Starting Strong: a Mentoring Fable

Human Resource Management International Digest

ISSN: 0967-0734

Article publication date: 9 March 2015



(2015), "Starting Strong: a Mentoring Fable", Human Resource Management International Digest, Vol. 23 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Starting Strong: a Mentoring Fable

Article Type: Suggested reading From: Human Resource Management International Digest, Volume 23, Issue 2

Lois J. Zachary and Lory A. Fischler, 2014, Jossey-Bass, ISBN: 9781118767719

If you want to acquire knowledge about mentoring, read this book. If you want to pursue mentoring as a career, read this book. If you want to fast-track your career by acquiring leadership tools and techniques, read this book.

Lois J. Zachary and Lory A. Fischler’s Starting Strong: A Mentoring Fable exemplifies the concepts of mentoring, highlights the dynamics and outlines the issues involved in mentoring relationships.

The authors use the form of a fable to tell the story of a budding mentoring relationship filled with possibilities, problems and triumphs. The story of Cynthia, a seasoned professional, and her new mentee Rafa, brings to life the authors’ wealth of mentoring suggestions and best practices. Each episode of the fable is accompanied by questions for reflection, key learning points and strategies that readers can apply to their own mentoring relationships.

Organizations face a period of transition, with the Baby Boomer generation leaving the workforce and the Millennials arriving in it. The book offers a hands-on and readable guide to creating effective mentoring relationships that will ensure the success of that transition. It covers the key components of a successful mentoring relationship, including building trust, establishing a comfort zone (and then having the courage to leave it), holding productive meetings, dealing with power dynamics, setting goals and keeping up the momentum. It shows how to avoid common pitfalls and overcome mentoring obstacles. Moreover, it applies to any organizational or institutional setting.

The book offers six essential mentoring conversations: building a relationship; establishing mentoring agreements; moving from starter goals to smarter goals; creating learning opportunities; managing stumbling blocks; and checking in on progress. It outlines five levels of conversation to build trust and promote learning in a mentoring relationship: monologue, transaction, interaction, collaborative engagement and dialog.

The book provides advice for both mentors and mentees. The tips for mentors include:

  • Try walking in your mentee’s shoes. It will help you to understand where he or she is coming from.

  • Remove power and position barriers by being personable, open and interested in your mentee.

  • Do not assume that you and your mentee understand mentoring in the same way. Share your viewpoints and come to an understanding.

  • Fight the instinct to give your mentee answers. Concentrate instead on asking questions that take thinking deeper.

  • Be frank and honest with your mentees if you want them to grow and the relationship to progress.

  • Do not get lost in day-to-day issues. They can easily distract you from working on development goals, the real focus of mentoring.

  • Increase your learning and retention by capturing insights after a mentoring meeting.

  • Do not be afraid to push your mentees out of their comfort zone to help them to gain more confidence and competency.

  • Engage in meaningful conversations, but remember that you are not your mentee’s therapist.

  • If you make a mistake or disappoint your mentee, apologize and learn from it.

The tips for mentees include:

  • Mentoring is all about trust. You have to trust your mentor. You also have to trust yourself enough to trust someone else.

  • You may come into mentoring with your own mindset and your own “truth”, but you are likely to discover new perspectives and multiple truths pretty quickly.

  • Mentoring can have a profound impact on your personal growth, but you have to be open to change and authentic about yourself.

  • The focus of mentoring is on learning and growing. Do not fixate on immediate achievement. Mentoring is about developing your potential.

  • Good mentors do not simply give answers. They ask tough questions and expect you to do your share of the heavy lifting.

  • Mentors expect their investment in you to pay off. Stay on top of things by being accountable.

  • Real growth comes when you are pushed out of your comfort zone. If you are uncomfortable, that is probably a good thing.

  • Mentoring does not mean simply showing up for meetings. It requires effort and a serious investment of time and energy, so make sure it is a top priority and a serious commitment.

  • What you learn in a mentoring relationship applies to other relationships as well. Look for ways to leverage your insights.

  • Mentoring is not your ticket to promotion, but it is your opportunity to become promotable.

The book explains the importance of mentors asking questions that: tap into a mentee’s unique experiences; challenge a mentee’s intellect while also being sensitive to his or her feelings and comfort level; draw on the strength of the mentee’s learning style, while at the same time being sensitive to unique cultural differences; and build on one another to lead the mentee to deeper insights.

While clarifying understanding is essential, mentors should take care to avoid some common pitfalls. For example, do not assume that you know what your mentee means. Avoid making statements that negate the mentee’s point of view. Take care not to alter your mentee’s ideas or mentee’s point of view. Do not allow significant mentee comments or insights to pass without addressing them.

The book urges mentors to invest time in the beginning to build a trusting relationship and create a solid foundation to enhance learning. Additionally, it offers strategies for success:

  • Review information about your mentoring partner (bio/resume/CV) before your first meeting, so you can identify potential areas of mutual interest.

  • Ensure privacy and a lack of interruption and distraction by scheduling meetings away from your office, if possible.

  • Ask your mentee about the people who have influenced him or her the most. Be prepared to talk about your own mentors and the people who influenced you.

  • Share stories about your own career journey. Set the stage for open, honest conversation by being authentic about your struggles as well as your successes.

  • Discuss your mutual learning styles, personality traits, Myers-Briggs profiles or other assessment results that will give you additional insights about each other.

  • Explore your mentee’s career motivations and what drives him or her before you move on.

The book is a dialog between the mentor and the mentee during the first 90 days of mentoring. It outlines the conversation creatively and analytically in simple language. It provides thought-provoking questions for both mentors and mentees. It outlines tips and tools of healthy mentoring relationship. It explores many aspects of mentoring not covered by other books. It is a well-researched book with an in-depth knowledge about mentoring. It is useful for educators, scholars, learners, leaders and chief executives.

Reviewed by Professor M.S. Rao, available at:,

Related articles