Setting Mentoring Goals (Part 1 of 2)

by Rik Nemanick, Ph.D.

Goals are important for anyone who is trying to develop or improve. They are especially important in mentoring partnerships. That said, many protégés have not have articulated their goals to their mentors. As a result, mentoring ends up being tactical, dealing with situations as they arise. A shared understanding of the protégé’s goals helps mentoring in several ways:

•     Determining Priorities. Goals help the mentor understand where the protégé is trying to go and how the mentor can help.

•     Evaluating Opportunities. When opportunities arise, goals are a criterion to decide which option will be the most beneficial.

•     Providing Strategic Direction. Goals help the protégé step back and see the larger picture when the she or he starts getting overwhelmed by day-to-day work.

 Spending time discussing and revisiting the protégé’s goals will help the protégé keep an eye on what is important and give more meaning to mentoring conversations. Below are some guidelines for mentors and protégés when discussing goals:

•     Protégé “owns” the goals. Protégés are often tempted to let the mentor determine the career goals that should be pursued. Many mentors are willing to oblige and tell the protégé what she or he needs to do to succeed. Unless the protégé feels ownership of the goals and that accomplishment is for the protégé’s benefit, the energy require to pursue them will not appear.

•     Specificity and Flexibility. There needs to be a balance between setting specific objectives and setting more general, flexible goals. The more specific an objective, the easier it is to see if one has achieved it. The more general a goal, the more open to unimagined opportunities a protégé can be. A mentor needs to be sensitive to this balance, since the protégé’s preferences for goal specificity should be a primary guide.

•     Goal Evolution. A mentor should be prepared for goals to change over time as the protégé has more experience and opportunities. It may be that the protégé progresses down one path and finds that the destination is no longer where she or he wants to go. A periodic revisiting of goals will keep the protégé motivated and keep the goals top of mind. Tips for updating mentoring goals can be found here.

In the next issue of the newsletter, I will describe a process for mentors and protégés to set motivating goals.