Mentoring is a developmental approach that connects mentors with experience, knowledge and skills with mentees who want to learn from them. Despite its many advantages, mentoring is still not a must-have development tool across organizations, because there are many misconceptions about it.
The plethora of information on mentoring has helped dispute some myths. For instance, we know understand that mentoring is as beneficial for the mentee as it is for the mentor and that mentoring can be conducted virtually. Nonetheless, there are still many common misconceptions that hold organizations back from implementing mentoring programs and people back from participating in them. Here are 10 of those myths — and the truths that bust them.
1. The Mentor Must Be Older or More Senior Than the Mentee
A mentor is someone who is more experienced and skilled in a certain domain and is willing to guide others — but experience is often confused with age or seniority. In truth, a mentor could be younger or more junior, as long as he or she has had a certain work or life experience that a mentee can benefit from.
2. Someone Can Only Be a Mentor or a Mentee
It is possible for someone to have experience in one domain while lacking experience in another. It is possible, and even recommended, to be both a mentor and a mentee. Wearing these dual hats can increase the person’s appreciation of the role played by both parties. As a corollary, it is also possible, and even recommended, to have multiple mentors, each of whom brings a unique perspective to a unique relationship.
3. The Mentor Dictates the Relationship
A mentoring relationship is based on mutual trust, respect and openness — a partnership. If the mentor determines the course of the relationship or always tells the mentee what to do, it takes away from the equality inherent in a partnership. It can also put too much of a burden on the mentor to have all the answers.
The mentor’s role is to provide perspective, challenge the mentee’s thinking, and provide support and encouragement. The mentee also needs to bring his or her views and experiences to the relationship. In fact, the mentor should actively seek feedback from the mentee. Together, they should acknowledge when they do not have answers and jointly explore issues to gain clarity.
4. Mentoring Is Time-consuming
Mentoring requires dedicated time, which is often daunting for busy professionals who want to mentor but are unsure that they can commit time to it. However, “dedicated time” does not imply “time-consuming.” It is possible to use technology and scheduling aids to set clear agenda and structure interactions so that they do not eat into regular work time. Mentoring conversations can happen over lunches or tea breaks, provided the context and setting are appropriate.
5. Mentoring Stops Once Goals Are Reached, and 6. Mentoring Is for a Lifetime
The duration of a mentoring relationship is determined by the mentor and the mentee. It is useful to have a timeframe to begin with to establish goals and create accountability. However, once the goals are met, it may be beneficial for the mentor and the mentee to continue their relationship with follow-up check-ins and to help each other with networking connections.
Once they’ve achieved their initial goals, the mentor and mentee may choose to reevaluate their goals, decide on fresh goals or end the association. In the last case, it is important to plan the ending of the relationship in advance and explicitly discuss what that process entails for both parties.
7. Mentoring Is for People Who Have Not Been Successful
Mentoring is a tool for development, and development is not just for people who are falling behind or have not been successful. In fact, most high-performing professionals actively seek out mentoring or other guidance to help them scale greater heights. Mentoring is a great way for anyone to transition to new domains or enhance his or her skill repository.
8. Mentoring Matches Need to Be Perfect
The relationship between the mentor and the mentee defines the success of the mentoring engagement. Unfortunately, it’s common to place too much emphasis on chemistry and not enough on the foundation of mutual trust and respect.
It is not realistic to expect all mentoring matches to be perfect. Both mentors and mentees need to be guided and have access to support, including resources on how to navigate a mentoring relationship if they do not feel perfectly matched. At the same time, there needs to be an avenue for mentors and mentees to express their concern if the relationship is not productive and to agree to discontinue it amicably.
9. The Mentor Needs to Be an Expert on “Mentoring”
Mentors must have experience, knowledge or skills that can benefit another person. They do not need to be experts; in fact, they must be open to the idea that they do not have all the answers. Mentoring skills can be learned; in fact, mentoring programs should be supported by training for the mentors, followed by regular check-ins.
10. Mentoring Leads to Instant Results
The nature of mentoring is such that the mentor encourages the mentee to find his or her own answers through self-exploration. The mentor helps the mentee by sharing experiences, challenging assumptions, and providing access to support or resources. The mentee still has to think independently and find his or her own path, which is why mentoring cannot give instant results. Perspective- and skill-building happen over time. Often, mentoring relationships help set the foundation for the mentee’s development to continue building long after the mentoring engagement has ended.
These 10 misconceptions often lead organizations and individuals to develop a distorted view of how mentoring should be. In truth, mentoring is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of needs, as long as the foundation of the relationship is solid.