You’re A Mentor… Now What?

This guest post is by Dr. Patricia Wheeler of Leading News.

One of the top targets on my client Reynaldo’s development plan read: Provide effective feedback that helps others improve their performance. Reynaldo, a key global supply chain executive based in Latin America, was in the process of making performance management more robust and accountability-driven. Yet along with many of his peers, he was perceived as giving messages that were too soft and lacking any real-time follow-up.

My job was to help Reynaldo raise the bar on performance management. That meant helping him develop the discipline of giving messages in a clear and timely manner, articulating what his team (and their teams) were doing well, what had to change, and how to ensure that these important changes were, in fact, made. I’m happy to report that Reynaldo did a great job on this. In fact, he was so successful that a high potential leader asked him to be her mentor. He was thrilled, and accepted immediately. Then he called me and asked how he could do this well.

I’ve seen a lot of mentoring programs and relationships. Some are successful, others not so much. What makes the difference? I’ve come to believe that it’s not about whether mentoring takes place within a formal program or happens within an informal arrangement. I’ve seen both succeed and both fail. In my experience, the key criterion is making sure that you negotiate the relationship in a way that both parties benefit.

When Reynaldo asked me how he could be a successful mentor, I gave him the following checklist:

1. Agree on the process: It’s important to define the basic “ground rules” of the mentoring relationship. This is where so much of mentoring fails: we think we should know the rules already, but we don’t. Questions include the following.
– What does the mentee want from the experience?
– How did the mentee choose you specifically?
– How often will you meet?
– Who will initiate the meetings?
– How long will your mentoring agreement last (at least initially….you can always “re-up”)
– How will you create a “safe space” for candid dialogue?

2. Define the Direction: What is the end result you will aim toward? The process of self-reflection and identifying goals (which may change over time) is crucial. Questions and issues include the following.
– What are the mentee’s career goals?
– How do you help him/her identify opportunities and obstacles?
– What are the mentee’s strengths and gaps?
– Help them create a strategic career focus
– Remember: building trust takes time
– How will each of you measure success of this initiative?

3. Facilitate Exposure: One primary “deliverable” is the mentor’s connecting the mentee to others across the enterprise who are sources of influence and knowledge. Ask yourself:
– What connections does the mentee need to make in order to advance his/her goals?
– How could you facilitate these meetings?
– Will you participate in the conversation or only give the referral?
– What resources (books/articles) were helpful to you that may also add value to them?

4. Serve as a Champion: spread around your mentee’s good ideas and, when appropriate, become an active sponsor. Consider the following.
– How could the mentee contribute even more broadly and deeply to the organization?
– How/when might your mentee need your support and sponsorship?

5. Make it Mutual: many relationships fail because mentees worry about taking up too much of their mentor’s valuable time. So they are reluctant to engage fully in a relationship they perceive as one-way. Think about the following.
– What can you learn from your mentee?
– How will you consistently ask them for FeedForward about views from their level….and their generation?

The results are in: effective mentoring works, particularly as an assist to people moving into bigger and broader roles. And it works for mentors as well. For Reynaldo, mentoring sessions help him keep a pulse check on generational changes and perspectives. In this way, mentoring may be one of the best ways for executives to stay relevant as they move up the leadership pipeline.

Copyright 2011, Leading News


Dr. Patricia Wheeler is an executive and team coach who helps smart people become more effective leaders. As Managing Partner in The Levin Group LLC, she has spent 15 years consulting to organizations and coaching senior leaders and their teams. Her work helping executives succeed in new roles is featured in The AMA Handbook of Leadership. Join Patricia at

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