Mentoring During a Pandemic (Notes for COVID-19)

By Rik Nemanick, Ph.D.

Distance Mentoring Call

With all of the uncertainty we are facing due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, it is fair to ask why write a piece on mentoring. Everyone is scrambling to understand what they should do during the current situation or how it will affect them and their families. It is because of this uncertainty that mentoring matters. While a mentor may not have any answers to the questions any of us is facing, a mentor can provide some time and space to catch our breath and vent some of the pent-up anxiety COVID-19 is bringing on. To that end, I have a few tips for mentoring during a pandemic that may help guide you over the next few weeks or months.

  1. Mentors should reach out to protégés. While my first rule of mentoring is for mentors to “Lead by Following”, I encourage mentors to send their protégés a quick e-mail or text to check in instead of waiting for the protégé to do so. Mentors may even ask if your protégé wants to have a brief call. Many protégés may be struggling right now with the demands placed on them or with the uncertainty of the situation; reaching out to a mentor may be the last thing on their minds. Further, a protégé may hesitate to reach out thinking that a mentor is too busy for a call. Even if your protégé doesn’t have time for a call right now, it can be very reassuring to know the mentor is interested and available.
  2. Hold a call using your webcam. With many of us having to work remotely, we are learning the intricacies of video-based communication platforms. If your protégé does have time for a call, I suggest that you make it a video call on Zoom, WebEx, or even FaceTime. The video call has been one of the greatest advances for distance-based mentoring in the last 10 years. I have facilitated many global mentoring programs where all of their meetings were at a distance. In the early 2010s, distance mentoring meant phone calls. But, as web video has progressed, distance mentoring conversations have gained the benefits of being able to see your mentoring partner, which helps strengthen connections and make a protégé feel heard.
  3. Focus on Empathy. The fifth rule of mentoring, Balance Empathy and Action, is key right now. None of us has faced a situation like this before, and most of us just need to talk things out to feel a little better. While your protégé may have a lot of questions, she probably knows that you don’t have many (or any) answers. But, it can be useful for a protégé to vent emotions and give voice to anxiety. Your focus as a mentor should be on listening and empathizing. And, do not worry about trying to reassure your protégé by saying, “It’s going to be okay” (especially since none of us knows what is going to unfold). Focus instead on saying things like, “We’re all in this together” or “You can reach out to me any time you need to talk.”

If you are a protégé and you need to reach out to your mentor, don’t assume that she will be too busy for you. As my first piece of advice above says, send your mentor a quick e-mail or text. She may welcome a call with you. At the end of the day, we really are all in this together.

Be safe and healthy. Take care of each other.

To comment on this article or to learn more about mentoring, contact Rik Nemanick at nemanick@leadership-effect.com. If you are looking for something to read, you may want to pick up a copy of The Mentor’s Way on Amazon.