. The idea is to give the protégé
a new experience that will help him or her reach
an important goal.
Whether you assign projects to your protégé
or not is something that is negotiated between
the two of you. If you choose to have projects,
try to avoid assigning a project that will directly
benefit your own job. 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
Here, try this… (for pre-assignment
- This is an assignment I would like you to
take on. This is what the results should look
- What do you feel your target should be on
- What is your production goal?
What time line should you have?
What will it take to get it done within that
What do you need to get started?
What past project or experience will help you
in working on this?
- Who do you need to work with you on this?
- Who do you need to coordinate with?
- What preparation should you be making?
- How long will it take you to complete your
- What resources should you gather before beginning?
- What external resources will you need?
- What is your plan of attack?
- What is your learning goal?
Let’s really look at this…
- What’s the point of trying it that
- What other ways are there to make it work?
- What will you learn from trying it that way?
- What assumptions are you making about the
- What are you most confident about?
- What is scaring you the most?
- What do you need to know from me?
- What do you want from this experience?
- What obstacles can you identify at this point?
- What will be your first step?
Refining the plan…
- What efficiencies should you try to achieve
as you develop the project?
- How will you monitor your progress?
- How should I be involved in the mentoring
- How will you know if you need help?
- How often should we communicate during the
- I need an “early warning system”.
How will you notify me of problems that arise?
- What challenges do you foresee to “your
way of thinking” in performing this activity?
- How will this assignment challenge you to
alter your way of thinking about projects?
- How will you flag your need to think “out
of the box” as the project proceeds?
- What will happen if you do it the way you
- How can I help you in this?
- How will you use the help of others?
- What must be in place before you can begin?
- How will you evaluate your progress?
- How will you measure your success?
This is what I want you to accomplish…
- This is my suggestion for what might work
- Watch out for this pitfall. _______________________________________________
- This pitfall has caused ________________________________________in
- Be careful with him or her.
- If you need me to intervene with _________________________________________
let me know; but I will want an analysis of
why and how.
- Tell me the part of my suggestion that you
think might not work.
- If you take the approach you are suggesting,
it will probably have______________
(this) ______________ effect.
- Let’s brainstorm how to do that; I’ve
got some ideas.
- This is the reason that I want you to work
on this. __________________________
- This is what I think you will gain from working
on this. _______________________
- This is what success on this will do for
- These are the costs for failing on this.
Be sure to track any projects in your logbooks.
It is very important to log all of the steps taken
and the results, both good and bad.
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
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 corporate 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 this handbook, 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
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
Another unrealistic expectation occurs if a mentor
expects the protégé to do as he
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 process checks from time
to time to see if the expectations of the mentor
and the protégé are reasonable.
Possible Problem # 4 – Expectations
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
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 of Inferiority
It is common for protégés to do
a little comparative analysis while working with
the other protégés. If the protégé
feels that he 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
in the company, 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 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.
Relationship Review Worksheet
There are times in the mentoring relationship
when the mentor sees a need to suggest changes
to his protégé’s behavior.
It may be a simple characteristic such as a consistent
improper use of a word or phrase to career limiting
characteristics such as an inability to eat properly
in a restaurant. Any behavior the mentor sees
and considers inappropriate is potentially a topic
There are, however, 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.
Giving Feedback Worksheet
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 always inappropriate and unprofessional. Think
of the amount of time you have already invested
in the relationship up to the point that 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 this handbook, 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.
problem in the world could have been solved when
it was small.”
Problem Solving Worksheet