Caught in a Bad Bro-Mance?

The Plant decided to create a mentoring program to identify and develop leadership and management talent within the organization. I’m not sure if it was a deliberate part of the succession plan, but it was clear they recognized many of their senior-level managers were nearing senior-citizen and they needed to build the bench.

I was excited to be included in the organizing for the program. Participation was mostly voluntary. We put up postings encouraging everyone to sign up if they were interested in being paired with a professional mentor within our plant. We also encouraged some of the reluctant employees with tenure or high test scores or clear team leader skills to sign up. We made it clear that the mentoring program wasn’t the yellow brick road to promotion–but we also made it clear that participation would be looked upon favorably.

The mentors were hand-picked by our Plant Manager. I wasn’t keen on that. I thought the mentors should have been open to sign-ups the same way the mentees were, but I was out-voted. We ended up with some mentors on the list who weren’t all that desirable, like my old friend Teflon Tyler and another guy, Keith, the Director of Planning.

Keith had been with the company for almost 15 years. He started out in production and was promoted quickly to a supervisor’s position. However, Keith had a tendency to rub people the wrong way because he used sarcasm and snark to coach employees. He was transferred out of production and into logistics … then moved again from logistics to procurement … then moved again from procurement to safety & compliance … before finally landing in planning. And Keith still lacked polish and persona, even after all these years.

Keith requested to be paired with Tim. He said Tim was just like him back when he started. And he was right! Tim was snarky and sarcastic and rubbed people the wrong way with his lack of polish and persona. But Tim had also worked his way from laborer to Assistant Production Shift Supervisor in less than 3 years with the company. He was really smart! If he could just control his tongue, he had the potential to go far.

On the surface, it looked like a great mentoring relationship. Keith spent a lot of time with Tim — he visited Tim’s office almost daily and vice versa; they went to lunch together a couple times a week; Keith invited Tim and his family over to his home for cookouts and other gatherings. Other mentors and mentees joked that Keith and Tim were in a “bro-mance” because they had seemingly become so close!

Yet Tim’s performance was declining. He was more sarcastic and less confident. He lost his vision, instincts and focus for production. After a couple months of watching Tim slowly unravel, Keith told the Plant Manager and other senior-level managers that Tim didn’t have “the stuff” and dropped Tim as his mentee. About 4 months after that, Tim quit.

I’ve always wondered if Tim’s path would have been different with a different mentor. Good professional mentors are critical during the early, developmental years of one’s career. With his spotty path, was Keith the best choice to be Tim’s guide? As I was thinking about that, I came across this article from The Invisible Mentor’s Avil Beckford, entitled “7 Must-Have Characteristics of Great Mentors.”

Keith definitely had 3 of the 7 Must-Haves. Is that enough? Or were the characteristics he lacked what led to Tim’s downfall in our organization?

And what about Tim??? His failures can’t all be on the mentor. The mentee has a responsibility to perform and improve, even if the mentor isn’t necessarily a good one … right?

I’m still hovering. Was Keith to blame? Was Tim to blame? Or were they both just caught in a bad bro-mance?

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  1. I’m hovering too.Ultimate bad pairing. Opposites attract and become yin and yang in the best pairings. These two could not enhance each other. Too bad. Stunted their professional growth.

    • Buzz Rooney

      October 19, 2011 at 11:28 PM

      That’s what I was thinking too … then I wondered if Tim really didn’t have “the stuff” and his pairing with Keith just brought it out. I’m still not sure. I do believe their personalities were too similar for them to enhance each other. I’m not sure being opposites is the key though. I think it has more to do with the mentor being self-aware, secure and wise enough to recognize and redirect the negative reflections they see in their mentee. Keith needed to be able to say “Our type of personality caused roadblocks in my path. I want to see you make better choices. Here’s how to do that” — but he couldn’t or didn’t do it.

  2. My honest opinion is that neither Tim nor Keith is to blame, the management team that put them together in a mentor/mentee relationship is. That’s like Yoda picking Darth Vader to mentor Luke Skywalker, then blaming Luke because he ended up on the Dark Side of the Force.

    Terrible decision, and I know you were against it from the start, and got outvoted, and your gut feeling was absolutely right. In order to be a mentor, isn’t a prerequisite that you display mentorship qualities? Being good at your job is an excellent qualification for being a good employee, but certainly not a mentor.

    It sounds like the senior management team had no idea what true mentorship looks like, so that program was doomed to crash and burn from the start.

    • Buzz Rooney

      October 23, 2011 at 10:31 PM

      The program wasn’t a complete disaster. Most of the other mentoring teams worked out great. However, the other pairs were all assigned.

  3. I think that management, the mentor, and the mentee were all to blame. Management should have been more careful about selecting only mentors with a majority of the desirable traits, and Keith and Tim both have personal & professional shortcomings that ultimately affected their respective careers and the mentorship success (or lack thereof, rather). Keith had a responsibility to encourage increased levels of performance, rather than standing idly by and then finally dropping his mentee. For his part, Tim’s performance is ultimately his responsibility, and he should have caught himself and sought to redress the situation before he completely lost it.

    • Buzz Rooney

      April 18, 2012 at 3:03 AM

      I agree. Whole-heartedly. This was a bad pairing and doomed from the start. But all had opportunity and responsibility to try and gain something from it.

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