The “M” Word, Part 1
As we researched the various topics you’ve been reading about so far in e-spresso, there was one topic we came across quite frequently; a recurring thread throughout numerous books, articles and summaries regarding leadership, management, character building, professionalism, human resources, and the like. In researching it further we realized this topic and occupation reached beyond the executive level and corporate management, and is increasingly being recognized as essential to personal development and success on many levels. It is becoming, as one author put it, “the way of the future.”
What are we talking about? We’re talking about what the world refers to as “mentoring.” In the next two issues we’re going to outline the basics of mentoring-gathered from various resources-explaining what it is, how it works and its benefits.
We are already familiar with the term “mentor” as it applies to the PMA course. However, when we refer to it here, we are referring to it in a much broader sense.
The reason for bringing up this topic is multi-purposed. For one, we thought it would be interesting to note that we in the Family are not the only ones who receive guidance and counsel. In the Family we call it shepherding; in the world it is called mentoring. People in the world, from all walks of life and all professions, receive that kind of “guidance and counseling” often and they see it as a tool to help them progress in life and their careers. As you read the various descriptions of what a mentor does, we’re sure you’ll note the similarities. It’s a big help to have someone who trains you, teaches you, answers your questions and watches your back.
Another reason for addressing this topic is that, although there is a definite criteria for qualifying as a mentor and some of the descriptions herein are a little “big,” the principles and spirit of mentoring-being your brothers’ keeper; being a responsible friend or sibling; helping someone else to cultivate their potential-is within your grasp to do.
Being a mentor is not necessarily an age thing. It’s a matter of people with experience, training, skill and knowledge-spiritual qualities too-passing that on to others.
So there’s good advice in here whether you’re in the position of mentee or mentor.
What Is Mentoring?
Mentoring is a structured and trusting relationship that brings people together with caring individuals who offer guidance, support and encouragement aimed at developing the competence and character of the mentee. A mentor is someone who provides a person with support, counsel, friendship, reinforcement and constructive example. Mentors are good listeners, people who care, people who want to help people bring out strengths that are already there.
The true mentor is a partner who supports, facilitates, and learns with the protg (or mentee). Meanwhile, the protg is responsible for his or her own learning. Key qualities in a good mentor-protg partnership include balance, truth, trust, passion and courage.
A mentor can be seen as a wise, experienced friend. A mentor leads by example and is a role model. They might be very good at helping you see the big picture and understand the ins and outs of the organization you work for.
Mentors are advisers who offer advice and, if asked, share their life experiences and observations. Mentors act as sounding boards. They are there when their protgs need them. Career-minded individuals who are ambitious and receptive to learning are the best candidates for mentoring.
Good mentors try to follow these guidelines:
¥ Set a good example. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work in mentoring. Protgs mimic the mentor’s behavior, so mentors must walk the walk.
¥ Offer practical advice. Instead of simply predicting a promising future for a protg, a mentor might offer practical advice on how the protg can better reach his or her goals.
¥ Don’t fix your problems for you. Mentors offer counsel, but help the person to find his or her own personal solutions.
¥ Are pragmatic. Mentors are firm yet gentle in getting “drifting” protgs to refocus.
¥ Exit gracefully. Good mentors recognize when their protgs have learned all they can and are ready to move on. This is a positive development.
Now let’s look a little closer at the role of the mentor, what their job entails, and what they provide. As you’re going over these excerpts try to think of how this could apply to your personal situation; put yourself in the shoes of both the mentor and the mentee. And of course, though these excerpts mostly talk about the mentor’s role in relation to practical and emotional involvement, we can also apply mentoring to the spiritual realm as well.
The Mentor’s Job Description
As a mentor, you help someone learn something he or she would not have learned as well, or as quickly, or at all, without your help. Thus, you are facilitating the learning process.
The term for mentoring actually comes from Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus brings in a trusted family friend named Mentor to tutor his son Telie on how to be king while Odysseus is off fighting. This family friend quality is still characteristic of mentoring. To be an effective mentor, think of yourself as a friend who is creating a safe place for growth. Like a member of the family, you are offering unconditional, faithful acceptance. Do not view mentoring as a way of exercising power over the person you mentor. Rather, you are a catalyst for discovery and insight. See yourself as “sharing” rather than showing off your knowledge. Help your protg realize his or her dream. Give them the major gifts of mentoring, which include providing advice, feedback, support, passion and balance.
Mentors feel a need to help others. They understand their own strengths and have confidence in what they have learned. They want to use their knowledge to lift others. Mentors are no friends of the status quo. They push forward, transform, and plow new ground. However, those who deem themselves mentors only because of credentials and achievements rarely, if ever, experience the true meaning of mentoring. In fact, those who espouse nothing but common business principles often lack the kind of freedom of thought, broadness of perspective and willingness to experiment that are required if one hopes to be a mentor. Mentors come from a wide variety of family, educational and work backgrounds. They possess exceptional listening skills, care about other people, treasure learning, are energetic, and engage in ongoing personal development.
Mentors need to give feedback to their protgs. To do so effectively, they need to create a climate of identification to show they are not perfect either. They should explain why they are giving the feedback.
A good mentor is accepting and giving. An accepting mentor does not show arrogance, bias, prejudice, or partiality. As a mentor, you can demonstrate this acceptance several ways. One is by engaging in “mask removal,” where you show you are willing to be open and vulnerable. Being accepting means you are openly honest and candid, working to help and not hurt your protg. Good listening helps you show acceptance, too. When you listen, focus on the other person and avoid letting anything distract you.
Having an effective dialogue is a part of acceptance, too. Such a dialogue involves an open and frank exchange of ideas in a quest for mutual understanding and harmony. To this end, it helps to ask initiating and clarifying questions, to paraphrase to show that you hear and understand. Use gestures and a stance that demonstrate support. Think of your protg as your peer. This means acting with humility in a confident, yet unassuming way.
Continually praise good performance. You can offer praise in less than half a minute. Try to be precise in your accolades so your protg knows you truly are tuned into their efforts. Make it a point each week to acknowledge contributions from your protg. Write down praiseworthy actions as you notice them, so you remember to comment. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge others in public and help them feel proud of their contributions. Consistent praise makes people more receptive to constructive criticism.
Those you are mentoring should understand that you are committed to helping them improve. Remember to listen carefully when you need to give some corrective message. Maybe the person doesn’t fully understand the situation, or maybe he or she needs more mentoring. Perhaps some obstacle stands in their way that you are unaware of. When you are trying to improve a person’s aptitude, you must offer him or her some alternative behaviors or actions to substitute for behavior that isn’t working. Most people are trying hard to be productive contributors. Sometimes, you may informally pull a person aside and mention one or two things you noticed in a recent interaction. Try not to come across as hyper-critical [or critical, period]. Add positive reinforcement.
Sometimes it’s necessary to hold a more extensive conversation with the person to get him or her to reverse their negative behavior. To modify someone’s attitudes or patterns of behavior, present solid examples. Determine whether the [mentee] acknowledges the problem. If not, help him or her understand the dilemma, so you can reach the point where they recognize that the behavior must be changed.
A key to being a good mentor is to use a lot of love, and even demonstrative love, in gaining a connect or bond with your mentee. A hug or sincere praise or even a small favor gains you a lot of trust, and then the protg is more willing to accept instruction or correction when you have to give it. Going out of your way to be affectionate definitely helps when applied to spiritual mentoring.
To be continued…