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Becoming an Effective Mentoring Leader

By William Rothwell and Peter Chee

(McGraw-Hill, 198 pages, $26.95)

Mentoring and coaching are considered synonymous in today's workplace. But William Rothwell, a professor of human resources development at Pennsylvania State University, and learning consultant Peter Chee make some significant distinctions between the two practices in their new book, Becoming an Effective Mentoring Leader.

The mentor is focused on the mentee's growth over the next few years or longer. A coach, on the other hand, is focused on the coachee's actual job performance, and aims to help the person to meet short-term performance targets.

Mentors are generally directive, downloading content into the mentee's head through teaching. Coaches are usually non-directive, using questions to draw improved effort out of the person being coached.

"If the mentee doesn't know enough, then mentoring is the right way forward," the authors write. "If the mentee, however, has the right content in the right amounts to deal with a particular situation, then coaching is the right way forward."

That may be a subtle distinction in many workplaces. But the authors argue that a mentor is, at the core, an adviser and teacher – someone who can inspire, motivate, educate and encourage.

Mentoring requires willingness. So if you are asked to be a mentor, search your heart and consider the candidate carefully. It is fine to say no if you are not ready to fully commit to the role, the authors say, or if the person is seeking something you can not provide. If the two of you don't see eye-to-eye on values, that's another roadblock. And if you lack sufficient time, do not agree to be a mentor.

Frequent interaction is vital, so it helps if there is physically proximity. "Meet frequently during the early stages of the mentorship, perhaps at least once every month," the authors advise. "When the relationship is stronger and the mentee is making solid progress, let the frequency taper off to a mutually acceptable level."

At the start, both parties should seek common ground they can build on, whether it be mutual friends, shared hobbies or similar experiences. They should reveal personal and private information, signalling shared trust, the authors advise. "The information cannot flow in one direction only (from mentor to mentee only, or from mentee to mentor only). If the information travels only in one direction, it means there isn't enough trust in the relationship," they observe.

Teaching by example is key to mentoring. Mentors must demonstrate behaviours or practices, while the protégé observes. This could include work shadowing, working together on a project, sharing samples of the mentor's work, or attending events together. "The mentor should also be aware than one-time exposure to the task is often not enough for the mentee. Repeated exposures are often valuable and necessary," the authors stress.

Before such observational situations, you might want to suggest some prepatory reading for your protégé, and encourage questions. Brief him or her about the observational situation, as to what tasks are involved, the reasons for performing the task, the resources required, the obstacles to completing it, and what the mentee is expected to do during the observation.

Keep the task simple and straightforward. And keep in mind your role as mentor is to "educate, educate, educate," as the authors put it. After the task is observed, or the work shadowing ends, both parties should reflect on what happened. Reflection should be laced throughout the mentoring process, as a key success ingredient, the authors say.

Just as it is important to have a strong start to the mentoring process, so it is to have a fitting end. A clear end date should be established, perhaps even at the first meeting. "Be constantly mindful of the temporariness of the mentorship and the inevitability of completeness. Impress those facts upon the mentee and remind him or her as appropriate," they suggest.

As your mentoring comes to an end, both parties should discuss the transition, considering what is next for the mentee, what development opportunities might be ahead, and whom you might suggest to help along the way. Consider also how your joint relationship might continue down the road. "Finally, you should encourage your mentee to mentor. The world needs them," the authors declare.

Their book is stilted, written with a textbook flavour, and with more definition of terms and summaries than needed. But the material it contains is worth trudging through.

Are you thinking about becoming a mentor?

Becoming an Effective Mentoring Leader offers several questions to help you weigh various aspects of that role:

– What do you expect you should do as a mentor?

– What do you expect you should not do as a mentor?

– What do you expect of the person you are mentoring?

– What do you expect that person should not do?

– What experience have you had with other people mentoring you? Were they good experiences? If so, what made them good? Were they bad experiences? If so, what was bad about them?

– What factors do you believe are most important in an effective mentoring relationship? Why?

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter