When leaders commit to their own development as mentors they enlarge their capacity to lead, support and grow their people which has a ripple effect throughout the organization.  Even with the best intentions, not all mentors are fully prepared for the role.

We recently heard from Mark, who shared his initial experience with an underperforming mentor.

“I was excited when I learned that Jack, one of our most visible senior leaders, would be my mentor. I asked him why he agreed to be my mentor, and was flattered when he told me that he was always mentoring “up and coming” leaders and had his eye on me for a while.  And suddenly he switched gears on me and started talking about the recent changes in company as a result of the economic downturn and how difficult those decisions had been to make. I wanted to ask him so much more about what influenced his decision-making but he kept looking at his watch and it made me think that I might be overstaying my welcome.
Just as the mentoring session was ending, Jack gave me several tasks to accomplish and report back on at our next meeting. I had been hoping to shadow Jack, meet with some of the other senior leaders, and learn from watching them in action. I left that first meeting feeling disappointed. Jack didn’t appear to be really interested in having any meaningful conversation with me.
At our second meeting, I reported on the status of my assignments. Jack nodded as I summarized my results and occasionally interjected a comment about what I could have done better. I left the second meeting feeling even more disappointed than I was after the first one. We really hadn’t connected with one another on anymore than a superficial level and I still knew nothing more about him and his career path than I had four weeks before.”

The truth of the matter was that Jack, although well-positioned and well-intended, missed the opportunity to develop a meaningful relationship with a high potential future leader in the company because he lacked a full understanding of his role as a mentor, lacked the requisite skills and wasn’t fully committed to it.

Leadership Lesson:

Accessibility and good intention are not enough to ensure mentoring success. Leaders need to actively promote mentoring and develop their competency at it.