We all love a good mentoring success story: an experienced mentor builds connection with an early career mentee, and both individuals grow and develop as a result.
However, in real life it isn’t always that easy. Mentoring is hard work, and not every person is up to the task. Additionally, even skilled mentors run into problems all the time: people are complicated, and dealing with them can sometimes be a messy business.
Read about these common mentoring challenges and what to do about them to make sure your professional mentorship program is a success.
1. Mentoring Across Genders and Races with a Lack of Empathy
It’s much easier to mentor “in one’s image,” that is, to mentor someone with a similar background who is likely to have a similar career path. However, this doesn’t mean that white men can’t effectively mentor professionals of color or white women. As with any mentoring relationship, the mentor needs to be able to put themself in the shoes of the mentee, but the consequences of failing to do so are more stark when white men are mentoring women or professionals of color. Being empathetic, or the ability to put oneself in the shoes of another, is one of the qualities of a good mentor. A lack of empathy on the part of the mentor can result in the mentor minimizing the mentee’s problems, or even denying the existence of the obstacles that the mentee might face.
How to overcome it: Select your mentors in part on their skills to empathize. Do they have a track record of building relationships with people of different backgrounds? Are they known for being a good listener? Additionally, empathy is a skill, which means that it’s possible for people to practice at it and get better. Train and coach your mentors to take on the perspective of others for better business mentoring.
2. Mentors Giving Mentees Too Much Negative Feedback
It’s true that many young professionals, particularly women, aren’t getting the critical feedback that they need to develop and grow in their careers. Often, managers aren’t willing or able to give this necessary feedback and coaching, and mentors can fill in the gap.
However, another important piece of mentoring is building up the confidence and self-efficacy of young professionals. Professionals in their twenties and thirties might not be sure about their leadership abilities, or their potential to grow into leadership roles. This can be especially true for women. Part of the role of a mentor is to be a cheerleader, and be emotionally supportive of the mentee.
If a mentee receives too much negative feedback, their self-efficacy, or belief in their ability to do the job, can take a hit from which it can be hard to recover.
How to overcome it: Train your mentors to provide balanced feedback to their mentees. Make sure they appreciate and verbalize their mentee’s strengths in addition to their potential areas of development.
Also, try reverse mentoring. In reverse mentoring, the mentee shares an area of their expertise with the mentor. For example, a young professional might have more expertise and a better perspective on the company’s new social media marketing plan, and can share that with the mentor. In reverse mentoring, the mentee’s strengths are clearly put in the spotlight.
3. The Mentor and Mentee Fail to Develop Rapport
In business mentoring, the development of the mentee is predicated on the quality of the relationship between the mentor and mentee. If the two fail to develop mutual trust, they aren’t likely to be vulnerable with one another. Without a solid relationship foundation, the mentee will fail to get the benefits of mentoring.
Some people can be nervous or shy when embarking on a mentoring relationship, and can have trouble being themselves. Other times, there can be a personality clash that prevents the relationship from taking off.
How to overcome it: Give it time, and provide opportunities for the mentor and the mentee to socialize. It’s only natural that some pairs might feel awkward at first. Encourage the mentor and mentee to engage socially and connect as people, rather than employees that just talk about work. Perhaps they can find a mutual interest outside of work that they can engage in.
However, if the business mentor pair truly fails to connect, it may be time for a rematch. Matching the mentor and mentee is the most challenging part of running a professional mentoring program. If you’re matching mentor mentee pairs manually, try using software that can help make the process more efficient and effective. Software that takes into account the individuals’ personalities, styles, areas of expertise, as well as interests and developmental needs can increase the chances of success.
While mentoring can be challenging and there are bound to be problems that arise, it isn’t a death knell for your business mentoring program. With some critical thinking, effort, and patience, most mentoring problems can be overcome. You’ve got this.