I had a wonderful discussion this morning with an inspired young lady doing great work in the area of mentoring.  It’s a fascinating topic for me.

One of the challenges around mentoring is that you want the people (the mentor and the mentee) to develop an honest, supportive, productive relationship with each other. Rather like coaching, actually.

But mentoring usually involves people who are contributing their time rather than getting paid.  So it’s even more important to pay attention to what sustains them.

When you match a mentor with a mentee, there’s always the chance that it won’t be the perfect match.  You’re working with humans, and the chemistry between them is crucial.  And it’s perfectly fine that any two people may not hit it off with each other.

You won’t know until they start working with each other.

So part of the trick to managing a program like this is to allow people to be human.  If I meet up with someone and don’t think it’s a good match, I should be supported in saying that it’s not right.  Both the mentee and mentor should be open to this, and it’s not a negative judgment at all.

It’s tricky, because peoples’ feelings can be hurt.  But it’s crucial to the success of the program.

As the program organizer, you can help this to be successful.  First, you clearly communicate that chemistry IS a part of the relationship, and that nobody can predict chemistry until interactions start taking place.

Second, it’s your role to give people permission and support to leave the relationship.  No judgment, no criticism.  And the two people may have a different impression about what’s going on – that’s quite OK.

Third, you need to ensure that the mentor/mentee teams are progressing towards their goals.  Whether that’s defined by you, or by the mentee, or a combination – it should be about making progress.  That includes emotional support, by the way, not just the more tangible and measurable objectives.

OK, so you’re not running a mentoring program.  Why is this relevant?

Because this extends to everyone who is volunteering their time and effort.  They need to be supported, they need to be given permission to leave if needed, and they need to be contributing to the overall goals.

Which are, by the way, some of the same principles of why people become engaged in their work.  But that’s the topic for another day.