Who Is Responsible for the Success of a Mentoring Relationship?

Ultimately the success or failure of any mentoring relationship comes down to just one person, and it may not be the person you are expecting.

It is easy to argue that with a mentoring relationship, like any other relationship, "it takes two to tango". The success of the relationship is reliant on the contribution of both the mentor and mentee.

One could also posit that since the mentor is usually the person with greater experience and maturity, he or she must take responsibility for establishing fertile ground for a relationship.

One could even argue that in a structured mentoring program the program manager has a part to play in the success of the mentoring relationships. The training and structure provided by the program manager is necessary to kick-start a successful relationship.

All of these arguments have elements of truth. There is no doubt that mentees, mentors and program managers all have a role to play in creating a strong mentoring relationship. However, the one person responsible for ensuring the "success" of that relationship is the mentee.

From the outset, mentoring relationships are more one-sided than the "two-way street" of a friendship or family relationship. Mentoring programs are invariably structured to benefit the mentee, whether the mentee is a junior staffer preparing to step into a more senior role, or an executive being reverse-mentored to better understand technology.

The "success" of the mentoring relationship, for both the individuals and the organisation, is reliant on the mentee moving forward in some way.
In the end, responsibility must rest with the mentee to derive benefit from the relationship.

This responsibility includes:
  • Clarifying what they hope to gain from the relationship
  • Making sure meetings happen
  • Arriving at meetings with an agenda, or at very least a clear idea of what they want to discuss
  • Following up after meetings to summarise any actions agreed.

Mentors who are usually volunteering their time and expertise, are a resource the mentee has been privileged to access. They should not have to chase or corral their mentee to "force" them into gaining value from the relationship.
Mentors and program managers should be on the lookout for the danger signs that a mentee is failing to take responsibility for their own success.

These signs include:
  • The mentee "disappears" for lengthy periods of time, failing to organise meetings or follow up on promised actions
  • The mentee sits and waits for pearls of wisdom, rather than arriving with a clear agenda
  • The mentor is diligently writing notes at meetings, while the mentee is not
  • The mentor is sending follow up and confirmation emails rather than the mentee

Pre-screening of mentees and good training should help to ensure that mentees are sufficiently committed and aware of their responsibilities so that these behaviours will not arise. But if they do, it would be wise to swiftly call the mentee to account. Make them aware that not only will this behaviour limit the benefit they will derive from the mentoring relationship, it is also disrespectful to the mentor who has volunteered their time to help. The mentee is also shirking their responsibility to an organisation that has invested in their development.