Mentoring Best Practices

Mentoring is a crucial way to improve the leadership and management skills of your people.  I’ve been involved in a lot of different mentorship programs, most of which have failed despite good wishes and intentions on all sides.

My Toastmaster’s club — a very successful club that last year earned the highest honor any club can receive — had a mentorship program that has been very halting and incomplete, and most of our attempts at setting up a mentoring relationship didn’t turn into any real behavior over time, or so I perceive.

That struggle has taught me a lot of lessons.

If you’re creating a mentoring program, a good approach is:

  1. Build a list of people who are willing to act as mentors
  2. Add some biographical info to the list so that a mentee reading the list can get a sense of each mentor’s background
  3. Build a list of people who say they want to be mentees, and offer them a look at the list to pick 1-2 people they’d like as potential mentors
  4. Match mentors up 1:1 to mentees, giving first choices where possible
  5. Make a mutual introduction together with a description of expected behavior (weekly phone calls? monthly coffees? something specific from which people can deviate — without clear mutual expectations there can be a rapid fall into confusion and inaction)
  6. On the list of default or expected behavior, include the mentees each sharing a list of goals they want to achieve
  7. Check in after a month and again at 3 months to find out what’s up
  8. If the two are not in regular contact during the first 1-3 months, declare the mentoring relationship dead, making it clear to both parties that this is quite common and in no way speaks against either of them. Each should be free to try again with someone else.

The energy for the mentoring relationship must come from the mentee, and the mentor must be patient, willing to meet, and also willing to say ‘no’ and to call the mentee forward to try things.

Mentoring is basically coaching without the monetary exchange. Mentors should never perform work on behalf of the mentee.

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