Author: Frederick "Ken" Sexe
A recent conversation with some colleagues reminded me of how mentoring can begin with good intentions yet fail to provide the desired results. One scenario in particular is where an individual is assigned a mentor by a manager to learn skills they are either deficient in or have not been exposed to. The individual being mentored in this scenario goes through mentoring with the mentor only for the manager to find out that the individual has not (or cannot) learned the skills required. In extreme situations this goes unnoticed until the individual that was mentored (I will call them a mentee for lack of a better word) is placed in a position where their deficiency becomes apparent. This occurs most often in my experience when “high potential” individuals are identified for management but fail to learn the skills required to be an effective manager.
A key part of mentoring that is readily agreed is identifying exactly what the mentee requires mentoring in. This is not, in my opinion, a steadfast list but instead is a starting point to focus the mentoring and to identify with the mentor what the individual being mentored (mentee?) is expected to learn. This list can be modified as required but generally at the agreement of (at a minimum) the mentor and the mentee, especially once a relationship has been built between the two and the mentor understands the capability and motivations of the mentee. What is missing in many cases of mentoring is a “closed loop” between the mentor, mentee, and the person the mentee reports to so that the manager understands progress and (which in my opinion is more important) the motivations and desires of the mentee itself. This closed loop approach allows the manager to shift career emphasis away from what the manager expects (and sometimes needs) towards one that takes into consideration the mentee’s desired and most capable career path (this is not to say that career paths are static; much like learning paths a career path can seem random at times, especially early in one’s career as the individual learns what they want to do). One of the greatest harms I have seen to an individual’s career is being placed in a position that does not suit either their skill set or internal motivations, which can lead to long-term negative consequences for not only the mentee but the team and organization as a whole.
Including all stakeholders into a mentoring plan periodically allows everyone to make effective decisions. Closed loop feedback allows the manager to better understand the mentee and guide them towards career moves that best fit their intrinsic motivations. Mentees benefit by identifying their strengths and weaknesses and steering future opportunities towards these strengths. Mentors benefit also by focusing their precious time and energy towards mentoring that benefits all parties.
On a closing note, I have found that there is some confusion regarding differences between coaching and mentoring. Coaching and mentoring differ such that coaching is directed by an outside party (i.e. a manager requiring employees to learn certain skills) whereas mentoring is directed by the mentee. Because of this distinction it is important that mentors are responsible for their own mentoring. Without this responsibility the mentee will potentially lack the intrinsic desire to pursue learning.
Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/road-sign-town-sign-training-skills-798175/
Frederick (Ken) Sexe is a lifelong learner currently wrapping up his PhD in Engineering Management and Organizational Psychology at Northcentral University. His hobbies include challenging prevailing patterns of thinking that discourage new ideas while developing new ways to do things. He is currently employed as a Senior Systems Engineer at Raytheon where he is taking a career break from management to pursue his educational goals and focus on his family.