Success & pitfalls

Welcome to this series of four films where the leadership specialists Lena Sobel and Matilda Drakvingen guide you through mentorship. The purpose with this material is to support mentorship programs or individual mentors and mentees at KI. In this final film, we look at success factors and potential pitfalls and givet tips on questions to ask yourselves.

Film 4

Work material

Success factors

In the end of the day, mentorship is an interaction between two people in which the mentor helps the mentee to develop. But also vice versa. The most important thing is that you are:

Open and honest, as this creates trust and a sense of safety

A good listener, meaning that you listen and also take in what is behind the words

But other factors also help to create a successful mentorship:

Agreement with a purpose and goals: Both at the beginning, and from time to time during the mentorship, it is wise to consider what you actually want to get out of the relationship. The goals can of course be changed but they should be stated and made clear. What if you do not have any goals? That is sometimes the case. That could be the topic for the dialogue? Or the two of you can work with what is relevant and discuss the mentee’s values and what is important to him or her. 

Confidentiality: The content in the dialogues, and what is being shared, stays between the the mentor and mentee. For the rest of their lives!

Time: How often can you meet and for how long time (at least 1 h per month)?

Location: It’s a good idea to visit each other’s workplaces at least once.

Topics: One suggestion is to treat the first dialogue almost like a “job interview” to find out as much as possible about the other.

Dare to ask: A mentorship conversation does not fully follow the conventions for social conversations. Dare to ask questions about a bit more sensitive subjects and share what you think.

Reflection book: Take notes on important issues and thoughts before, during and after the meeting.

“Be stupid and lazy”: Let the mentee talk and do not assume that you know what he or she wants to say.

“Don’t believe what you hear”: Do not accept what the mentee says at face value; instead, ask in-depth questions to clarify things both for yourself and for the mentee.

Ending the dialogue or mentorship: It is helpful to reach a clear conclusion in which you summarise what has been said, what should be done and whether something should be taken up at the next dialogue.

Evaluate: Did it turn out as you wanted? Was it different but still good?


Not a lot can go wrong, but a few things are good to avoid:

Losing track of time due to many re-schedulings, feeling that you do not have the time or forgetting an appointment. 

The TSP trap, that the dialogues become too focused on Tips, Solutions, and Proposals. 

Different levels of ambition or that the mentor becomes to result oriented. 

The role of the mentor becomes more of a “parent”. 

Not enough commitment, time for preparations or availability for the dialogues.

Lack of topics for the dialogues, that only urgent matters are addressed without bearing on long-term goals.  Also that the focus turns from development to "just nice". 

The meetings end too early or that they become difficult to end.

The mentee’s manager becomes insecure about the outcome of the dialogues and puts an end to them.

The relationship can develop into anything from “uninteresting” to “in love”.

The mentor must juggle a role with sometimes seemingly conflicting demands:

  • Proximity - distance
  • Activity - passivity
  • Big contexts - small worries
  • Role model - supporting role
  • Support - critisism
  • Reasoning - feeling


Mentorship is an "education" and development without a schedule. The content is yours! Over the years, we have found that certain ingredients increase the likelihood of a good mentorship. We have compiled them in the checklist below.

There are also some tips and questions that you can ask yourselves. An important part of any development is to create your own feedback loops, that is, notice what works and what does not work and alter your approach accordingly. Of course, you can add your own points to the checklist. You can also point out potential pitfalls and solutions.


Check list

  • You are both clear about the goals, both for the program and for yourselves. And follow up on them from time to time
  • You have clarified your expectations of each other and of the mentorship
  • You have set aside time for the mentorship, at least one hour a month
  • You spend concentrated time getting to know each other: "In order for our collaboration to be successful, you should know this about me and here is what I need to know about you"
  • You visit each other’s workplaces at least once
  • Mentorship is an equal relationship with different roles and tasks
  • You are clear about how you want to work together
  • You talk about everything in your lives, not just work

Tips and questions

  • Lunch can be good, but not just lunch. Make sure to meet somewhere you can be undisturbed too
  • Some people enjoy having the dialogues while walking
  • Mentee: Ask questions and “make demands”
  • Mentor: Play it a bit cool to start with
  • Think about the values: openness, honesty, respect
  • Make notes before, during and between meetings
  • What do you know about your mentee or mentor?
  • How is it going with the open-ended questions?
  • Who assigns the homework?
  • How interested are you in your mentee or mentor? (their learning style, strengths and weaknesses, potential, blind spots, knowledge, network, wishes, passions, leadership style, leadership philosophy and so on)