Can Supervisors Mentor People They Supervise?
© 2003, Barry Sweeny

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Can supervisors mentor people they supervise? The answer is both Yes and No.

The answer is Yes, in the sense that supervisors MUST have and use mentoring skills if they expect to facilitate the professional growth of people they supervise. This is true whether their
subordinates know the supervisor is using "mentoring" strategies or not.

The answer is also No, for as Marilyn Ferguson has said, "The door to change is always locked on the INSIDE". Unless the supervisor-subordinate relationship is quite unusual, most employees will not allow their evaluators to learn of their concerns and areas which are in need of improvement. In fact, many employees will try to hide their real problems from their supervisors. Even when supervisors come to observe an employee at work, what they are likely to see is a dog and pony show.

Sadly, no matter what the level of skill of a supervisor (or mentor or coach), the other person will not take the risks of becoming vulnerable and sharing real concerns with any person UNLESS there is a strong relationship of trust and a feeling of emotional safety with that person.

If the supervisor never plays "gotcha" with their power and is consistently supportive,
while holding high expectations for performance for others AND themselves, THEN, the supervisor can also be an effective mentor, at least to those who find they CAN trust the supervisor and who choose to open their door to change.

If such a context does NOT exist, it can be built over an extended time. However, as long as there is fear about trusting a supervisor, the risk taking and sharing of real concerns and problems will not occur and the growth of the subordinate (protege) will not happen.

This is why organizations which need high employee performance and which are focused on increased results MUST have BOTH a high impact mentoring program in ADDITION to great
supervision. That is why supervisors should always attend any mentor training held for employees, even if they are not going to serve as official mentors themselves.

That is also why mentors should hold confidential their conversations with their proteges. If proteges find out their mentor is discussing them with their supervisor, often the mentoring is over from that point on.

Lastly, this is also why, rather than being evaluative, mentors must facilitate the protege's own self assessment. When that happens, the protege will do the learning because they have to do the analysis and the decision making. Mentors can make this happen by asking proteges the questions that the mentors would ask themselves. When mentors become evaluators too, we no longer need mentors, as they have assumed the role of the supervisor.

Finally, supervisors can and should mentor other supervisors, as long as one's mentor is not the supervisor of the protege and the mentoring dialogue is held confidential. A good way to accomplish this is cross-department mentoring. In fact, if you want managers who are more supportive of an employee mentoring program, mentor the managers to give them a personal experience of the impact of mentoring on their own personal and career satisfaction and job performance.

You have my permission to duplicate this information as long as you:

1. Keep the author and copyright info, graphic header, and source info on the page
2. Do not sell it or provide it as a part of paid professional services.

© 2004, by Barry Sweeny, Best Practice Resources, 26 W 413 Grand Ave. Wheaton, IL 60187

630-668-2605, Cell 630-842-2991, email and web site at <>.