Garrett Mintz, Tue 21 January 2020


Participating in mentor relationships is extremely valuable and can open up opportunities for both professional and personal growth. 

But what happens when we don’t do the things we said we would do in our previous meeting or the person we are mentoring doesn’t accomplish what he said he would do the previous meeting?

You are faced with a crossroads. If you didn’t accomplish your goal, were you too ambitious with how you would spend your time or did you drop the ball? Can you be honest with yourself to recognize where you messed up?

If the person you are mentoring didn’t accomplish his goals, why did this happen? Do you feel comfortable with applying enough pressure to show that you care but not so much that you turn the person you are mentoring off? 

This article covers some helpful tips towards building a mentor relationship that is healthy and productive.

Set expectations upfront

When setting goals in a mentoring relationship, it is extremely important that you both set expectations. If you don’t put on guardrails for tasks not getting accomplished, the relationship has a high likelihood of fizzling out because if there isn’t accountability for the goals set in the relationship, there likely isn’t much accountability for the relationship overall.

It is great to set goals that are months or years away but the problem with this is that it is difficult to assess of you or the person you are mentoring is on the right track. Ideally, once you set a longer term goal, you set goals for you to accomplish between meetings that create a path towards your end goal. 

If you don’t accomplish these tasks between your mentor meetings, it is important for you to assess what is realistic and what might be too ambitious.

Challenge with questions not statements

If your mentor or the person you are mentoring doesn’t achieve his goals, it might be tempting to be frustrated. In a mentor relationship, you are investing your energy in seeing this person succeed. If they can’t accomplish the tasks they set for themselves, it can feel depleting or frustrating.

The key to properly challenging the person you are mentoring to ask poignant questions that help them come up with solutions. Saying things like “you need to do this...” or “I can’t believe you didn’t get that done…” doesn’t help you and may turn the person you are mentoring away. 

Asking questions like “since you weren’t able to accomplish this, is there something you can do this week/month to help you get back on track?” or “do you feel like you can still accomplish your goal even though you missed your task this week?” or “if you aren’t able to achieve your goal, what will be the outcome of that?” 

Once the person you are mentoring has answered these types of questions, the number one most important question to ask is:

How can I help you?

This shows empathy and your accountability to them achieving this goal.

Reevaluate the goal for changes

You or the person you are mentoring may determine that the goal set initially is not as important as it once was and that there is a new goal that has taken precedence.

This is completely fine and normal!

The key to properly handling this situation is sharing this information with your mentor. They will support you in this transition because they care about you accomplishing your goals, not that the original goal gets accomplished.

You aren’t letting your mentor down by changing your goal but you are letting your mentor down if you don’t share this new goal with him.

As a mentor, you can ask the question “is this still the most important goal on your plate?” or put another way “what is your biggest concern with the work you are doing right now?” Sometimes it is easier to answer questions about concerns than goals and prioritize them because people are more willing to do things to avoid pain than gain pleasure.

Overall, when it comes to mentor relationships and holding people accountable, it is key to be transparent, create protocols for not accomplishing tasks on the way to a goal, and be empathetic.

If you are interested in learning more about research on mentor relationships for companies, check out https://ambition-in-motion.com/companies.