Three experienced mentors give their advice to an everywomanNetwork member who wants to improve her own mentoring relationship…
An everywomanNetwork member writes...
I have started a mentoring relationship with a senior colleague in my same organisation who I know reasonably well. The issue is that we are not clicking in the way I feel we should. It’s early days; we’ve only met up a couple of times, but I feel like she is being too prescriptive in what she thinks I need and isn’t really listening to me or working ‘with’ me. Because she has offered to mentor me I feel as if I can’t really say anything; pushing back seems a bit ungrateful. I really want to make this work, and she has a wealth of great experience to offer, so how can I make this mentoring relationship flow better for both of us?
It's possible that your mentor’s intentions are good, but that she simply doesn't understand how best to mentor, says everywoman’s associate trainer Pippa Isbell.
From that perspective, the best thing is to be honest with her, and give her clear, specific and objective feedback. You could tell her that you value her advice but you feel as though she is telling you what to do when actually you need to learn how to do it yourself — and see where that conversation goes. You don’t say whether this arrangement is part of a formal company mentoring scheme, but if it is then perhaps have a chat with the person who runs it and ask for advice on how to deal with the situation. It's possible the scheme sponsor could also have a chat with your mentor and give her useful feedback, which will be a bit awkward but not nearly as awkward as carrying on in a relationship that’s a waste of everybody's time. If it’s an informal arrangement, a discreet chat with your boss to ask their advice might also be helpful.
In the end, this might be a valuable lesson not to jump into mentoring. If it doesn’t work out this time, don't be put off, but next time, make sure you get to know the person a bit better first. It’s important to have a discussion about how you're going to work together from the outset, building in expectations on both sides. Have a ‘matching session’ to see if the chemistry between you works, as well as asking them what's worked for them in the past, whether they’ve had any feedback about their mentoring skills and so on — basically interview your prospective mentor to see if the relationship is going to fit. Mentors need to be doing the same thing too, saying ‘This is my style, is that going to work for you?’ This can highlight and head off any issues, but, of course you can't know everything until you actually start working with them.
Pippa Isbell is an everywoman trainer and serial mentor as well as director and co-founder of consultancy and coaching company VivePoint. In 2012, she was named Mentor of the Year.
As a mentee, you have a certain responsibility along with your mentor to make this work says personal development coach Rianna Patterson.
Mentorship is supposed to benefit your personal or professional development. So if that isn't working, then something must be changed — it seems that your mentor’s style doesn’t match your goal or your personality. I’d reflect on your first meet up— were there any expectations set up at the start that you can talk about with her, because that initial conversation in mentoring is key to understanding exactly what you will be working on together and how. It's not late to have a conversation and there are ways of communicating this gracefully so as not tarnish the relationship. You can approach it from the perspective of ‘This is how I would like you to mentor me, because this is how I learn’ and ‘This is how I feel comfortable sharing more information with you’. Then have a review call a week or two later and if you really feel as if nothing has been taken on board from that meeting you might want to think about finding another mentor. There's no harm in looking for mentors that will listen to you and take on your ideas to help you progress because that's really the whole point of mentorship.
Changing the relationship for the better could also be as simple as providing space to be heard too — you could try resetting the relationship so it is more of an 80:20 balance, where you as the mentee speaks more than the mentor. A mentor speaking more than a mentee is not a fruitful relationship. However, remember there's a difference between a coach and a mentor: a coach helps you to bring about your independent thinking, but they won't advise you. A mentor can be valuable in guiding you on your journey, providing resources, communicating with you. They can also act as an advocate for who you are and what you're doing — that’s how they can tap into opportunities that will benefit your career development. Good communication between you really is a vital part of that.
A mentoring relationship should be a productive relationship; if it’s not that then you need to address this as soon as possible, says mentor and Head of Corporate Security Andrew Wright.
It should always have clear and defined goals, but the second part should be around your understanding of each other. As a mentor, your responsibility is to be consistent, supportive and to facilitate growth. Much of the way I mentor has been taken from experience with my own mentors. I let my mentees tell me where they want to go; I don't force a particular path on them. Being able to use your experience to support and inspire without necessarily ‘telling people what to do’ is just part of being a good manager, let alone a good mentor. Also, your career isn’t going to be their career; as a mentor, you’re not trying to make a replica of you, and what I consider successful is helping my mentees becoming strong, independent leaders. All I've done is to smooth out a few of their rough edges.
The only time to be a little more prescriptive though, is if you feel that your mentee isn't trying to achieve enough or setting the bar too low for themselves. Then I think it’s worth encouraging them to raise it a bit. It could be that your mentor feels you aren’t being ambitious enough for yourself which might come across as being ‘prescriptive’ — a conversation around that could prove enlightening.
In the end, though, your mentor sounds as if she is either quite new to mentoring or has too much on her plate, which may account for the rather one-sided approach. Mentoring is a nice thing to do, especially when you see people evolve and change, so for a mentor to give a mentee short shrift doesn't make sense to me — but it won’t be resolved unless you discuss it. It’s important to acknowledge that some relationships need fine-tuning — but also that not everyone works well together. Neither of these things should be a big issue. However, moving it forward could just be something as simple as saying, ‘This isn’t working for me; can we can we try something else?’
Andrew Wright is Head of Corporate Security (UK, US & APAC), YNAP.
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