Mentoring – the myths and assumptions

OGUNTEbwroundsmallAfter so many articles and schemes about how to find a mentor, and get mentored, you would think it’s a formality. But for most entrepreneurs, start-up and even other executives, we found that a lot of assumptions are getting in the way before you even apply to attend a mentoring programme. So at Ogunte, we have crowdsourced among our peer-to-peer network of social leaders and women social entrepreneurs, the myths and assumptions that are coming in the way, and we have a few pointers to get you started.

What are the top common myths about mentors?

  •  a mentor will solve all my problems
  • my mentor knows everything
  • my mentor is a superhero
  • my mentor occupies a higher position
  • a mentor can only be a person
  • my mentor knows everything about my industry
  • my mentor will stay with me for life
  • I have to see my mentor every week
  • I cannot challenge my mentor
  • trustees on my board cannot mentor me
  • my mentor has to be a man
  • my mentor has to be a woman

A few truths about great mentors

  • a mentor will help me to be self-dependent
  • my mentor does not know it all
  • my mentor is not per se my supervisor
  • a mentor can have tremendous coaching skills and not impose answers
  • my mentor should bring clarity of distance
  • a great mentor is a great communicator: succinct, simple and specific
  • a great mentor can learn from me
  • a great mentor can share stories of their own failures and weaknesses
  • a great mentor can also ask you for advice
  • a great mentor can be a sponsor (ie. open doors and speak highly of me)

Your behaviour as a mentee, if you want to get the most out of it. It is all in the questions

  • a great mentor will spend some time exploring your objective first and will rarely go into details. They will take care of the big lines but it is down to you to try on new things and get into action
  • be critical about the questions you ask!
  • do you understand what you really want to know?
  • does your question contain different topics or is it unique, clear, time-bound and measurable?
  • be ready to have your topic challenged, as sometimes a question reveals an underpinning emotional or behavioural concern

Paying attention to boundaries (what works)

  •  work on one subject at a time.
  • be clear about what you would like to learn from the outset (knowing that it might shift during the relationship)
  • be committed to the time you want to dedicate to the mentoring sessions
  • try short sessions first (ie 20 minutes over the phone) to train yourself to get to the point and prepare your questions carefully
  • set time aside before and after the session for preparation and research
  • stick to the plan
  • plan your sessions ahead
  • accept that sometimes there is no fixing possible or no immediate solution, but that the answer is rather in the thinking process

Be aware of what the mentor, their contribution and their time, are worth

  • how much would you be ready to pay for this?
  • how will you manage and use this intelligence?
  • what will it be worth for you? (the impact of the relationship)
  • what is your mentor gaining from mentoring you?
  • what is their motivation and expectation?

Sometimes, it hurts

  • the mentor will bring alternatives to your usual way of operating
  • a mentor can request to observe you in action to understand you better
  • sometimes, honest feedback can hurt and change doesn’t seem natural
  • be open to learning, exploration and change. To do so, go forward, little by little, step by step and capture your learning at each stage of the journey (record it, write it down for yourself or on a blog, draw it)
  • go back to this journey and appreciate each step!

A world of alternatives

  •  find a buddy, a peer, a fellow associate, a colleague, who is able to give you unbiased feedback
  • a mentor is not necessarily a physical person, it can be a group of people, a focus group, an organisation you decide to shadow for a determined period to form an opinion
  • a mentoring journey can be a succession of insightful experiences
  • become a mentor yourself
  • do a swap shop in duo or triad: mentor someone and let them mentor you on another topic
  • be bold and ask someone whom you wouldn’t have met in ordinary circumstances

Why would YOU be a mentor?

  • to influence others
  • to learn how to communicate clearly
  • to be excited to see someone making progress
  • to be challenged
  • to walk the talk
  • to get a glimpse of the other side!

Time to get started!

Here’s an exercise for you to get on the right track: think of ONE specific, time-bound and measurable topic you would like to explore with support of someone in the next two months.

Then I will ask you the following:

  1.  What would you like me to ask you, that would help you start thinking deeply about your topic?
  2. Where are you most likely to find answers around your topic (list a few places!)
  3. Identify top three organisations or people (in the places above) who could help you get started on thinking about this topic.

What works for you?


Author, Servane Mouazan is founder and Director of Ogunte CIC, the organisation that helps women make an impact on people and planet. Servane says:’ to get yourself started, grab a Thinking Booster on our website 30 minutes of pure focus, just for you!’


3 Comments on Mentoring – the myths and assumptions

  1. I think that having read this, no-one can be in any doubt what is involved in mentoring from both sides of the relationship. Fantastic piece of work Servane, well done.

  2. A wonderfully concise survey of what mentoring is – and equally importantly – what it is not!

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