How to Prevent Unrealistic Expectations of Mentoring Part 1: Start with Why


This is the first of a four-part series that will help you design a successful mentoring program.


Everyone has their own ideas about mentoring and expectations can differ wildly. Unrealistic expectations about what mentoring can or will do – on an organisational or individual level – can leave people disappointed, disillusioned and disengaged.


Some people seem to regard mentoring as a magic bullet, a quick fix. It’s not. Here’s what else its’ not:


  • A substitute for management
  • An alternative to training and education
  • A solution for gender/minority inequality


Managers need to manage, lead and develop their staff. Mentoring skills help them do that and most mentoring programs provide people with an off-line mentor (someone not in a direct line of authority) for personal, self-directed professional and career development.


Mentoring, by a manager or an off-line mentor, amplifies learning. It complements training and education as well as on-the-job learning. Mentors enable mentees to reflect, gain insight and apply learning.

Mentoring supports women, minorities or disadvantaged people and can help them advance in the workplace. But equity is a structural and cultural issue that must be addressed by changing practices and behaviours that cause disadvantage and disempowerment.


A Foundation for Successful Mentoring


The success of your mentoring program depends on laying a strong foundation. This means developing a program that:


  • Meets the clear needs of your people and achieves strategic outcomes for your organization
  • Is well communicated, understood and supported at all levels
  • Engages people with realistic expectations and commitment to personal, professional development


Planning Your Mentoring Program


Developing a program to prevent unrealistic expectations at all levels should include:


  1. Discussions with senior decision-makers for strategic direction
  2. Needs analysis and consultation with potential mentors, mentees and managers for their input
  3. Evidence-based design, informed by the strategic direction and consultation
  4. Clear communication of mentoring objectives, roles, responsibilities and guidelines for success


The timeline below offers a guide to the design process.

Aims of Mentoring


You need to begin by discovering why your organisation wants or needs a mentoring program. Discuss your organisation’s strategic priorities with senior decision makers. What are they hoping mentoring will achieve? Are their expectations realistic? Is mentoring the right strategy? Will other interventions be required to achieve the aims?


Here is a sample of some areas to which Mentoring Works programs have contributed:


Once you have the strategic direction agreed with senior decision-makers you can proceed to the next step: needs analysis and consultation with potential participants.


Now read How to Prevent Unrealistic Expectations of Mentoring Part 2: Needs Analysis and Consultation.

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About Ann Rolfe

Ann Rolfe is internationally recognised as Australia's leading specialist in mentoring, and is available for speaking, training and consulting. Here Ann shares her knowledge and allows you to ask your most pressing questions about mentoring.

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