Is organizing training for mentors really a futile venture?
The accepted wisdom is that a mentor is a seasoned executive or senior manager. It is the mentor who is the more experienced individual in the mentoring relationship and who is supposed to share their knowledge and to help and support the mentee to “become the person they want to be” (Eric Parsloe).
In revisiting what has been published about the personality traits of a mentor, you could well find an extraordinary and inspiring superhuman, exemplifying and role modelling those behaviours that organisations so badly desire to implement. Hence, it appears to be somewhat awkward to design a training programme for mentors. Senior managers may perceive you as carrying coals to Newcastle when you invite them to a mentoring training session; worse, some representatives of this rare species will blame you for wasting their time (“Just forward me the file with the paperwork and it’ll be fine”) or even pull back sulkily pretending that they don’t have to learn about leadership.
So is organizing training for mentors really a futile venture? As a mentoring programme manager, should you rather focus on clear and precise guidelines, checklists and on monitoring the success?
It is our conviction that mentor training has to be considered as a mandatory building block of any formal mentoring program. In our experience the majority of mentors appreciate receiving guidance about their role and the purpose of the mentorship, particularly when the mentoring program is linked to strategic organisational goals, and they are enthusiastic about exchanging best practices. When designing a training programme for mentors you may want to ensure that the following principles of a mentoring relationship are covered:
1) Relationship comes first
An effective relationship between mentor and mentee requires trust, openness and respectful intimacy. In a training programme mentors learn about and how to respect the sequences of an organically growing relationship. They “refresh” the skill of how to build rapport with different types of personalities; in particular, they learn about patience and the importance of creating sufficient common ground, e.g. by sharing experiences around topics of common interest, before engaging the mentee in any reflection about personal or career related developmental goals.
2) Mentees need to be empowered
Mentees may benefit from the mentors’ organisational knowledge and use their mentor as a source of information or a sounding board. However, through adequate training mentors understand that their goal is to support and enable mentees to come up with their own solutions and to mobilize and develop own resources. In particular, they “refresh” how to ask engaging questions, provide constructive feedback and they learn how to confront and provoke mentees in order to challenge the status quo or group thinking.
3) Inspire confidence
The Mentor supports the mentee to put things into a broader perspective and provides them with a secure environment to relieve stress when faced with difficult situations or resistance. Typically, mentoring training will provide the mentor with some basic tools to help the mentee build up self-confidence, stay motivated and cope with difficult situations.
4) Share and enact the strategic vision
Due to their seniority and their organisational knowledge, mentors are a primary source of the strategic vision of an organisation. As there often is a link between the vision and the strategic goal of the mentoring programme (e.g. in diversity management), mentors need to adapt their communication style and focus more on the why (implying a shift from “That is what we are doing, this is how we proceed” to “That is our purpose and the reason why we are doing this”). Mentors need to be aware that they are considered as role models; in particular, mentees assess their credibility in the extent to which they “walk the talk”.
5) Follow up on goals
In an effective relationship mentors encourage and motivate mentees to pursue developmental goals. They support them by regularly following up on achievements, potential resources and alternative options. To do this, mentors are trained in basic principles of setting smart developmental goals and how to follow up on them in a motivating way.
Last but not least: In terms of training delivery we recommend to adopt a facilitative style encouraging the exchange of experience and to minimize direct instruction or lecturing.