Delivering on the promise of mentoring: tough love, freely given

February 26, 2016, 9:30 am

One of things that appears increasingly important to high calibre candidates as they look for their next opportunity is the potential to improve by being close to people from whom they can learn.

This can take the form of being confident that they will be joining a team where excellence comes as standard, but more often than not it’s to take advantage of the opportunity to be mentored by an individual.

These days the idea of mentoring sits at the centre of many business cultures that take pride in helping raw talent quickly ascend to the highest positions

Helping individuals achieve their true potential

And because of this it’s very tempting as part of the process of trying to secure the best talent to talk about the opportunity for mentoring in your firm or team. But, I’ve learned recently that there are diverging views on what constitutes mentoring – what is mentoring as opposed to management, for instance.

Let me be clear. I consider mentoring is about one thing and one thing only – helping individuals achieve their true potential. It’s about the mentoree, not the mentor.  It’s about them constantly improving.  It’s about them fulfilling their ambition. It’s not about theory; it’s about practice.

And for the mentor it’s about caring, but not about being compromised in that care.  It’s not about there, there; it’s about here and now and the realisation that the mentor is only as good as the mentoree’s success.

Distilling experience

It’s also about being constantly on call to help guide mentorees through decisions, providing perspective.  It’s about distilling experience, letting people explain, reflect and safely experiment to build up their confidence.

It’s absolutely not about allowing mentorees to sit forever in their comfort zones, obfuscating or making excuses for inaction. Neither is it about patronising, delivering mealy mouthed platitudes or creating warm fuzzy feelings.

New recruits should never fear that they are going to be subject to management akin to Jim Bowen of the darts-themed TV game show `Bullseye` fame where everything, no matter how inept any contestant did, was met with the gushing response `smashing, super, great.`

That sort of approach helps no one. The mentoree is left with no idea whether their performance in improving or declining and that initial warm fuzzy feeling is quickly replaced by building cynicism, frustration and a sneaking feeling that the mentor might not know what they are doing.

Reality delivered objectively

True mentoring is about fearless engagement with reality delivered objectively; about clear development goals and SMART objectives. It’s about holding people to account.

It is about exposing individual and cultural attitudes and their appropriateness to achieving goals. It’s often about telling people what they might not want to hear.

It might be about empathy, but rarely about sympathy and it’s definitely about emotional intelligence and understanding the whole person.

It’s about considering all the internal and external factors that might be compromising progress. It’s about working out and agreeing with the mentoree how to confront and deal with or bypass them.

But it’s always about moving forward their personal development and helping people see how far they have come.

Celebrating success and learning from failure

It’s about celebrating success and confronting and learning from failure. And it’s always about truth, clarity and mutual responsibility. Most of all, though, it’s about tough love, freely given.

So if mentoring is part of your package you might want to consider whether you really deliver on the promise if you want not just to attract the best but retain them as well.

With thanks to FDIN advisory panel Partner, Jonathan Simnett of Big Stick

For more information on this topic contact Jonathan at or


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