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Nuts + Bolts #12: The Importance of Mentorship: Debunking Mentoring Myths in the AEC Industry

Mentoring can help anyone make meaningful professional connections, and it should be considered rewarding and an honor for everyone involved.

By Donna Maltzan
June 4, 2015

Over the past few years, many A/E/C firms have started promoting mentoring or coaching. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) even emphasizes the importance of mentoring in its Code of Ethics. For those who have not initiated or experienced the mutual benefit of a mentoring relationship, misperceptions often exist. However, mentorship can be extremely powerful – not to mention rewarding – for all parties. Here are some common myths about mentorship revealed and debunked.


1)        Mentoring is remedial. Many people think “we did it all on our own,” so future generations should do likewise. Others see coaching as a crutch, or coddling for the members of the younger generation who can sometimes seem unfocused and fragile. In the past, coaching and mentoring were certainly less common in the A/E/C world than they are today, as they mostly entailed younger people being taken under the wing of more experienced professionals. These days, people in all stages of their careers are looking for mentoring and coaching. Anyone who has a sincere interest in developing his or her career could possibly benefit from a mentoring relationship. The information now flows in both directions as more seasoned employees now sometimes seek coaching to learn about new trends in areas such as social media that didn’t exist before. It’s never too early or too late to strive for excellence.


2)        It takes too much time to be a mentor. If set up and executed properly, mentoring should take very little time. A great coach guides the mentee, and the mentee does most of the work, including the thinking and the scheduling. Starting with the first meeting, a great mentor expects the mentee to define his or her goals, do the research, and create the first iteration of an action plan. In fact, the mentor should restrict the time commitment. Mentees need to learn to come prepared and take the plan as far as possible on their own. A mentoring meeting should mirror proper business meeting etiquette. 


3)        I don’t know enough/everything required to be a mentor. A mentor needs to understand the process, and the questions that need to be answered by the mentee. Extensive subject matter expertise is unnecessary, and sometimes even detrimental, if a mentor cannot restrain from providing all the answers. Mentoring is about asking questions that point to a solution, not giving all the answers.


4)        I need to be on call to be a mentor. That’s simply not true. We may need to be on call for clients, but not for mentees. Part of anyone’s growth is learning to anticipate, plan, and schedule.  We hinder growth when we are instantly available. The real world doesn’t work like that.


5)        Success is primarily dependent on the mentor. Actually, the reverse is true. Success can’t happen without a measure of competence and dedication on the part of the mentee.


6)        Mentoring makes it too easy. Mentoring should be challenging to the mentee, so he or she has to figure out how to meet those challenges. Rather than making the job too easy, mentoring should help the mentee perform his or her job with skill, and keep the mentee striving to achieve his or her best.


Mentoring should foster personal and professional growth, not just through the sharing of business best practices, but also by helping others to develop successful attitudes and behaviors. To be most effective, mentoring agendas should be well thought out in both the matching of candidates and in the structuring of goals. Mentoring can help anyone make meaningful professional connections, and it should be considered rewarding and an honor for everyone involved.



Donna L. Maltzan is a business development trainer, facilitator, consultant, and coach. She specializes in working with architecture, engineering, and construction firms, and penned Nuts + Bolts #6: Changing Habits: The Secret to Successful Time Management. She may be contacted at (607) 674-6368 or at; her website is:


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(click on pictures to enlarge)

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