Building Trust in a Mentoring Relationship

Find out what trust is in a mentoring relationship and how important it is for success.

“No success without trust”.

How much can trust contribute to a positive mentoring relationship? John Cull, YBI’s mentoring consultant, discusses the benefits.

The start of a New Year is a timely moment for assessing important relationships in our lives. One of those is the relationship between mentor and mentee.

In Homer’s Odyssey, for example, Ulysses entrusts his son Telemachus to his good friend Mentor before leaving on a trip. Mentor was to be responsible for Telemachus’ education and the development of his identity in the adult world. The Goddess Athena spoke to Telemachus through Mentor, with the result that he acquired divine qualities and became the incarnation of wisdom.

Today, mentoring continues to gain in popularity as a way to assist and support entrepreneurs. Research from a study conducted by the Foundation de l’Entrepreneurship in Quebec, Canada has shown that trust is of utmost importance and both the mentor and his/her mentee have to respect the “moral contract” they established at the beginning of the relationship.

This reinforces my own research studies which found that both parties must want to have a relationship. The key elements of the relationship are mutual trust, mutual respect and mutual freedom of expression.

As one mentor from the study pointed out: “At the start of the journey, if the mentee feels comfortable with you, they will share anything. To build trust you have to start as you mean to go on. You need to be a good listener and ask them relevant questions such as: how much they know about business, how far they want to go with it, how much research they have done”.

But what does it mean when you say you trust someone?

For many of us we have met people we have found to be trustworthy. When this happens we discovered we could take action from what they said, rely on their sincerity and feel secure that they would maintain confidences. On the other hand we have encountered people we have found to be untrustworthy. This is where we’ve felt let down, betrayed, not supported or lied to.

According to Stephen M R Covey, author of The Speed of Trust, low trust causes friction and creates hidden agendas, interpersonal conflict, rivalries, win-lose thinking and defensive and protective communication. On the other hand, Covey maintains that if trust is developed and leveraged, it is the one thing that will create unparalleled success, and is the key leadership competency required in the global economy. You can’t have success without trust. Trust is the glue that holds relationships and organisations together.

Covey also argues that trust is quantifiable. When trust diminishes, costs soar – through deferred decision making, lower productivity and reduced levels of service. The outcome is a poor business result with growing suspicion, cynicism, decreased stakeholder engagement and increased employee turnover.

Conversely in situations where there is high trust, costs come down. Levels of motivation rise, relationships are healthy, collaboration thrives, innovation abounds, processes are streamlined, productivity increases, service levels are strengthened, top talent is retained and results are realised as the whole workforce is highly engaged.

So, how do you assess whether trust is present?

This requires two key elements. Firstly to be sincere in what you say; do we go into action to fulfill promises made i.e. are our actions consistent with words? The second element is a matter of assessing competence; do we demonstrate a capacity for fulfilling what we said? Both these elements of assessment, sincerity and competence, come together when we are working to determine whether or not we trust.

Building trust requires people to take risks and step outside their comfort zones. It is a mentor’s responsibility to proactively and purposely inspire and build trust. A high trust environment is one where people can pull together and do what is necessary to overcome the challenges facing businesses today.

Like Ulysses, youth business programmes entrust their entrepreneurs to their valued and trusted mentors. Without the mentor there would be no programme. However, with this responsibility comes accountability!

Best wishes for many outstanding mentoring relationships in 2010.

John Cull is YBI’s mentoring consultant. If you would like to comment on John’s article, you can contact him direct at
Youth Business International has developed a customised online Mentoring Toolkit which is available only for members of the network at – contact anyone at YBI if you require log-in details…

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