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Ideas for Leaders #773

Building and Maintaining Mentoring Relationships

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Key Concept

Based on his research, University of Texas professor Richard Reddick lays out the keys to successful mentoring relationships.

Idea Summary

Scratch the surface of any leader’s great career and you will find the influence of one or more mentors who fully invested themselves in the leader’s development and advancement. The value of mentoring is such that access to qualified mentors is seen as one of the keys to inclusion and diversity. Yet, building a successful mentoring relationship — one in which the mentor offers knowledge, guidance and support while connecting on a personal level with the mentee — is a more difficult task that it might seem. 

In his presentation, Building and Maintaining Mentoring Relationships, Richard Reddick of the University of Texas at Austin offers some guidelines and success factors for effecting mentoring relationships, including understanding the attributes and characteristics of effective mentors. Reddick emphasizes:

  • The essential qualities for successful mentoring. No matter the field of endeavour or the level of the person being mentored, some essential personal qualities are common in all successful mentors. These include kindness, honesty, trustworthiness, and a positive reputation. 
  • The danger of ‘Fool’s Gold’. One of the mistakes that many people make is choosing a mentor for the wrong reasons. For example, a big name in the field with a bad reputation will hurt rather than help a career. Mentors who are over-committed, are overly intimidating or are burned out will also prove to be ineffective as mentors.
  • The difference between mentoring and coaching. Mentoring is often confused with coaching, despite the significant differences between the two. Coaching is performance-based, functional and results-oriented. Mentoring is relationship-based and career-focused. 
  • Guidance as the goal. In mentoring relationships, guidance is the goal. Mentors are focused on the success of those they are mentoring rather than enhancing their own reputations or visibility. In the words of Reddick, a successful mentor is “the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.”
  • The hallmarks of mentoring. Trust and openness are the hallmarks of mentoring. The mentor must offer (and the mentee must accept) authentic and honest feedback. At the same time, the best mentors recognize the importance of praising in public while critiquing in private.

Reddick also offers steps that mentees can take to ensure that the relationship is successful. For example:

  • Take responsibility for being ‘mentorable’. Mentees must be open to feedback, even when it’s not sought or expected, and be willing to let others in when they are working on a project. 
  • Review expectations and responsibilities. What is the level of investment expected from the mentor? What are the ‘must meet’ expectations of the mentor, and which expectations are negotiable? Both mentors and mentees will have responsibilities, some of them shared while others will rest primarily on one or the other.
  • Collaborate with the mentor on norms and expectations for the relationship. These are specifics. The mentor and mentee should decide how they will communicate and how frequently. (Mentees should expect to be the person responsible for maintaining communication.) They should agree on goals for the relationship, and how best to leverage the mentor’s skills. 
  • Take responsibility for accountability and goals. Mentees should produce a timeline and use it as an agenda for their meetings with the mentor. 

Reddick notes that mentoring is a reciprocal relationship, something that especially young mentors might not recognize. While mentors will offer guidance based on their experiences and knowledge, they can also find that mentees can help or assist them.

Finally, mentoring relationships should exist only as long as they are mutually beneficial. Not every mentoring arrangement will be successful. A carefully developed, working relationship based on trust and openness, however, can prove to be life-changing for both mentee and mentor alike.  

Business Application

Successful companies recognize the importance of professional development at all levels of the organization. Helping employees and rising leaders to learn and grow will increase their satisfaction, reduce turnover, and prepare the next leaders for your organization. Formal corporate training and development initiatives are just the beginning; well-designed and managed mentorship programs will help employees and rising leaders achieve their full potential. Riddick’s research — which identifies the keys to effective mentoring, including the responsibilities of all parties — can help to ensure the success of your mentoring initiatives.

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Idea conceived

  • June 2016

Idea posted

  • August 2020

DOI number



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