Mentor Selection — avoid ego strokers

Mentor selection, ego strokerDon’t choose the Ego Strokers!

So how should you organise mentor selection for your mentoring programme and actually what makes a really great and effective mentor?

These are two critical questions I get asked frequently. Here is the wisdom of over twenty years supporting mentoring programmes. It cuts through some of the mystique and confusion around mentor selection and gives my view of what makes a really great mentor.

Let’s bust some mentor selection myths first

  1. The most senior people don’t always make the best mentors. Using them can encourage sycophantic behaviour amongst a certain breed of mentees.
  2. The most enthusiastic, extrovert leaders who put their hands up first are not always a good choice. Shutting them up and getting them to listen to their mentees can be excruciatingly difficult.
  3. Individuals, who think they have been mentoring for years and have a wealth of experience to impart, can be downright dangerous. Why inflict their out-of-date know-how on a younger generation who could have fresh ideas and more mental agility?

So how should you select mentors?

I believe, that with support and education, the majority of individuals can make incredibly effective mentors. Moreover, understanding the process of mentoring and the essential skills of listening and questioning can turn the most unlikely candidates into fantastic mentors. However many organisations fail by not supporting mentors sufficiently into the role, particularly when they have been informally mentoring for many years. Importantly this prior informal experience is often what creates most of the problems. In short, the mentor might view their role as the wise sage of olden times and not pay sufficient attention to the key skills of developmental mentoring.

What makes a great mentor?

Certainly in my view all mentors should tick these boxes:

Be a volunteer

Press-ganged overloaded people make very bad mentors!

Be receptive to learning how to be an effective mentor

Even if they feel they have many years of informal mentoring experience under their belts. Anyone, even the most knowledgeable coach or mentor can benefit from a reminder about some of the basics. If they feel this is beneath them, their ego is getting in the way.

To understand what it means to be a great mentor (or to have a flexible mindset)

Check their motivation, what is their philosophy of mentoring? Are they going into this for a bit of ego stroking and to feel good? Similarly, ensure they are not allowing the idea of being a mentor to suggest ‘superiority’ in any way.

The ability to step back from wanting to ‘improve’ their mentee

Are they capable of not wanting their mentee to see things from their perspective, or having their own personal agenda for their mentee. For instance, in some organisational programmes, competitive pressure between mentors can run rife. Who can do the most for their mentee, particularly if you are using a hybrid model of sponsorship and developmental mentoring for talent?  Watch out for mentor competitiveness, it is very common and sadly Group Mentor Supervision, whilst identifying this, can also encourage it.

And to want to learn themselves

Mentoring is a two-way learning process. Someone wanting to engage as a mentor should demonstrate the motivation and willingness to learn from this relationship too. If that thought has not even crossed their mind, don’t use them!

Be capable of confidentiality

An effective mentor must be able to handle difficult dilemmas if they are aware of confidential information, which may affect their mentee’s career. Or have the sense to go to get support in such a situation. This has been the straw that has broken many a mentoring relationship’s back.

Have the ability to create a ‘safe’ and ‘brave’ space in the relationship

Not only does the mentor need to be able to develop a place of trust in the relationship, where self-disclosure and honesty are enabled, they must also be able to create a space where challenge and courage is created. A great mentor encourages  honest dialogue, being uncomfortable and dissonance at times! Can the mentor hold this space for their mentee in a constructive way? Are you preparing them to be able to do this?

What are the qualities of an effective mentor?

These are just my thoughts, but here are some of the characteristics I see in the best and most effective mentors I work with:

  1. Trustworthy & confidential 
  2. Open mind/non-judgemental
  3. Flexible/ability to compromise
  4. Inquisitive & curious
  5. Patient
  6. Emotionally intelligent
  7. Aware of own learning needs
  8. Genuine & honest
  9. Objective & fair
  10. Compassionate & kind
  11. Intellectually humble
  12. Appreciating a broader perspective
  13. Can be a role model
  14. Being prepared & consistent
  15. Willing to share what they know
  16. Approachable & available

So take care with your mentor selection

I’ve seen too many mediocre programmes where everyone is made a mentor without question, or the mentors are not prepared sufficiently and they don’t have the right mind set to be a great mentor or they end up with feelings of imposter syndrome. Do come and talk to see if I can help if you want some advice on your mentor selection.

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