Mentoring is enjoying unprecedented popularity. It has shifted from a “would be nice” to have soft-skill to a “must-have” talent development tool. Along with its increased popularity, a shift in how it is practiced has also occurred.
The mentee plays an active role in the learning, sharing responsibility for setting priorities, formulating goals, and identifying resources, a process which should help them become increasingly self-directed. The mentor nurtures and develops the mentee’s capacity for self-direction (from dependence to independence to interdependence) over the course of the relationship. Throughout the learning relationship both mentoring partners share accountability and responsibility for achieving the mentee’s learning goals.
Gary was everyone’s ideal of what a good mentor should be and when word got out that Frank was going to be his mentee a serious case of jealously spread throughout the company. Frank couldn’t believe his good fortune. He was excited but also a little anxious. Gary was so accomplished, articulate and knowledgeable, that the idea of having face time with him was more than a little intimidating. As it turned out, Frank needn’t have worried. Gary’s inviting warm smile made Frank instantly comfortable. Frank left their first mentoring meeting on a high, motivated, inspired and ready to get to work.
Gary had given him an assignment for their next meeting. He asked Frank to do two things. First, make a list of three significant challenges he would be facing in the coming year, and second, to identify a learning goal for each that would help him become more effective in dealing with each challenge. The goal assignment, while initially sounding simple to Frank, became more and more complicated and confusing for him. At the next meeting, Frank offered up a sheet of paper with his list of challenges and goals. He confessed to Gary that he was struggling with the assignment and still wasn’t sure he was on the right track.
Gary looked over Frank’s list. He was clearly disappointed. “Frank, would these goals make a big difference in your personal success?
It took Frank a moment to respond to Gary’s question. “A big difference in my success? No, probably not, but a load off my plate? Yes. I actually thought that these goals would be easy to work on, and we would both feel like we had some success when they were completed.”
Gary offered, “What we are going to be working on is Project You. I am not interested in easy. You are here because we believe in you and your potential to be a future leader in this company. Low hanging fruit is not where we should be spending your time or mine. So, let’s just dig in. Tell me about your vision of yourself as a leader and where you want to go.”
Frank could see that Gary was not going to be happy spending his time with someone who couldn’t get the ball over home plate. Nervously, he took a deep breath. Revealing his ambitions to a senior leader was way out of his comfort zone, but Gary was quietly waiting for Frank to share his vision of himself as a leader. The more Frank talked, the easier it became to let go of his hesitation about being open with Gary.
Gary asked questions and encouraged Frank to look deeper and explore his motivations. Before Frank realized it, an hour had passed and the haze had cleared. He had articulated a vision that excited and energized him.
The Lesson: Don’t settle for low hanging fruit! Low level goals result in low-level outcomes. If you are a mentee in a mentoring relationship, honor your mentor by using your time well. Mentoring is a development opportunity only if you fully open yourself up to it. It requires honest self-reflective, candor, and a willingness to do the work. If you are a mentor, encourage your mentee to stretch and grow. Ask questions that lead them to deeper places of insight.