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Exploring career mentoring and coaching
Exploring career mentoring and coaching

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4 When mentoring or coaching don’t work

A young woman sits at a desk opposite a man who has his back to the camera. She looks despondent.
Figure 4 Sometimes things go wrong

Before you start to explore this subject in more detail, take a moment to consider how the mentoring relationship in Activity 4 went wrong.

Activity 4 Louise’s story

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Louise was a manager struggling to find time for her own development and she thought that having a mentor would magically solve that. She imagined a person who would be in regular contact, setting her goals, checking that she was achieving them and generally keeping her on track.

Her mentor was a very busy individual, with a new venture just beginning. He worked for a different organisation and they were matched by a mutual contact. Their relationship was a long distance one, conducted via telephone.

In their first conversation, Louise was unable to be clear about what she needed from him. She also failed to appreciate how much of his time she was expecting him to give up. They didn’t really make a connection and a time for the next conversation wasn’t set.

Louise very quickly fell back into her normal routine. She tried to contact him a couple of times, but he didn’t respond so the relationship did not develop any further.

Answer the following questions:

  • a.What went wrong?
  • b.Was it all Louise’s fault?
  • c.How could things have been improved?
  • d.What preparation could Louise have done before that first conversation?
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There may be many reasons why a mentoring relationship doesn’t take off, or perhaps fails a little further down the line. In this case, Louise didn’t really know what she wanted from her mentor and he probably shouldn’t have taken on that responsibility at a time of transition in his own career.

If they had communicated more effectively, this might have been a more productive relationship, with clearer expectations on both sides.

Being clear about what you need from your mentor will allow you to articulate your needs and help them to assess whether they can support you effectively.