The Role of Personality and Work Values in Mentoring Programs

Article excerpt

Mentor and protege personality traits and work values in organizational mentoring programs are discussed. The authors argue that "mismatches" of both personality traits and values in mentor-protege pairings can hamper the success of mentoring. Also, practical strategies for enhancing the matching of mentors and proteges are discussed.

Introduction

Jill was excited when she first learned that Sam, a higher level manager in her firm, had been assigned as her mentor. Shortly after meeting each other, the pair had decided to work together on some special projects for their Division. But after several weeks, Jill was becoming troubled that she and Sam's relationship was not working out. It just seemed impossible to improve the situation. The harder she worked to complete assignments in a thorough, high quality manner, the more impatient Sam seemed to become. His attention never seemed to stay with one project for long; Sam was always coming up with new ideas and expecting results more quickly than Jill could produce them. Even their planning meetings were difficult; their discussions often felt confusing and unproductive. Jill was also turned off by the way Sam treated people, including herself, when he wanted to accomplish something. He seemed far more concerned about achieving results than being considerate towards others. Jill now wondered if Sam even s aw her as competent, or wanted to work with her at all. He never had much time to meet with her anyway. In any case, Jill knew that she had lost some respect for Sam, and was not sure that she wanted to follow his lead any more.

This example highlights some of the problems that may arise in mentoring relationships, especially in formal mentoring programs in which organizations assign mentors to proteges. Although Jill and Sam may both be talented and motivated professionals, they appear to be mismatched in terms of their personalities and work values. These differences can be seen in the conflicting expectations and difficult communications that characterize Jill and Sam's interactions. The personality/values differences may also lead each party to unfavorable evaluations of the competence of the other. Further, one wonders if Sam became a mentor voluntarily, as he does not appear to have time to work with a junior person in a mentoring relationship.

In the rest of this article we explore these issues in more depth. Specifically, we address the importance of the "match" of both the personality traits and the work values of mentors and proteges. Our discussion extends to a variety of issues, focusing on the particular personality characteristics and values we believe are most important for mentors, for proteges, and for mentor-protege dyads. We also discuss the practical implications of these personality/values issues, offering suggestions for making formal mentoring relationships more beneficial for both mentors and proteges. Finally, we offer some suggestions for how organizations, if choosing to avoid assigning formal mentors, can systematically promote informal mentoring relationships.

Formal and Informal Mentoring

Scholars have identified positive benefits for employees involved as proteges in informal mentoring relationships, including more frequent promotions, higher salaries, and greater career satisfaction [11,13]. Alternatively, many organizations have recently developed formal mentoring programs, in which junior employees are assigned to higher level managers for mentoring. Often, these programs are designed to provide women and other minorities with much-needed career assistance and access to powerful upper-level managers.

Unfortunately, just as "arranged" marriages may not be as satisfactory as self-selected unions, formal mentoring programs do not seem to produce the same positive benefits as informal mentoring relationships. In their study of formal and informal mentoring, Chao, Waltz, & Gardner [3] discuss how these differences may come about. …