First-class coach

Q: Our CEO instituted a mentoring programme after everyone agreed that it would be a good idea. But I've lost enthusiasm for the project. Not only does it consume a lot of my time, but I'm not getting anything back from the deal. I have enough to do without pandering to the narcissism of a young man who probably won't be with us next year.

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A: I wonder, when you all agreed it was a good idea, what you thought the benefits of a mentoring scheme might be? A few years ago, when I was coaching at the BBC, it had an excellent mentoring system with a dual purpose that was clear to both sides in the arrangement. The benefits to the juniors being mentored were that they had an opportunity to expose their talents to executives higher up the organisation, as well as receiving guidance from those with a handle on how to get on in the corporation.

The benefits for senior management were that they could spot talent early and make sure it was nurtured and retained; but they also gained an insight into what it was like to work at more junior levels, trying to implement the strategies and policies created by those at mentor level. The ground rules stipulated that a mentoring pair would not be in the same department, and this enabled a degree of cross-fertilisation in an institution renowned for its silos.

Does your scheme have a similar clarity of purpose? If not, it would be worth evaluating the benefits for your organisation.

Ideally, mentoring is selective rather than universal, and the scheme should have an element of choice between mentor and mentee. The chemistry between the pair who will work together needs to be so good that they can tolerate seeing each other regularly and find it a worthwhile distraction from their workload. It sounds as if this arrogant young pup has been dumped on you, rather than allocated through mutual choice.

Effective mentoring requires induction for both sets of participants. Trainee mentors need to be reminded to wear their knowledge lightly. Parading their superior wisdom can discourage or bore the mentee; and because things move on, the mentee might have more knowledge and experience in some areas than the mentor. How to deal with issues of confidentiality and what to do if the relationship goes wrong are also useful discussions to have before mentoring starts.

Mentees benefit from being reminded that they have privileged access to senior people and that they should use their time together well, by preparing for their sessions and following up on any 'homework' their mentor may suggest.

But describing the ideal is not much use if none of the above happened when your scheme was set up. So what can you do in your current situation? You may be labouring under a misapprehension that it's the role of the mentor to be unremittingly encouraging to the people they're paired with. Not so: your aim is to help them to perform as effectively as possible, and to achieve this you will need to support them - but also to challenge them. Your arrogant mentee needs to be made aware that, far from improving his chances of advancement, his attitude is creating a negative impression. Tell him, in a friendly but unambiguous manner, that if he wants to succeed, he'll have to get better at reading other people, starting with you. Set out your expectations and suggest that next time you meet he makes an effort to match them, or it will be the last session you have.

This may be enough to shake him out of his complacency and respond to this career-building opportunity in a more appropriate manner. If it doesn't, there's no shame in telling the programme organiser that you have decided to suspend this particular mentorship, though in principle you are not averse to having the role.

You may not be the only one having an unsatisfactory experience: if other managers share your view that the benefits to be gained for the business are not worth the time and effort your programme demands, it may be worth suggesting to the CEO that the scheme be reviewed and fine-tuned in the light of experience.

You may prefer the whole thing to be abandoned, but it's probably worth saving. Properly run, mentoring schemes can be a cost-effective way of developing people of different levels and making sure that valuable knowledge and experience is not lost.

Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have an issue you'd like her to cover, e-mail:

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