The Two Part Mentoring Agenda

By Barry Sweeny, May 2003

Often in our mentoring and human development work there is only ONE focus, frequently a more superficial, personal, or short-term issue, which is the content evident in the words we are saying. When this is the only agenda we are addressing, it is so because our work is straight forward and there is no perception of a more long-term aspect to the work. Of course, for some things, that may be so.

An example of this is negotiating an agreement between a mentor and protege to work together. If that is all that is needed and there is no other deeper purpose being served, then we would say there is only one agenda. However, SHOULD there also be more long-term considerations being addressed in such negotiations? Yes!

It seems that almost always, our work through mentoring can, or at SHOULD have, at least two levels of significance which are both being served and advanced at the same time. One is the short term, personal agenda described above. The other level of significance comes about from the changes in the same conversation that can make the SAME WORK accomplish much, much more.

In other words, there is frequently a possibility that much more potential resides in the conversation. Sadly, I find, that is often a potential that remains unrealized unless we consciously seek to serve a second agenda. That second agenda relates most often to the goals of the program, or the purposes of the whole organization in which we work and mentor.

I have found the following quote to be exactly what is needed in many mentoring, coaching, and other improvement conversations. It’s exactly what’s needed because it helps keep us focused on two things which many of us consider critical, but sometimes forget.

1. We all need to continue building our skills for working together more effectively and accomplishing more than we can by working separately.

2. We also work in organizations which need restructuring and reculturing to ensure that professional growth is a part of every day work in the organization.

BOTH THE PERSONAL AND LONGER TERM ORGANIZATIONAL AGENDAS ARE NEEDED. The trick is to learn to have discussion which serve BOTH agendas.


“The trick will be whether we can examine and critique each others’ practices without injuring the practitioner, and at the same time…to learn how to engage in these kinds of difficult yet fruitful discussions,
while creating professional relationships in which this kind of conversation
is more the daily norm.”

– a paraphrase of Tom Bird, of the Far West Regional Laboratory in San Francisco, California.