The Art of Mentoring: Guiding Without Deciding

After reading The Mentoring Manual by Julie Starr, I really benefited from one of the key learnings.

This learning is that, when it comes to mentoring, it’s the person being mentored who determines what they take from the relationship, which advice they use and which course to follow.

As mentors all we can do is provide some options, it’s not our role to determine the outcome.

This is one of the key things which differentiates mentoring from other relationships such as coach or say, consultant.

Today I was out with a friend and we got to discussing new career opportunities, both within their current company and also outside.

If I were in their place, with the offer of a new position I would have been looking for a promotion as part of the package deal, it’s something that should naturally be included as the performance ratings have indicated this.

I mentioned this, but my friend said they felt uncomfortable asking for that because they were also looking at roles outside the company, and if they asked for a promotion internally they would feel obliged to stay with the company.

They believed that they had two options:

  • take the new role internally and get promoted later (hopefully)
  • take an external role

I pointed out that if they didn’t push or start the discussion regarding the promotion with the new position now, then there were actually 3 options:

  • take new internal role and hopefully get promoted later
  • take an external role, or
  • take the new internal role and not get promoted

I pointed out that option 3 was definitely a possibility, if you don’t push for the promotion now, then when you take the new role the position would be weaker to start asking for a promotion.

But my friend didn’t feel comfortable with that, they felt they would be honour bound to stay in the new role if they started a conversation about promotion now, and given they were undecided on whether to stay with the company, or not, they didn’t want to become committed.

With the understanding of what mentoring is, and that it’s the mentee’s role to decide what to learn, and what to take, I have to be comfortable with the decision they make.

Even though it might not be the path that I would choose, it is their choice.

As a mentor, all we can do is lay the options out for them, give them choices, and then leave them to choose.

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