Main challenges

Even with a wholehearted buy-in from both mentor and mentee we have noticed that there are significant challenges that can undermine the relationship unless recognised and tackled from the very beginning.


Another task on an already lengthy ‘to do’ list

With full diaries and ever increasing workloads, finding the time to even set up a meeting can be a problem.

And, as there are often no deadlines with mentoring, administrative tasks like setting up meetings can get pushed to the bottom of the list. They can then be surpassed by the latest emergency or big client project which, as we all know, feels much more like core business. One easy to implement way of circumnavigating this challenge is to ensure that the mentor’s PA has the mentees details and is alert to the need to put them to the top of the mentor’s agenda and allocating them time in his or her diary.

A sense of expectation

Surprisingly, this is something both parties often experience. The mentee, thinking that he or she is taking up the mentor’s valuable time, feels pressured to live up to (often self-imposed) expectations and be seen to be making good use of the mentor’s words of wisdom.

But the mentor can often share in this sense of responsibility, feeling under pressure to live up to what they may perceive to be the mentee’s high expectations, as well as the fact they may feel the company itself is expecting them to deliver incredible insights on demand.

We’ve found that a less stressful approach is to emphasise that mentoring is about making old knowledge and experience new and relevant. The mentor’s experience is context and person specific so they can’t expect the mentee to go away and do as they did.

But what they can do is use the mentoring cycle to revitalise their knowledge and give the mentee the opportunity to learn from and apply it to their own career and circumstances. This process also revitalises the mentor’s knowledge and allows them to understand and use it in other contexts, which can be extremely beneficial learning for them too.



Learning to trust each other is key to the success of this type of relationship. It is important to understand that this does take time to build, and is worth the investment from both sides. We’ve also found it useful to stress that mentoring isn’t only about sharing stories: many a time it can be about sharing vulnerabilities. You can learn much more from someone’s bad experiences, and their learning in hindsight and this is often where the knowledge gems are found.

When a good sense of trust has been built, conversations can range from individual situations to big picture scenarios, and then right back to more personal musings which may even be ‘have I chosen the right career path?’ When the mentee feels able to ponder questions like this with their mentor, a real sense of trust has been built.

Trust can be worked on by:

  • Agreeing on confidentiality from the outset (no one wants to feel that someone is reporting back on them)
  • Making a conscious effort to find common ground
  • Consciously listening to the other and holding back from the urge to jump in and give your own opinion

Practical Obstacles

There may well be practical difficulties, such as the fact that the mentoring partners live in two different countries and find it difficult to set up the face to face time that helps build the trust and relationship.

Of course videoconferencing can be used to great effect here, but it is worth taking the time to travel to each other for the first two or three sessions. We strongly recommend that at least the first two mentoring sessions, plus the final session, are carried out face to face.

Topics Are Too Broad

When topics are just too broad, such as ‘company culture’, then both parties can feel like they are wandering around in the dark, which can be demoralising for further sessions. We encourage participants to choose appropriate topics and be as specific as possible. So, if company culture is up for discussion, a more appropriate topic for the session might be, for example, ‘how has company culture changed since you joined?’

Projektgruppe wissenschaftliche Beratung GbR
Dr. Andre Lehnhoff Managing
Wendy Kendall Partner of PwB
Ohlanden 35
25582 Hohenaspe
Tel.: +49.4893.220256
Fax: +49.4893.220256
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Projektgruppe wissenschaftliche Beratung GbR

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