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Common Pitfalls of Mentoring


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Common Pitfalls of Mentoring

Many instructors will be mentoring formally for the first time.   Mentoring is an acquired skill, some even say an art form.   It is better to prepare for all worse case scenarios before they happen in order to keep the program  a positive experience for all involved. Some of the more common problems are the lack of understanding of one's role in the mentoring relationship and poor communication.

Good mentoring should include mentors who are aware of the common pitfalls of mentoring.
  • Mentors should be accessible and open, yet they are not necessarily a buddy.  In time, a mentor and mentee may become friends, but at the outset a close, personal relationship is not assumed.
  •  ("Mentoring Characteristics" from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center) 
  • The mentor's role with the struggling teacher is complex and involves a "Thin Chalk Line" that may not be crossed.  
  • Suggestions for improvement must be couched in language that supports without criticism. ("That Thin Chalk Line: Mentor Boundaries in Balance" by Dale E. Pforr)
  • "It is easy to fall into the trap of having all the answers.  Dispensing information is often required; it's quick and easy and may make you feel good about yourself as a mentor.  But if you only give advice, much of it fails to stick"  ("Mentoring Skills" from the Faculty Mentoring Resources at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh)
Understanding One's Role
  • In mentoring relationships, all parties should clarify their expectations.
  • "Research shows that effective mentoring can be done in as little as two hours each month."
  •  ("Mentee Benefits and Responsibilities"  from the Faculty Mentoring Resources at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh)
  • "No longer based on the leader-follower hierarchy, mentoring is becoming a two-way relationship where both parties learn, share, question, challenge, and change.  The foundation of these growth-enhancing activities is a relationship of mutual trust."  ("The Trust Factor" from the Faculty Mentoring Resources at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh)
  • Mentoring is a one-to-one relationship which is outside the normal hierarchical structure. ("Guidance on Mentoring" from the University of Sussex at Brighton


  • Developing good listening skills is essential to good mentoring. ("Listening Skills" from the Faculty Mentoring Resources at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh)
  • "Giving and receiving feedback are the most important skills in the mentoring role.  If done well it can help to develop an open and trusting relationship which benefits both parties.  If done badly or not at al it encourages attacking and defensive behavior and causes people to take up positions from which it is then difficult to move them." 
        ("Giving and Receiving Feedback" from the Faculty Mentoring Resources at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh)

Model Resources

El Paso Community College Mentoring Partnerships Guidelines
This is a training resource for mentors and mentees, designed to help them assess needs and set goals, establish roles, and set expectations.  Also found here:  The Sixteen Laws of Mentoring;  suggested activities for mentoring partnerships, and mentor/mentee questionnaires.

Strategies for Success in Mentoring: A Handbook for Mentors and Proteges
This comprehensive manual from the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists, and Geophysicists of Alberta (APEGGA) includes a chapter on diagnosing and solving problems within a mentoring relationship.  Well worth your time!

Strategies for Effective Mentoring
According to this site on building informal mentoring relationships (from the University of Minnesota Extension Service), there are five key areas of guidance a mentor can provide: personal development, communication skills, creative problem solving, dealing with uncertainty and political skills.

Obstacles in a Mentoring Relationship from the Quartermaster Warrant Officer Mentorship Guide
This section of the Guide will help you identify potential roadblocks to success in the mentoring relationship.

Abbreviated Mentoring Guide
Although developed for the military medical service corps, this guide contains a very good section on mentor roles.

"Moving from Telling to Empowering"
Jim Perrone discusses why letting your protege struggle can sometimes be the best lesson of all.

"Be Strategic about Mentoring"
Linda Phillips-Jones briefly explores things you must consider before establishing a mentoring program: organizational support, potential champions, positioning of the program, level of formality, delivery modes, and potential roadblocks to success.