Why a Mentor Can’t Be Effective

When mentoring is not what we wish or need it to be, program leaders may feel it’s time to increase mentor accountability. Such a step may increase the TIME mentors spend mentoring, but it may NOT necessarily improve the quality of their mentoring. More frequent mediocre mentoring is not the solution you want.

To find the solution often requires us to look in a different place for the SOURCE of the problem.

Why do mentors in some programs seem incapable of providing effective mentoring?

Many mentors do not provide the quality of relationship or guidance we might wish to see provided. When that happens, the result will usually be that we also do not see evidence of the improved protégé performance that we want. In a small fraction of mentoring cases, the answer is that individual should probably not have been selected as a mentor. However, that is usually NOT the issue when mentor recruitment and selection and matching are thoughtful processes.

Program leaders almost always will have to work to improve the quality of mentoring, but they sometimes get the cause of the problem and the problem itself mixed up. There is a natural sequence that should be followed. In other words, you must be sure to get the “cart and the horse” in the right order so you are focused on something that will actually improve mentoring practices.

  1. The “horse” that must come FIRST is an effective mentoring program.
  2. Once the program is functioning as it should, THEN it’s time to start looking for the “cart” of effective mentoring practice to come along.

The success of mentoring should be  placed squarely at the “feet” of the mentoring programs in which the mentors work. Being an employee and being excellent on the job often does not sufficiently prepare one to also be an effective mentor. Nor can we assume that life typically will prepare one to be an effective mentor.

Even though there are some of us who could state that WE were mentored, (by some definition of that word), it is very likely that mentoring experience we had THEN was not sufficient to enable US to BE effective mentors TODAY. The expectations for todays’ workers, and therefore the expectations of today’s mentors to develop an effective worker are usually quite different from what we experienced. And THAT fact leads us to ask, “How would we know how to be an effective mentor if we never had a model of such effectiveness to observe for ourselves?”

To improve protege success, requires improving mentors’ success. That requires, therefore, that mentoring programs should provide:

* Strong mentor training
* Mentor peer support group activities, roughly each quarter.
* A mentor of mentors (MoM), usually the trainer or program leader, to continually support, challenge, and teach mentors for their ongoing development.

How do you know if your mentoring program needs to improve? It needs to improve if it does not clearly define mentor roles and tasks; the mentoring relationship; the mentoring process; and if it does not adequately prepare, support, and provide excellent models for mentors to help them accomplish what we ask of them.