Successful mentoring programs may vary in format, length, and focus, but they all have one thing in common: a strong base of mentors. If you’re lucky, your program already has an abundance of great mentors. But if you think your mentoring pool could be improved, you’ll want to learn from Professor David Clutterbuck, a leading expert on mentoring, author of over 50 books, and founder of Clutterbuck Associates.
Recently, he walked us through the process of building and sustaining a strong base of mentors. Access the on-demand webinar here or read his expert advice below.
How to Choose Mentors?
Mentoring programs sometimes fall into the trap of not appointing mentors with enough care. This leads mentees to question the credibility of the program and can result in poor outcomes.
But what should you consider when selecting mentors? Well, for one, you should think carefully about the program’s purpose.
- Is it to improve diversity?
- To transition people who are entering their first management role?
- To support recent college graduates?
- Or something else entirely?
Depending upon the outcome, decide what kind of skills you want the mentor to have – or to learn. For example, when it comes to diversity mentoring, mentors often gain just as much as their mentees. By having deep conversations with people from other cultures, they explore their own understandings. Choose people who would benefit from this.
It might seem intuitive to you to select mentors based upon subject expertise. While this is still beneficial for basic knowledge transfer, it often leads to shallow relationships. The real value in mentoring happens when people explore deeper issues such as identity, ethics, and career paths. Because mentors and mentees interact in a variety of different ways, go beyond subject expertise when you’re pairing people to ensure a good match.
What Makes a Great Mentor?
So you may have selected a pool of good mentors. But what makes a great mentor? Clutterbuck defines growth, humility, and self-awareness as just some of the traits great mentors need.
Growth. Mentees want to learn and grow – but mentors should too. Clutterbuck explains, “Our data suggests that mentors who are attracted to mentoring from pure altruism (to help others avoid the mistakes they made) aren’t as successful as mentors who are interested in developing themselves as well as someone else.”
He adds, “The best mentors have a track record of their own development and others. Someone who’s doing this anyway will have a set of skills and interests for working with someone else as a mentor.”
Humility. Mentors who don’t have humility aren’t as able to reflect on lessons from their own past and draw upon them. They’re also less able to understand what’s happening for the mentee and don’t offer advice from a place of understanding.
Self-awareness. Interacting with a mentee often stimulates the mentor’s own reflection and self-awareness. As this sometimes relates to a change mentors’ basic attitudes, even mentors who feel they have plateaued often go on to reinvigorate their careers after becoming mentors. By improving their self-awareness, they’re able to see the cause of situations around them and how to change them.
What Makes a Great Mentor/Mentee Match?
“The most critical factor,” Clutterbuck says, “is that mentors and mentees have the same core values about other people, about family. This helps them build rapport and make a relationship work.” However, there has to be a degree of difference in terms of how they view the world. The similarity establishes rapport. But that difference is how mentors and mentees learn.
Although it can be difficult to balance similarity and difference when there are hundreds of people, Clutterbuck says, “Sometimes you can use mentoring software to help people with this depending upon the matching criteria.”
Mentoring relationships are most effective when mentors and mentees sense they have chosen each other. Clutterbuck advises providing mentees with guidelines on choosing mentors and then allowing them to meet three before selecting a mentor. He explains, “This makes the mentee much more committed and the mentor is too. Both feel good that they’ve been chosen which will encourage them to learn from each other.”
Starting Out as a Mentor
When mentors are just beginning the mentoring process, they might feel a little lost, especially if it’s their first time. Exercises to help them create deep rapport with mentees and encourage mentees to talk are helpful, but the key is communicating values rather than focusing on transactional learning right away.
Related to this, mentors should avoid jumping into specific goals right away. At the beginning, it’s too soon to know what the mentee will need and the mentee will have to be comfortable enough to set real, impactful goals.
Supporting Mentors on Their Journey
Mentoring isn’t an innate skill so having training materials helps mentors. Among other things, here are some items to help you direct them along the right path:
- Personal mentor development plans
- Specify mentor roles and discuss which skills they wish to develop.
- Peer support
- Allow mentors to get together, discuss experiences, and learn from each other.
- Experienced mentors to support new mentors
- Assign each new mentor an experienced mentor for support.
- Professional supervision
- More popular in Europe, professional supervision includes bringing in supervisors to discuss wider issues and implications with mentors. They’ll typically have some training in psychology and behavioral science, and a more advanced skill set than most coaches possess.
- Post-initiation webinars and workshops
- Even after the mentoring relationship has launched, continue to encourage mentors to learn new best practices.
- Online resources
- Mentors sometimes have many questions, so provide them with the resources they need.
- Mentoring pairs are more directed when they know the relationship will be measured.
- Send mentors information when they need it so it’s of the most use to them. In addition, add a close-out process to the relationship. Having a formal process results in mentors and mentees viewing the relationship more positively.
A healthy pool of mentors is one of the keys to ensuring a successful mentoring program, so it’s worth making sure they feel supported every step of the way. As Professor David Clutterbuck says, “In general, the better supported people are, the more likely they’re going to want to do this again and again and again.” Here’s to your new-and-improved mentoring program!
Want to learn more? Access the full on-demand webinar here.