An important part of being an executive leader is developing the next generation of leaders within the organization. One of the best methods of developing new leadership talent is executive mentoring. However, an individual can be an excellent executive, but not have the mentoring skills necessary to cultivate a successful mentoring relationship. And, executives who are new to mentoring leaders often make mistakes. Executives should learn from the experience of others and avoid these common mistakes when mentoring leaders.
1. Talking Too Much
Executives are often chosen for their roles for their ability to speak effectively, as well as think on their feet and respond quickly. They’re also used to people wanting to hear what they have to say, and leading conversations. As a result, some executive mentors make the mistake of talking too much in their relationships with their mentees.
However, when communicating in mentoring, listening is more valuable than speaking. Mentees shouldn’t be talked to or told what to do. Instead, they should be given the space to talk through their dilemmas without judgment, which allows them to develop their own problem-solving abilities.
If you find yourself talking more than your mentee, try asking more questions. Effective questions that probe under the surface level of issues are particularly helpful to mentees.
2. Failing to Set Clear Mentoring Expectations
When mentoring for leadership, executives can sometimes make assumptions about the mentee: what the individual’s goals are, what their particular set of challenges are, and what the mentee brings to the table.
This can happen because executives sometimes see themselves in their mentees, particularly when mentoring for leadership. This can lead to mentors mentoring “in their own image,” or imagining that they are mentoring their younger self.
One consequence of mentoring in one’s own image is that the mentor assumes that the mentee is going to follow in their footsteps. However, the mentee might have different goals and define success differently. If the mentor and the mentee aren’t on the same page regarding where the mentee wants to go, the executive mentoring relationship isn’t likely to be successful.
Are you sure about your mentees’ ultimate goals? What are they ultimately wanting to achieve in their career, and how do they define success? Even if it isn’t the beginning of your executive mentoring relationship, it isn’t too late to have a conversation about mentoring expectations.
Also read: Top Mistakes of the New Professional Mentor
3. Relying Only on Face-to-Face Meetings
The “old school” concept of executive mentoring is one in which communicating in mentoring is done face-to-face in a corner office or at a swanky power lunch spot. There are still executive mentors that prescribe to this mentoring ideal, and don’t want to use technology to connect with their mentee.
However, this stereotype ignores the realities that executives and other professionals face today: they are busier than ever. It isn’t always practical to meet face-to-face, and insisting that your mentee meet you in person means that these meetings will necessarily be further and further apart. Because trust in an executive mentoring relationship is built over time and multiple interactions, this can seriously hamper the rapport-building and trust-building that needs to happen at the beginning of a mentoring relationship, and therefore the overall success of the relationship.
There are so many ways that technology can enhance executive mentoring relationships. It can help ease the logistical and administrative burden of scheduling meetings. It can allow the mentor pair more opportunities to connect. It can also allow the mentee to receive “just-in-time” mentoring when they really need it, say before an important meeting.
If you’re uncomfortable with technology in mentoring, consider online mentor training. You can learn some new strategies for connecting with your mentee across time and distance, and raise your confidence level.
4. Being a Poor Role Model
It’s true that you don’t need to be a perfect executive to be an effective mentor. (If it were, no one would ever have a successful mentoring relationship!) However, a “do as I say, not as I do” approach to mentoring is bound to fail, as mentees will always pay more attention to your actions than your words.
When mentoring leaders, executives’ behavior can be amplified. If a mentor is cutting corners, acting unethically, or simply not doing right by others it sends a message to mentees that this type of behavior is acceptable, or even required to get ahead. If mentors exhibit poor behavior, it can build a culture that accepts bad behavior within the organization.
Are you modeling the values that you hope to instill in your mentee? Mentoring for leadership requires solid character and a commitment to the values one espouses. Are you “walking the walk” in addition to “talking the talk?”
Many people who are new to executive mentoring make mistakes. However, if you’ve been facing these mentoring challenges in your mentorship, it’s never too late to set things right. Communicating in mentoring is key: talk to your mentee, explain that you’re working on your mentoring skills as well, and share with them what you plan to do differently.