Mentoring – Part 1

More on mentoring, something I had touched on briefly in an earlier post. Rocksta passed this interesting read on WSJ, and I thought this would be a good one to share with you.  Thanks Rocksta 🙂

For those who can’t access the link, the article is given below in full.

The Wall Street Journal

Headline: When Mentoring Goes Bad

Byline: Dawn E. Chandler and Lillian Eby

A good relationship can help both mentor and protégé. Here’s how to make sure that happens.

Most young managers view having a mentor as their ticket to the big leagues—to greater visibility, exciting assignments and big promotions. Benefits flow to mentors as well, as they enjoy broader influence when their young protégés rise to stardom.

And it’s all true. Except when it isn’t. Except when mentoring goes bad.

And it does go bad—in all sorts of ways and sometimes spectacularly. At one end of the spectrum are relationships that fizzle out for benign reasons, such as the pressures of daily work and personal lives, conflicting goals or a lack of shared values. But relationships also fail for not-so-benign reasons: manipulation, deceit and harassment, to name a few. Either party can be the cause—and the career trajectories of both may never be the same afterwards.

To be clear, mentoring can be invaluable, not only to protégés and mentors, but also to organizations. It is important, however, to manage the relationships appropriately and be aware of early signs of potential problems.

Here is a look at some of the ways mentoring relationships go awry, followed by advice on how mentors, protégés and companies can spot warning signs sooner and create more positive experiences.

How Mentoring Relationships Go Wrong

OIL AND WATER: Most valuable experiences in mentoring feature trust, rapport and a general affinity between the two parties. Research has shown that the more the two have in common, especially in values and personalities, the more they will put into the relationship. Sometimes one sharp contrast can be the difference between harmony and friction. A mentor may have a habit of working long hours and weekends, for example, while the protégé prefers a 9-to-5 workday with weekends free. If neither side is willing to bend, the parties may find themselves unable to work together effectively.

NEGLECT OF PROTÉGÉS: It goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway) that for protégés to benefit, mentors must show an active interest and act in a positive way to advance their career and personal learning. Most mentors have every intention of doing that. Yet they sometimes end up neglecting their protégés.

Such mentors may be preoccupied with challenges in their own careers, excessively busy from a heavy workload or insecure about their standing in the organization. They can be evasive when called upon for advice or support, or always put their own priorities first.

It’s all perfectly understandable, but that doesn’t excuse the damage it does to a protégé’s ego, or wasting a protégé’s time. Such neglect can lead to protégés’ feeling that their mentors don’t value the relationship. At worst, they may withdraw from the relationship or even leave the department or organization. At the least, they will be so annoyed or disgusted or hurt that they won’t be open to accepting any guidance that might occur.

MENTORS WHO MANIPULATE: Manipulation is most common when the mentor is the protégé’s direct supervisor or a manager up the ladder in the same department. It’s more damaging and less subtle than neglect, and it comes in three main forms: tyranny, inappropriate delegation and politicking.

Tyranny is essentially management by intimidation and has been a complaint heard repeatedly from protégés interviewed by Dr. Eby and her research colleagues over the years. It comes in many forms. A mentor, for instance, may threaten to demote a protégé unless the protégé pulls an all-nighter to fix a problem that the mentor caused. The protégé most likely will give in and work until the early morning hours, but will also so resent the mentor that the relationship will be irrevocably harmed.

Inappropriate delegation is when a mentor manipulates a protégé to do work that the mentor should be doing. But it can also involve withholding assignments. A protégé who has long awaited a particularly challenging assignment may find at the 11th hour that the mentor has decided to take the assignment. Protégés in situations like these may find their career development stymied. Too often, they end up never taking on work that will develop the skills they need to gain more responsibility and receive attention from senior management.

Questions to Ask Yourself

1. If you are mentoring someone, are you giving them enough of your time and interesting work?

2. Are the personality and work habits of your protégé similar to yours, and if not, are you able to make sure that doesn’t get in the way of working together?

3. Have you and your protégé clearly outlined his or her professional-development goals?

4. If you are being mentored, is the work interesting, and does your mentor give you credit for any projects you complete for him or her?

5. Do you feel like part of a team, and are you treated in an open, respectful manner?

If you answered no to any of these questions, your mentoring partnership may be heading for, or already in, rough waters. Discuss potential conflicts with each other, and get help from human resources to arbitrate any disagreements.

Politicking involves more malicious acts, like sabotage and taking undue credit. Protégés reported many instances of sabotage, including one mentor’s campaigning behind the protégé’s back to damage her reputation. If a mentor has a high standing and does such a thing, it can cause irreparable damage to a protégé’s reputation and promotion prospects. Some said their mentors criticized them behind their backs and blamed them for mistakes that the mentors themselves made. Equally damaging: mentors who steal their protégés’ ideas.

PROTÉGÉS WHO MANIPULATE: Protégés have fewer means at their disposal, but they, too, can use manipulation to benefit themselves, and sometimes to harm a mentor’s reputation and career. One mentor reported a protégé who would doctor numbers, tailor justifications and say that concepts still in development had already been implemented, all to look good in front of senior managers.

The danger to the mentor here is twofold. First, any bad-mouthing could eventually tarnish a mentor’s reputation, even if the source is unreliable. And second, if the protégé’s exaggeration and puffery are exposed, the mentor may be held just as accountable as the protégé, if not more so. Management may decide the mentor is responsible for allowing the abuses to occur.

SABOTAGE AGAINST MENTORS: When protégés try to damage their mentor’s career, it’s typically motivated by revenge, say, for failing to win a promotion. The reason may have been subpar performance. But rather than take personal responsibility, some protégés have been known to blame the mentor for not providing adequate support.

Other times, the sabotage can be unintentional. Mentors are putting themselves on the line by saying they believe in their protégé’s ability and future at the company. Such endorsements can backfire. For example, if a mentor promotes a protégé of outstanding ability who then goes on to make a major mistake—perhaps due to a personal problem that the mentor couldn’t have been aware of—the mentor’s judgment will be called into question as well.

SUBMISSIVE PROTÉGÉS: Sometimes protégés rely on their mentor too much, stifling their independent thinking and growth. It can also lead to situations in which the mentor inadvertently becomes overly controlling. In either case, the protégé’s learning is hindered.

JEALOUS PROTÉGÉS: Consider this scenario: Two employees have been with a company a long time, and at times have competed for the same assignments. Then one of them is promoted and becomes responsible for the development of his or her former peer. When that happens, it isn’t hard to see why it would be difficult to create a mentoring relationship: The jealousy the rival-turned-protégé feels toward the new boss blocks any desire or ability to learn.

Making Sure the Relationship Is Positive

To make these kinds of problems much less likely, or nip them in the bud before they become serious, here are some suggestions.

GIVE IT STRUCTURE: Whether a company has formal or informal mentoring, or both, the organization needs to provide support for mentors and protégés. Human-resources representatives should be available to provide training and help sort out any concerns that arise. HR can also help with setting goals for the relationship.

HAVE A BACKUP: It may be best for protégés to have more than one mentor at a time, and vice versa. If a mentor tries to sabotage a protégé’s career, the protégé can turn to another mentor for backing. And if a protégé tries to undermine a mentor, the mentor can seek support from other protégés.

RECRUIT CAREFULLY: People who volunteer are more likely to put in the time and effort necessary to fulfill their partners’ expectations. Companies should also try to match mentors and protégés who have things in common, as those relationships are more likely to succeed.

TRAINING AND ORIENTATION: Certain principles need to be communicated beforehand, whether in a formal or informal program. For example, expectations: how often to meet, what the protégé is looking for and what the mentor has to offer.

Make sure protégés understand they should be receptive to feedback, eager to learn and amiable. They also should strive to learn even outside their mentoring relationships. The more value they can bring to the relationship, the more likely the mentors will be to help them.

Both parties should be aware that their relationship will depend on trust, and that they may need to explain their actions sometimes to reduce misunderstandings. For example, if a mentor declines a requested meeting, some explanation is warrented. Otherwise, the protégé may wrongly assume the mentor is losing interest.

Both should be alerted to patterns of behavior that are likely to cause trouble. This may help them repair—or end—potentially dysfunctional relationships before they escalate into harmful ones. Both should also be taught conflict-management skills.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Before the mentoring begins, both parties need to understand what will be required to make the collaboration worthwhile. Then they should either commit wholeheartedly or opt out.

GIVE FEEDBACK: Mentors can share appraisals with the protégés’ supervisors, who have a vested interest in the protégés’ development. If problems arise, someone from HR or another supervisor should be in the loop to give objective advice or mediate.

PREPARE FOR THE END: Everyone should be clear on the fact that mentoring eventually ends, when the protégé has learned all that he or she can, or when the mentor no longer provides guidance or satisfaction. Talking about this in advance helps to avoid misunderstandings or hurt feelings when the time comes.

Dr. Chandler is an assistant professor of management at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Dr. Eby is a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia. They can be reached at


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