All relationships, even mentoring ones, have their challenges. Here are four of the most common obstacles and tips to overcome them.
- Research by scholars Murphy and Kram in their book Strategic Relationships at Work shows that at least one in five mentoring relationships experience obstacles so challenges are a normal part of any mentoring relationship. In this video we will discuss the four most common obstacles and tips to overcome them. First, determine your mentor's expectations. I found in my research that many times mentors do have specific expectations for proteges.
The following is an example of a very direct expectation set by Hilde, a mentor who is an experienced Politian for Sharon, her protege who was an aspiring Politian. Because fundraising skills are so crucial in politics, Hilde told Sharon that she needed to demonstrate her confidence in fundraising before their next meeting. She challenged Sharon to raise $10,000 and share details for how to raise money successfully.
Sharon raised the full amount and gained confidence in this important skill. She also earned the respect of Hilde and their relationship deepened. However, sometimes your mentor does not tell you directly what they expect. Often it is up to you as the protege to ask about your mentor's expectations. So ask your mentor directly. What are your expectations or hopes or wishes for this relationship? What is your recommendation for my next steps before we meet again? Keep asking these questions and check in regularly as expectations do change over time.
Second, take initiative and follow up on your mentor's suggestions. For example, one mentor spoke of challenging your protege to create a legal defense. On their next meeting, they critiqued her work together. In my research, I have found that proteges who take their mentor suggestions and follow through reap many positive benefits for mentoring. Third, manage a missing mentor. One of the biggest challenges I hear about from proteges is they are not sure what to do when their mentor starts responding to them.
For many of us, when a mentor goes missing we assume the worst. Instead, try assuming the opposite. Say to yourself this is not about me. The mentor is probably busy and my message was just buried in the daily avalanche of email. Don't berate your mentor. Instead, elevate your communication to a richer format. If you've been emailing, call your mentor. Start the conversation by checking in to make sure your mentor is okay.
Say something like I have not heard from you and I'm checking in. When things slow down, can we schedule a quick phone call? Show you care without being a stalker. Fourth, make time to meet with your mentor. My mentor use to tell me his time with me was like a blank check and it was my job to cash it. Hands down the biggest obstacle to mentoring for both mentors and proteges is time. As the protege, you initiate meetings and keep the relationship on track.
Let your mentor know you're willing to integrate your meetings into what they are already doing. For example, I had a client that was an hour drive away from me. My protege offered to ride along with me so we could maximize my available time. Just by being aware that these obstacles exist can help you. Navigating through an obstacle can be a good challenge as it can make your relationship with your mentor even better.