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Lacking Good Mentorship? Is the Problem You, Your Boss or Your Employee?

By Lisa Woods (1575 words)
Posted in Management on December 3, 2012

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There is no written rule that Managers or Leaders are good mentors.  Mentorship is an added perk that is shared between two people if the stars align...meaning, it takes a knowledgeable Mentor and a willing Mentee to make the relationship work.  Just because there is a working relationship does not mean the ‘knowledge’ or the ‘willingness’ exist…there needs to be the right balance.


So how do you find this balance?  Is the problem you, your boss or your employee?  Here are some things to consider in order to create a solid relationship that becomes a career perk.


If you are the Boss….

Managing others is a great responsibility.  Much like a child seeks praise for their accomplishments and support as they learn new things, employees are really no different in what they seek.  They are different, however, in their response to your efforts.  A child will love you even when they are hurt by your lack of caring and support.  An employee will lose respect for you, question their purpose and possibly choose to find a different job.  No matter what the end result, the day-to-day business results will not be maximized without you fulfilling your part as mentor.  That means that even if you think mentorship is not your responsibility, ask yourself, is it your responsibility to get the best results out of your employees? If you answered yes…then you need to get your act in gear and make sure you fulfill the mentorship role.


If you are the Employee…

Feeling unappreciated for your work is a common complaint from employees that lack mentorship.  You don’t have to like your boss to respect their input, nor do you have to dislike them personally to lose respect for them professionally.  It is easy to fall into “it’s just a job mentality”, but you would be selling yourself short.  When you feel like you are a productive part of the team and your contributions are meaningful, the balance in your life improves.  It is important to do your part to create the willingness to improve, and sometimes that means collecting data points to mentor yourself by finding external mentors, or creating opportunities for your current boss to respond to your needs.  Waiting to be mentored is not the answer, I’m telling you now…it probably won’t happen (unless your boss reads this article and decides to change his or her ways).   But before you give up on your boss, try to understand what is preventing them from doing the job you need them to do.  And use that understanding to communicate the mentor/mentee relationship you would like to have with them.


Why don’t managers see the need to proactively mentor their employees? 

  • Often times it is because they have never been mentored themselves.
  • They may not ‘like’ their employee and don’t want to spend the extra time caring about them.
  • They may have a different background and lack the skills that the employee has or seeks; believing they can’t really guide them.
  • They are too busy doing their own job managing ‘results’ and don’t have time to manage people.
  • They believe their employee is doing a great job and rather than interfering, feel they should spend their time where it is needed elsewhere.


No matter what the reason, failure to mentor stems from the same problem…the manager doesn’t understand what mentorship is, how to do it, and the impact it has on their results.


What is Mentorship?

Mentorship is when a more experienced individual challenges a less experienced individual to develop their skills and push their abilities to further their career.  It is a mutually respectful relationship where a sense of nurturing & feedback takes place through ongoing, direct communication. 


How to Do It?

  • Listen to your employee and understand the feedback they individually require to feel understood.
  • Understand the short and long-term goals of your employee, providing opportunities to try their hand at tasks that test their abilities in those areas.
  • Analyze the work & unique qualities of your employee and provide challenges you believe will both stretch them outside of their comfort zone, as well as convert their qualities into other areas of the business outside of their day-to-day.
  • Take the time to get to know your employee.  Treat them as a person, not just a means to an end.
  • Let them know they are appreciated and ask for their opinion on issues relevant to your department.
  • Teach them what you know, even if your work knowledge is not relevant to their activities…your experiences are worth learning from and cut across job boundaries.
  • Establish training opportunities from programs or people other than yourself for knowledge that stretches beyond your capabilities.


How Does it Impact Results?

Being a good mentor means you are creating good individual contributors, as well as a good team environment.   The more people believe their contribution matters to the group, the more effective the group will function and the better the results.  It is important to ensure all team members feel this sense of belonging; an unbalance can hurt team dynamic.  For an even more impactful result, mentor individuals privately, and mentor the team collectively.  The same “How to Do It” principles apply to team mentorship, but treat the group as a single entity, providing group challenges & feedback.


Financial performance always improves when productivity and individual accountability improves.  When Managers’ proactively mentor, they foster the employee’s ability to make that a reality.



Just remember, there has to be a balance of “Mentor Knowledge” and “Mentee Willingness”.  Sometimes it is the mentee that does not fulfill their end of the relationship because they don’t want to learn anything new, don’t want more responsibly, or they simply think they already know it all without any room for improvement.  Just as a proper mentor/mentee relationship can improve results, an unbalanced relationship can hurt results.  It is the responsibility of both parties to build a balanced relationship.  Letting someone go, or reinventing your own career can sometimes be viable options when a proactive effort to build the relationship does not materialize.


What's Next?

So what can you do to start building your side of the relationship?  Start by creating an honest, in-person dialog.  Set up a time with your boss, or your employee, and tell them what you would like to achieve.  Ask them if they are willing and interested in developing this dialog with you.  At the end of the discussion you will at least get a sense of where you stand so you can make more informed decisions going forward.


I hope this article was helpful.  I know from personal experience that great mentor/mentee relationships are hard to find, but that does not prevent us from seeking out good ones.  Mentorship is a rewarding experience that I hope impacts all of our members.  It is one of the reasons I created ManagingAmericans.com.  If you haven’t done so already, please join our community to receive monthly professional development updates from experts who are here to help you grow, learn, and experience professional success.


Good Luck!




Written by Lisa WoodsPresident & CEO ManagingAmericans.com

Lisa is a successful entrepreneur, world-class marketing strategist, dynamic business leader & author with more than 20 years experience leading, managing and driving growth in the corporate world. Today she provides Management Tools, Do-It-Yourself Training, and Business Assessments for small to mid size companies, Lisa utilizes her experience with integration techniques, organizational and cultural overhauls, financial turnarounds and strategic revitalization to help other companies succeed.  Closing the gap between strategy and hierarchy through the use of effective communication skills, Lisa's techniques successfully develop employees into exceptional leaders, results driven managers and passionate team contributors that collectively exceed objectives.


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Comments (3)

Catherine O'Donnell posted on: December 9, 2012

Great article, worth the read and some very valid points for managers to consider.

Bob Gately posted on: December 9, 2012

Hello Lisa, if we selected our manages for their willingness and ability to be effective managers, they would be mentors to their direct reports. However, managers may not be the right person to mentor their employees.

Agnes Han posted on: December 9, 2012

I found mentoring is a fulfilling experience, at the end you can delegate some works to your subordinates while they gain more skills.

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