Mentoring Mistakes

The word 'mistake' written on paper with a pencil starting to erase the wordOver the last few posts, we have been having a closer look at mentoring and coaching. We all understand that investing in our leaders creates more engaged, self-aware and better skilled leaders focused on achieving success.  There is ample evidence that coaching and mentoring when used with other development tools such as 360 degree feedback surveys provide cost effective development opportunities for all leaders.

While there are many skilled, experienced and capable mentors who understand the importance of getting it right, what happens when it goes wrong? I recently read an article by Sarah Kimmorley, ‘Mentoring Mistakes’ in which she summarises an interview she conducted with David Clutterback (co-founder and lifetime ambassador of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council). The interview attempts to identify the biggest mistakes that people can make when undertaking mentoring.

  1. Online doesn’t work: Mentoring is about relationships and thinking deeply. The mentoring tools offered by platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook can undermine the effectiveness of true mentoring.
  2. Assuming: Mentors should not assume their mentees want to hear their life experiences. Sometimes less is more. Practice active listening and be quiet.
  3. No Notes: Taking notes means you are not fully engaged in listening. We talked about active listening in the previous point so use the natural pauses in the conversation to take notes.
  4. Practice: ‘Practice makes perfect’ a proverb dating back to 1550s -1560s which implies the more you practice, the better your skills. It still holds true to this day.  Practice, practice, practice.
  5. Not a Genie: Mentors are not at the beck and call of the mentees nor are they there to solve every problem. Mentors help their mentees work through their challenges themselves.
  6. Role Model: Mentors are often more mature and experienced. Some mentees see this and attempt to take on that image themselves.  Mentors must encourage their mentees to be themselves and encourage them to take advantage of what they can learn from the relationship.
  7. No Sag: Don’t let the six month itch take hold. It can be quite common to run out of the easy things to talk about after six months or so. Develop deeper conversations that will strengthen the partnership allowing you to tackle the really hard issues.
  8. No Speed Dating: While speed mentoring is a novel concept that enables some connection, it does not develop relationships. Relationships are critical if we are to focus on the development of the mentee. This cannot and will not happen in one 10 minute meeting.
  9. Have an Open Dialogue: Mentoring is about conversations that are seeking to create understanding and new meanings. Mentoring is not about monologues nor discussions aimed at a compromise.  It is about having dialogues where new meaning and understanding takes place.

The importance of creating an environment where our leaders can grow and develop their skills in a safe and supportive environment cannot be overstated. We, as leaders, are responsible for developing our people and to do this we must learn how to have real conversations and be active listeners.  We must practice how to have dialogues and avoid monologues.  We must explore and discover, not just tell and direct.  In such an environment, both the mentee and the mentor will reap the rewards of the relationship. As John Crosby says ‘Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.’  So get picking, listening and pushing.

Happy leading!