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Top 10 Mentoring Mistakes to Avoid

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Candace Huntly
Ten Thousand Coffees Team -
February 8, 2021

Whether part of a formal employee mentorship program or an informal mentoring relationship, it's up to both the mentor and the mentee to make the most out of the relationship. While many employee mentoring programs outline some “ground rules” for how each session should progress, it can be easy to fall into a few common mentoring mistakes. Here are a few of the most common slip ups and how to fix them.

Mentoring Mistake #1: Building a one-sided relationship

Every mentor-mentee relationship should be a mutual relationship. Period. There is no room for egos in this type of relationship – on both the mentor and the mentee side.

The first session should begin with a conversation about what the mentee is looking to get out of the relationship, their goals for career development, and how they feel they can reach their full potential - rather than the other way around. Mentees should feel supported and in control of their own personal and professional goals. That being said, a mentor is never responsible for their mentee’s success – nor should they take credit for it.

While most employee mentorship programs technically mandate relationship building, which is not really a great way to start a relationship, a great mentoring program should take care to match mentors with mentees for a great fit. Outside of a formal program, it is best if mentors don’t seek out mentoring relationships, rather letting the mentee initiate.

Mentoring Mistake #2: Not defining the commitment

Beyond setting ultimate goals, both mentors and mentees need to figure out what the commitment will look like for the relationship. From the outset, it should be decided how many check-ins will take place, the amount of time each participant needs to commit, how long each session will be, whether there is a finite timeframe or not, and whether sessions will be formal (in an office or boardroom) or informal (over lunch or drinks).

Mentors need to be able to determine whether they have enough time on their calendar to make their mentee a priority for the time scheduled. From a mentee’s perspective, seeking a mentor means that they are ready for professional development, whether within an organization or in their career as a whole. Mentees need to be ready and willing to put ay new skills learned into action.

Mentoring Mistake #3: Not setting goals

Like in any great business strategy, both mentors and mentees should work together to define what success looks like and what metrics they should be looking at. As part of the first session, it is important to set goals – both long-term and short-term - for what the mentee would like to accomplish personally and professionally, skill sets they would like to improve upon, and set a direction for the relationship to grow. Whether it's developing leadership skills, interviewing for a new role, getting more involved with the company culture, or building up the courage to speak with senior management, your experience and advice will be priceless.

This initial exercise is important because it will set the tone for further discussion and give both parties something to look forward to for each session. A great workplace mentoring program will provide dialogue prompts to guide the discussion in the form of a series of questions or exercises.

Mentoring Mistake #4: Being critical instead of constructive

It is not a mentor’s job to tell their mentee everything that's wrong with them. Mentors should focus on areas for improvement and working through professional hurdles rather than character flaws. The best way to do this is to challenge the current way of thinking and help mentees grow. The relationship should be based on honesty and constructive feedback, and a safe space for mentee's to use their mentor as a sounding board.

Mentoring Mistake #5: Lack of flexibility

While participants may have a picture of what a mentor/mentee relationship should look like, it’s important to realize that each relationship is unique – even in an employee development program. Each mentor brings different strengths and experiences to the table and each mentee is facing unique challenges with various professional and personal goals.

Mentoring Mistake #6: Just telling people what to do

Mentors may be higher up the ladder to be a more experienced employee within an organization, but it's important to note that mentors are not there in the same capacity as someone’s boss to assign tasks and solve problems. Just telling people what to do eliminates a huge part of the mentor/mentee relationship where you work through challenges together to achieve growth.

Similarly, mentors should not set action items and assign homework after each session. Mentees will get out of the relationship what they put in, so it is up to a mentee to act on suggestions and “aha moments” from each session.

Mentoring Mistake #7: Talking too much

Even though mentors may have more experience, each mentoring session should be a back-and-forth dialogue where the mentor prompts critical thinking and self-evaluation. That’s not to say that personal experience anecdotes aren’t a value-add to each session, it just means that a great mentor isn’t there to reminisce about the past or brag about accomplishments. A mentor’s role is to listen, find out what a mentee needs, and support them in their growth. It’s no surprise that curiosity is a key character trait for any successful mentor.

Mentoring Mistake #8: Not sharing enough

While it's a mistake to talk too much during sessions, it's also a mistake to not share enough of your experiences. Sharing more does not necessarily mean talking more. Mentors should impart wisdom and guidance. If they are not willing to do that in a way that's beneficial to their mentee, then neither party will get anything out of the experience.

Mentoring Mistake #9: Knowing all the answers

Mentors are not chosen (or assigned) because they are infallible beings that know everything there is to know in the universe. A mentor’s strength lies in their experience and their willingness to work with a mentee towards shared goals. Pretending to know everything – as either a mentor or mentee – kills the sense of curiosity and willingness to discover through figuring things out together. It can be more rewarding to admit that you don't know something so you can work through it together rather than pretending you know it already and stopping the dialogue flat.

Mentoring Mistake #10: Breaking trust

A mentor’s role is that of a trusted advisor in any situation. Anything that is shared within sessions should be held in confidence. Especially in the case of employee mentoring & training programs, a mentee needs to know that their mentor will not use anything that is discussed against them within an organization. Once trust is broken, it will be hard for a mentee to openly discuss weaknesses they may have as a means to overcome them and grow.

Mentor/mentee relationships can be extremely rewarding experiences for both parties. In the case of workplace mentoring programs, it's not uncommon to see increased levels of productivity and higher morale when mentoring works. It is in everyone’s best interest to avoid mentoring mistakes so you can work towards success.

Are you ready to start your own employee mentorship program at scale? Get in touch with one of our experts today to find out more.

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