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Internet Survey Results:


Attributes of Effective Mentoring Relationships: Partner's Perspective

Matt M. Starcevich, Ph.D. and Fred L. Friend

(For individual usage only, not to be used in team building, organizational publications or training programs without written permission)

(Authors note:  the terms protege or mentee are inappropriate for the type of relationship needed instead we use the term Partner)

Executive Summary

Current writers seem to suggest a shift away from a one-way teacher-to-partners instruction to a power free, two-way, mutually beneficial relationship. Are these two extreme, either or positions correct, or can it be both? Who better to ask than the partner? One hundred thirty visitors to our home page completed our Effective Mentoring Survey. All we asked, as participants in the survey, was that they be partners not mentors and that they keep their most effective mentoring relationship in mind as they responded to the questionnaire.

1. Who the mentor was, peer, direct supervisor, friend, or manager other than their direct supervisor did not change what was seen as critical attributes of an effective mentoring relationship.
2. The respondents were satisfied with the mentoring relationship.  On a 5 point scale, the average response was, 4.2.
3. The role of mentor, coach, and supervisor is different. The mentor is person-focused; the coach, job-focused; and the supervisor, results/productivity-focused.
4. The top four words chosen to depict the mentor’s dominate styles were: direct, friend/confidant, logical, and questioner.
5. Partners felt the primary benefits for the mentor was satisfaction from fulfilling a role as helper and developer of others and a learning experience for the mentor.
6. The partner wanted a mentoring relationship for two primary reasons: career development and development of their potential.
7. The three primary things provided by the mentor were they: listened and understood, challenged, and coached the partner.
8. Partner's are very proactive in establishing and maintaining the mentoring relationship.
9. Two "musts" to be a good partner were: listen, and second, implement, act on advice, put things into effect.
10. Most of the contact between partner and mentor occurred at least once a week and in face-to-face meetings.
11. These results support the conclusion that mentoring is a power free, two-way, mutually beneficial learning situations where the mentor provides advice, shares knowledge and experiences, and teaches using a low pressure, self-discovery approach

Detailed Report of Results

Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd Deluxe Editions, defines mentor as "n. [from Mentor, the friend and counselor of Odysseus and Telemachus.] a wise and faithful counselor." In the thesaurus, synonyms like advisor, instructor, tutor, master, and guru appear. Current writers seem to suggest a shift away from this one-way teacher-to-partners instruction to a power free, two-way, mutually beneficial relationship. Are these two extreme, either or positions correct or, can it be both? Does this represent the values of those charged with implementing mentoring programs and training mentors? Who better to ask than the partner? One hundred thirty visitors to our home page completed an Effective Mentoring Survey. The limits of this self-selection process are known. All we asked, as participants in the survey, was that they be partners not mentors and, that they keep their most effective mentoring relationship in mind as they responded to the questionnaire.

This article is based on the 130 respondents. Based on their E-mail top level domain name extensions, 73% resided in the United States; 18% were in International locations; 5%, 2% and 2% were from educational, government, and military organizations respectively.

Does it matter who their mentors were?

This reminds us of our recent trip to Germany when after looking at the menu, our first question to the waitperson was, "English?" and the response, "A little".  As indicated in Chart 1, in excess of half the respondents felt their most effective mentor was their direct supervisor.

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Mentoring is occurring both on a formal, organized basis and on an informal need basis. Who the mentor was, affected only the magnitude of the differences in determining most and least important attributes of an effective mentoring relationship, not the rank of the responses. The results will be presented based on the entire group. Bottom line, how satisfied were this group of respondents with this particular mentoring relationship? Very, on a 5 point scale, the average response was, 4.2.   This article attempts to understand what contributing factors lead to such a high level of satisfaction.

Is there a difference between a mentor, coach, and supervisor?

This was an open-ended question, resulting in a resounding YES! Only 9 respondents saw no difference between the three roles, 5 felt the coach and mentor played similar roles different from that of the supervisor and 3 felt the coach and supervisor, played similar roles different from that of the mentor.

In summary, the mentor is person-focused; the coach, job-focused; and the supervisor, results/productivity-focused.

"A mentor is like a sounding board, they can give advice but the partner is free to pick and choose what they do. The context does not have specific performance objectives. A coach is trying to direct a person to some end result, the person may choose how to get there, but the coach is strategically assessing and monitoring the progress and giving advice for effectiveness and efficiency. The supervisor’s ultimate responsibility is to make sure the job gets done, they hold the person accountable for the deliverables of the job."

"Mentor is biased in your favor. Coach is an impartial focus on improvement in behavior. Supervisor is the evaluator."

"A mentor is a guide, there when you want them. A coach helps you better get from point A to B. A supervisor manages."

The major theme for the mentor was one who had a deep personal interest, personally involved—a friend who cares about you and your long term development. The major theme for the coach was one who develops specific skills for the task, challenges, and performance expectation at work. The supervisor was almost unanimously seen as focusing on performance management, getting the job done as teller, director, and judge.

What was disturbing was the consistent negative view of the supervisor’s role, a view that will not be altered by just a cosmetic change in title to "coach". It appears that a supervisor who wants to enter into a mentoring relationship with a direct report must wear different hats during those mentoring, coaching, and supervisory discussions. Can it be done? Evidently, since more than half the respondents said their immediate supervisor was their most effective mentor.

This view of the mentor was further reinforced when respondents were asked to pick from a list of 14 descriptive words that best described your mentor’s dominant style. The top four are shown in Chart 2.

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The four least chosen were Hard nosed, Spontaneous, Critical, and Gentle. Inclusion of the words "direct" and "logical" could lead to the conclusions that mentoring is not solely a passive Socratic process.

From the partner’s perspective, the mentor achieved the type of satisfaction that reinforces this helping, engaging, personal focus. When asked the open ended question, "What benefits(s) did your mentor get out of this relationship?" Only 3 said none and 9 didn’t know. Fifty nine percent of the responses fell into two themes: Affirmation of the value of and satisfaction from fulfilling a role as helper and developer of others; A learning experience for the mentor from my feedback and insight. The later gives weight to the view of a two-way, power free relationship.

Effective mentoring appears to be a learning and development process for both parties. This leads to this advice for current and potential mentors; explore and learn, don’t assume that you must be an all-knowing expert in this area, such a position could be detrimental to the mentoring process; mentoring is a fulfilling assignment—let both yourself and the partner learn from the process.

"In retrospect, he clearly saw his role at work and in life as a developer of young people and this allowed him to do so."

"The ability to look at situations from a different perspective, I am a Generation X and he is in his 60’s."

What do partners want from mentors?

When asked "Why did you want a mentor?". Chart 3 shows the two run away favorites.

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When asked to select those things this mentor did for them, the top group is shown in Table 1.

Table 1: What did the mentor do for you?

Category

% of times chosen

Listened/understood me 72%
Challenged me 72%
Coached me 72%
Built self confidence 66%
Wise counsel 65%
Taught by example 65%
Role model 65%
Offered encouragement 62%

This strong theme of helper, development, and growth is reinforced in the response to the open ended question: "What is the one most significant thing your mentor did?" The following four themes, capture 62% of the responses:

Built my confidence and trust in myself, empowered me to see what I could do.
Stimulated learning with a soft, no pressure, self discover approach.
Shared experiences, taught me something, or explained things.
Listened and understood.

 

Some of the comments included:
"They let me struggle so I could learn."
"Affirmed my abilities and my actions."
"Led me through a series of discussion to help me better understand my thoughts and find the right answers for me."
"He understands me."
"Taught me to identify my strengths and weaknesses, and to recognize when I was letting my weaknesses get the best of me."
"Generated responsibility in me."
"Explained things thoroughly."
"Never provided solutions—always asking questions to surface my own thinking and let me find my own solutions."

In response to the open ended questions "What one thing should your mentor do more of?";  although 19% indicated that they were satisfied by writing, "nothing", the top three choices are shown in Chart 4

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Conversely, the response to the open ended question: " What one thing should your mentor do less of?";  65% indicated that they were satisfied by writing, "nothing". Only one significant theme, "imposing ideas, giving advice too early, giving me answers, and not letting me figure things out for myself" emerged, representing 17% of the responses.

Consistent with the previous results and indicative of how the mentor-partner relationship is changing, in Chart 5 the percentage of time these words were chosen as the "best descriptive word for your most effect mentor." Teacher and partner win, hands down.

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Hmm… In the thesaurus synonyms like advisor, instructor, tutor, master, and guru appear? Development via a two-way, power free relationship seems to be desired. Effective mentors provide feedback, their time and support in an effort to help the partner gain insight and find solutions. They sometimes share knowledge and give advice but know how to time it so they don’t preempt the learning process for the partner.

What role do partner play in the relationship?

These partners are a very proactive, taking responsibility for their own development and growth group of people. Selecting a mentor was a very purposeful action. This is supported by the responses to the open ended question: "How did you find or select this person as your mentor?". The theme, "they worked together as a peer or manager" accounted for 40% of the responses while, "through my search, they had traits I admired, and I asked them to be my mentor" accounted for 33% of the responses.

To borrow a phrase, be careful, "smile, you’re on candid camera", seems appropriate. How others see and evaluate your skills and behaviors are driving their decisions to approach you to be their mentor. Take this request seriously, the data suggests that the partner has done the detective work to ferret you out as someone who could be helpful to their development and growth. Finally, 17% of the responses fell into the theme, "they were assigned or they asked me to be their partner".

Finding a mentor is just the start, keeping the relationship alive is equally important. Again, the partner felt a strong responsibility for actions that would keep the relationship going as indicated by the responses to the open ended questions "What is the most significant thing you did to maintain the relationship?". Four themes included the majority of the responses, see Table 2:

Table 2: The most significant thing partners   did to maintain the relationship

Category

% of responses

Kept in touch, and informed about the mentor 41%
Listened, responded, and took action 18%
Supported and understood the mentor 12%
Confronted and questioned the mentor 11%

Clearly, the partner is not a passive vessel, waiting for the mentor’s call and time. Additional support to this active partners role is given by the responses to the open-ended question: "What two guidelines would you way are "musts" to be a good partner?". Two thirds of the responses group into five themes, see Table 3:

Table 3: Two guidelines that are "musts" to be a good partner

Category

% of responses

Listen 21%
Implement, act on advice, put things into effect 13%
A willingness, desire, and commitment to learn and grow 13%
Check your ego at the door—ask for and be open to feedback and criticism 11%
Be open-minded, willing to change and coachable 8%

Sounds like a pretty serious group! Mentoring is more effective when the partner takes a proactive role in maintaining contact with the mentor. In fact, it may be an essential element.  partner's should be made aware of the importance of taking the lead in maintaining the relationship and responding to the mentors efforts to help the process be successful.

As final affirmation of the proactive partner role, when asked the open-ended question: "What will (did) cause this relationship to cease?";   "it will continue" accounted for 30% of the responses; 52% attributed it to "inaccessibility due to relocation or unavailability"; 14% to "other priorities, lack of contact, no value added, or we out grew each other"; while only 9% attributed a "lack of trust, competition, deception, harsh reactions, or taking credit for the accomplishments of the partner". Sounds like a pretty committed group.

What was the nature of the mentor-partner interactions?

High tech has not yet arrived, high touch still is in. For the question: "How often were you in contact with your mentor?", 69% said "at least once a week" and 20% "at least once a month". For the question: "What was your primary form of contact with your mentor?", 80% said "face-to-face", and 16% "phone". Effective mentoring is a significant personal commitment in time and energy for both mentor and partner.

Is the mentor-partner relationship changing?

These results support the conclusion that mentoring is a power free, two-way, mutually beneficial, learning situation where the mentor provides advice, shares knowledge and experiences, and teaches using a low pressure, self-discovery approach. Teaching using an adult learning versus teacher to student model and, being willing to not just question for self discovery but also freely share their own experiences and skills with the partner. The mentor is both a source of information/knowledge and a Socratic questioner. It is not an either or proposition, instructor/advisor or friend and facilitator. This data suggests that the partners actively seek out and maintain relationships with mentors who have the background and skills to do both in a way that maintains the partners freedom of choice and decision.

About the Authors

Matt M. Starcevich, Ph.D. CEO, Center for Coaching & Mentoring and Fred L. Friend each have over twenty years experience in training and organization development, as internal change agents and external consultants.  For comments or additional information email Matt from the selection below.

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Contact Matt Starcevich, matt@coachingandmentoring.com
Copyright 2009, Center for Coaching and Mentoring