Truth about the art of mentoring – a complex phenomenon

Are you a busy leader in a firm trying to mentor your junior colleagues? While mentoring is a developmental relationship that can take the protégé to the next level, there are also many pitfalls that you as a mentor need to be aware of

Mentoring: A complex phenomenon

Priyanka was a hardworking executive who had her sights on growing in her leadership potential. She was delighted that she would be mentored by Ajay, a senior executive known for both high levels of performance and earthy wisdom. Later when Priyanka took up a plum post in another department, trouble began. Ajay began talking about her as an ungrateful protégé who was an opportunist.

Although Tina was already mentoring a handful of protégés, her protests about taking on new candidates due to the stressful demands on her time fell on deaf ears, and she was given the responsibility of mentoring Ajit. After a couple of ice-breaking meetings, Tina’s blistering schedule prevented further meetings from materializing.

In both these cases, the first one in which the mentor was jealous of the protégé, and the second one in which there was no mala fide intention of the mentor as such, but rather the mentor did not have enough time to do justice to her role, the protégés bore the brunt of a negative mentoring relationship.

A formal mentoring relationship which is often initiated by a firm with good intentions, and which on the surface may appear to be effective, can lead to simmering discontent. In fact negative mentoring experiences seem to be more prevalent than once thought, with over half of protégés in one study saying that they had been through such an experience (Eby, McManus, Simon & Russell, 2000).

Not only are these more common than once surmised, but the consequences for the protégé can be far-reaching, including general dissatisfaction at the workplace leading to an intention to quit.

Defined as consisting of developmental assistance provided to a protégé by a more experienced organizational member in the form of career and psycho-social guidance (Kram, 1983), there is an overall expectation that mentoring will enable the protégé to learn and grow, will professionally enrich the mentor, and will lead to a socialization of the protégé into the organizational culture for the firm.
So how can you as a mentor ensure that you are doing what is right and also avoid pitfalls while mentoring?

The way forward: Be aware of the firm’s mentoring objective: For example for a Japanese motor company in India, the objective of their mentoring programme is for the protégé to be socialized into the work culture smoothly.

Don’t take all the credit: Neil perhaps failed to take cognisance of the ‘rising star effect,’ in which it is suggested that a high-performing protégé is more likely to acquire a mentor and get ahead .

The protégé may outshine you: This is in fact a sign of robust mentoring. As per the classical definition of mentoring there are four distinct stages: Initiation, cultivation, a separation phase, and lastly a redefinition phase, during which the mentor and protégé meet again as peers.

Build up trust: In the initiation phase it is important to work at building up trust, or else the outcome of mentoring in terms of learning for the protégé will be compromised.

Be aware of the nature of the relationship: Mentoring is a unique relationship between individuals, with some relationships being positively life-altering and others potentially destructive. While extending the hand of friendship and being a good listener are important facets, one needs to tread carefully to ensure that the relationship remains within professional boundaries.

Exert caution if you are a supervisory mentor: Be aware that more negative mentoring experiences have been found in relationships in which the direct supervisor is the mentor, possibly because supervisors can exert more direct influence on their protégés.

Suitable matching is of essence: Congruence studies suggest that deep similarity variables such as personality and values have more of an impact on mentoring relationships than surface similarity (gender, age, education and race).

  • Written byDr Payal Kumar

    Payal Kumar has worked in senior managerial positions in the higher education sector and in the corporate sector in India, including as Registrar and Professor at a university in north India, and earlier to this as Vice President Editorial and Production, SAGE India Publications Pvt Ltd. Amongst her scholarly publications, she has published a book on Indian women leadership with Palgrave-Macmillan:


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