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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mentoring Part III - The Mentor

In an earlier post I wrote about the responsibilities of the mentee, but what about the mentor? How as a mentor can you ensure that you are helping the mentee to grow? Will the relationship work? I have applied the following guidelines to my successful mentoring relationships and hope that by sharing them you can build a great mentoring relationship.

Have Reasonable Expectations
Have you ever thought about what you might expect from someone who comes to you for advice? Are you expecting to much from yourself? The best part of a mentoring relationship is that it is an opportunity for everyone to grow so you do not need to know all of the answers. It also means you will be asked questions that might be insightful, angry, simplistic or even naive; this is okay, your job is to be a guide. A young mentee is looking to grow and will have an immature view of the world but will be confronting with very difficult questions. You are not the mentee's manager nor sponsor; you are a teacher, a coach, a friend, and a confidant who will help them shift their paradigm or way of thinking. Just remember that most of the time the mentee will not implement your suggestions properly assuming they follow them at all. Why the warning, it has taken years for some of the advice I was given to sink in to the point where I could apply.

Be a Good Resource

Yes, there is Google for most of our questions, however, Google is only one type of resource (the one I use when I am trying to help with homework). Most management and career challenges involve the subtle intricacies of people relationships and these can only be worked through with the help of others who have experienced them. When issues and challenges arise please use your network of contacts to help the mentee learn to seek out advice. Encourage them to use critical thinking skills to assess the validity of their statements, arguments, and actions. Bring together different sources of information to serve or challenge an argument or idea you are working through and then work with them to make the logical connections. How can you be a good resource? Show them how to leverage the knowledge of others.

Use Active Listening

The best mentorship I have have provided is when I was able to admit my lack of understanding and then had the sense of curiosity to explore the conversation further. You may think why would I admit to not understanding; because it made the relationship more real, we stopped pretending to be what were not and focused on the challenges the mentee was facing. The mentee is expected to drive the relationship but it is important that they learn to look at all the various angles of the challenges they are facing.

So then how do you actively listen? Ask pertinent questions, assess the statements and arguments made by the mentee. I always have the objective to be a mirror and not add new content to the conversation until I confirmed I understood the message correctly, however, that also means that I do not let the mentee "move on" until we have explored their challenges. I make sure to suspend judgment until all facts have been gathered and considered; without being critical of the events or actions. Active listening allows the mentee to better express what they are looking for from you. I found that the concepts of repeating, paraphrasing , asking clarifying questions and summarizing work best for me. For example I often ask, "Let me make sure I understand you correctly..." or "What would your next step be...". Work at setting aside your other thoughts and business/personal priorities so you can concentrate on the message, ask the questions and paraphrase.

Provide Constructive Feedback

The mentoring relationship is to help the mentee to learn and grow, they don't need to be criticized or disciplined. Be direct and to the point when giving your feedback. Remember that criticism attacks the person to which it is directed, is negative, judgmental, labeling, and accusing while constructive feedback is collaborative, informative, specific, and actionable. If you are providing feedback in a straightforward manner it will be much easier for the mentee to absorb. The best feedback is sincere and not a mixed message. If you are giving negative feedback it is important to express concern while avoiding anger, frustration, disappointment, and sarcasm which tend to send a message of criticism. Provide your observations to back up your feedback; avoiding characterization of behavior. Observations are what you see occur; interpretations are your analysis or opinion of what you see occur. Share what you've noticed, not what you think of it, and report the behavior you notice at a concrete level, instead of as a characterization of the behavior. Observations have a far more factual and nonjudgmental aspect than do interpretations.

Explore the similarities and differences between the ideas you are are discussing. Allow the mentee to examine the problems closely and reject information that is incorrect or irrelevant

Allocate Time

If you are going to be a mentor then this should be a priority. Allocating time for a mentorship means hard choices will have to be made and some things will have to be postponed or not done at all to allow for mentoring to happen. In this age of fast fix sitcom solutions Mentorship stands out in stark contrast. This is a journey and will develop over time; when time is given for the relationship to mature. Mentorship is a very rewarding process and allows you to give back by sharing your successes, failures, and life experiences. Keep your commitments and be certain to follow up on agreed actions. I am a dedicated note taker even in my mentorship relationships I keep notes and after each session summarize how I thought the session went. It is amazing to see how the mentees progress from when they first walk into your office to their next level and beyond. But to observe this progress will require a commitment of time.

Leverage Learning Opportunities

Each experience is a learning opportunity. Share stories of the struggle, challenge, and setbacks and how you were able to overcome them to get to where you are. Show how you leveraged challenges into opportunities. But most of all share when no matter the effort but in sometimes things don't work out. Life is a harsh task master but also willing to reward you with anything you ask of it. The mentee is here to learn how to ask of life and receive while dealing with the challenges placed before them and not get off track. To often we are taught that failure is bad, however, it is the failures we learn the most from. So that when the challenges of life start to confront them they will be well equipped to deal with them.

Keep Discussions Confidential

I cannot stress this enough. The worst thing a mentor can do is share what was discussed outside of the relationship. Being a mentor should be treated on the same level of confidence as a doctor or attorney. Don't pass judgment and don't share outside of the relationship. If there are activities or potential actions that could lead to someone getting hurt then yes you should act in the appropriate manner, however, I have yet to have a single mentorship relationship that ever put me in this situation. When a foundation of trust is built the mentorship relationship will grow and prosper.

I have found these guidelines to be very effective in my relationships. Even when i am working with my own mentors we take the time to discuss these guidelines as part of the goals for the relationship. In my next post on mentoring I will provide the guidelines to manage mentorship meetings for maximum results. Mentoring is one of my passions and years later it is great to look back and see how effective the times spent together resulted in incredible outcomes. I hope that by using this guideline others can have successful mentoring relationships also. I look forward to your comments.

Related Posts:
8 Rules to Maximize the Benefit of Mentorship
Hit Fast Forward and Leverage Mentorship

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