I read the article "Where Mentoring Goes Wrong" by Sue Edwards and Barbara Neumann with interest. In it, they referenced the statistic that up to 80 percent of traditional mentoring relationships fail within the first six months. They talked about the reasons that could be behind that number, and I agreed with every one of them.
Sometimes mentoring is exhausting. It can be irritating and fill us with dread when we see the appointment on the calendar. I remember a particular mentoring relationship (where I was the mentor) that made me often dream of doing something else (like getting my teeth drilled). Let's face it, if things aren't clicking, being in a mentoring relationship can be miserable.
So should we give up on mentoring?
I've had great mentoring relationships that have breathed life into my leadership and inspired me far beyond where I could have gotten on my own. The secret lies in cultivating the right climate, knowing the expectations, and getting really honest.
As a mentor, I've learned to ask four key questions before even agreeing to a mentoring relationship.
1. What do you want?
I've learned to be direct about expectations—what are your expectations, what are mine, and do we each understand them? Do you want a mentor in a particular field of interest, or do you want solely a friend? Both of these are good reasons for wanting a mentor, but they are not necessarily the same.
If one of my mentees is just looking for a friend or just wants to get to know me better as a person, it can be offensive if I push us toward learning and growing in a specific area, so I've learned to dig a little deeper. Do you see this as a learning opportunity, or would a more casual time to hang out be more helpful? What do you hope to gain through this relationship? What are one or two measurements that you will use so we both know you are getting what you want? As a mentor, listen carefully to the answers. If she can't answer or she says "I'm not sure," this is great opportunity for clarification.
2. How do you want it?
We can ask lots of questions up front, but if we don't get to the practical part of how a mentee sees the relationship working then there can still be awkwardness down the line. Ask if she wants to work through a book together or if she just likes the idea of reading a book. I once found myself in a mentoring relationship where a young lady asked me to work through John Ortberg's book If You Want to Walk on Water You Have to Get Out of the Boat. I was thrilled. That was one of my favorites. But several weeks in, I found that I was the only one reading. If the young lady had been honest, she would have told me that she didn't really like to read and only wanted me to read it for her and report back. No thank you.