There's no doubt that mentoring provides numerous benefits to mentors, mentees, and the organization. But even the best programs and committed participants can encounter challenges.
Here are some of the most common challenges in mentoring relationships—and strategies for overcoming them.
1. Meeting as Scheduled
All mentoring pairs face this challenge. Both mentors and mentees have commitments and responsibilities, both of which serve as convenient excuses for postponing a mentoring meeting. However, mentors and mentees must also remember their commitment to the program and to each other. Failing to meet as scheduled or frequent postponements will quickly erode the foundation of your relationship.
Strategies for overcoming this challenge: Block out the time in whatever calendar app you use—and schedule meetings a few weeks out at the very least. From a mental perspective, treat the meetings as you would any workplace meeting. Don't think of it as an extracurricular activity. And if you're still struggling after trying these strategies, get your mentoring program manager involved. As an objective third party, this person can hold you and your partner accountable.
2. Excessive Time and Energy Commitments
This is the flipside of the above challenge. In this case, either the mentor or mentee wants to meet more frequently than the program requires. This is most likely to happen at the beginning of the relationship. Maintaining such an aggressive meeting schedule usually proves impossible over time, however. In and of itself, this is not a problem, but once the meeting schedule "rights" itself, this can affect the mentee who may feel slighted or believe that the mentor isn't as invested.
Strategies for overcoming this challenge: Adhere to the program guidelines and recommended meeting schedule from the outset—they exist for a reason!
3. Unrealistic Expectations
Unrealistic expectations and assumptions can wreak havoc on a mentoring relationship. Overloading the mentee with information and expecting the mentee to become the mentor's clone are two examples of unrealistic expectations that can have a negative impact on the relationship. Conversely, the mentee may expect the mentor to provide more support and direction than is reasonable under the circumstances.
Strategies for overcoming this challenge: Set mentoring objectives and goals at the outset, ideally during the first one to two meetings. This way, everyone is in agreement regarding expectations. And again, when it doubt or if you're encountering resistance or resentment on the other side, consult your mentoring program manager.
4. Over-dependence on the Mentor/Mentee
In this situation, a mentor may come to rely on the mentee for emotional support rather than focusing on the mentee's needs. A mentor may also expect the mentee to accept everything the mentor has to offer instead of letting the mentor find his or her own path.
Likewise, a mentee may rely too heavily on the mentor's approval. Rather than moving toward independence, the mentee might check in with the mentor before making decisions out of fear of making a mistake or receiving criticism.
Strategies for overcoming this challenge: Mentors must keep their egos in check and remind themselves that the relationship is about the mentee, not the mentor. Mentees need to remind themselves that they are the ones who need to do the "heavy lifting." They need to make their own decisions and remember that their mentors are merely a source of support and feedback.
5. Unfair Manipulation on the part of the Mentor/Mentee
A mentor may ask a mentee to complete the mentor's work under the guise that the mentee will learn better if the mentee actually does the task. Although practice in "real life" situations is best for learning, there's a huge difference between practicing a skill and doing someone else's work.
Mentees, on the other hand, may resist assuming personal responsibility for their actions or decisions and "blame" their mentor instead. You know this is happening when you hear, "My mentor suggested that I do it this way." This can create an acute problem if such a statement is made within a context that pits the manager against the mentor. As previously noted, this is always inappropriate on the part of the mentee.
Strategies for overcoming this challenge: Proper training can go a long way in preparing mentors and mentees for their roles. We have a budget-friendly e-learning course that can help mentors and mentees maximize success. However, if you find yourself already in the midst of this challenge, talking to your mentoring program manager can help.
6. Resentment or Jealousy from Others
Mentoring is a much sought after activity because of its positive effect on people's professional development. Unfortunately, many mentoring programs cannot include everyone due to size limitations. As a result, those who participate in such programs may experience resentment from those not in the program. This is demonstrated when peers either criticize the program or express their resentment that the mentee can leave work to attend a meeting. Significant others may also wonder what the mentoring "relationship" is all about.
Strategies for overcoming this challenge: Education is the best recourse. Mentors and mentees can share information about the program (e.g., handouts, articles like this one, websites) to peers and significant others. Ideally, the organization itself should be transparent regarding the program, including how to get involved.
7. Ineffective Mentoring Pairs
Although this is rare in formal programs that use a strong matching algorithm, it can still happen. A pair may not work out for a variety of reasons: lack of commitment on the part of one of the parties, learning styles don't match, a change in job assignments, and, sometimes, the pair just doesn't work well together.
Strategies for overcoming this challenge: If faced with this situation, one or both parties should speak to the mentoring program manager as soon as possible. The MPM might be able to help the pair reconnect or find their way. But if the MPM agrees that the match isn't working—and can't work—then the match should be terminated under the program's "no-fault opt out."
Are you dealing with other challenges in your program? Need help? I'd be happy to provide some insight.