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The Ten Commandments of Mentoring

20 Jun

Connecting Paul D Stanley and J Robert Clinton

PAUL D. STANLEY AND J. ROBERT CLINTON ON THE 10 COMMANDMENTS OF MENTORING

Not all mentoring relationships work out well. Sometimes you both expect more than what happens. Occasionally your relationship sags in the middle. Sometimes it drifts off and never finishes. The mentoring relationship can disappoint. You may not know what to do to repair it or improve it. Even so, you almost always gain some empowerment. Learning the hard way, you discover some practical guidelines that can help improve your mentoring. We could list many important guidelines that would help you in specific mentoring relationships. In this article we will describe some common ones that we found helpful for Intensive and Occasional mentoring situations. May you will add new ones, but these are good for starters.

COMMANDMENT 1: RELATIONSHIP

The stronger the relationship, the greater the empowerment. In all dimensions of the Constellation Model-vertical and lateral – relationships are vital. Sometimes mentoring relationships just happen and develop in a natural way. Others take time and are more deliberate. Compatibility and chemistry are true advantages, especially for co-mentoring. Most relationships will not grow to an intimate level, and not all need to. But it is important to keep in mind that you need to continue to develop the relationship.

COMMANDMENT 2: PURPOSE

Sometimes mentoring proves disappointing. This disappointment can frequently be traced back to differing or unfulfilled expectations. We find that expectations should be expressed, negotiated, and agreed upon at the beginning of a mentoring relationship. Commandments two through eight all deal with important areas of expectations. Along with expectations, you need to discuss and mutually affirm the purpose or basic aims of the mentoring relationship.

COMMANDMENT 3: REGULARITY

Disappointments can arise from differing expectations as to regularity of meetings between the mentor and mentoree. Some mentors may have in mind less frequent times together, while growing mentorees may envision more time together. It is better to talk this over and set some ground rules both for regular meeting times and for impromptu interactions. Availability for impromptu times always facilitates the development of the relationship, but there could be conflict with competing time demands if the mentor is heavily engaged in other priorities. Clarify these issues early on in the relationship. Intensive mentoring probably works best with at least once-a-week contact either face-to-face or by phone. Regularity may vary if the mentoree is a self-starter or a person with heavy responsibilities.

COMMANDMENT 4: ACCOUNTABILITY

Accountability or mutual responsibility is an important mentoring dynamic. Again, it usually does not just happen. You must plan for it. Agree together on how you will establish and monitor mentoring tasks. The heart of empowerment lies not only in what the mentor shares with the mentoree but also in the tasks the mentor gives to the mentoree. You must complete the tasks in order to benefit. Accountability is the prod to make sure this happens, because change is difficult and rarely takes place without it. It can occur many ways: written reports, scheduled phone calls, probing questions during meetings, or a planned evaluation time. What a mentor likes to see is a mentoree who takes responsibility to see that accountability takes place. The mentoree’s self-initiative in accountability speeds and enhances empowerment.

COMMANDMENT 5: COMMUNICATION MECHANISMS

Frequently mentors see something in a mentoree that needs correction or about which they feel concern. How and when to communicate this is important to clarify early in a mentor relationship. This is particularly important among peers, who are more apt to hold one another accountable in personal areas. As mentors, we have always asked our mentorees, “If I see or learn of an area of need or concern for you – and it may be negative – how and when do you want me to communicate it to you?” It is important to discover timing and procedure so that when the opportunity comes for correction and challenge (and it will!), we are ready for it and can anticipate a mature response. When peers commit to each other, this is important for them to discuss when they make a covenant. A mentoree can also initiate this as he or she is in a place to learn, grow, and respond to challenge by the mentor.

COMMANDMENT 6: CONFIDENTIALITY

Commandments five and six have to do with communication. Five concerns communication between mentor and mentoree, and six concerns communication outside the mentoring relationship. The mentoring relationship, if it deepens, may involve a sharing of personal matters between mentor and mentoree. It may be that one or both of them do not want these things conveyed to those outside the relationship. Several factors influence the level of confidentiality. One factor involves the personalities of both mentor and mentoree. Some people are more vulnerable, and others are less vulnerable. Some are not concerned that others know the deeper issues of their lives, while others feel threatened by the thought that someone may find out about their personal concerns. They may not even want their age known. A mentoring relationship must honor the participants’ personalities and feelings about confidentiality. You will have to explore this with each individual mentoring relationship you set up. In counseling, you should consider all things confidential and not to be shared with others without permission. For other mentoring relationships, you both need to make it clear when something you share should be treated as confidential. Such a simple statement to each other will free you to speak openly and may save much grief later on.

COMMANDMENT 7: LIFE CYCLES OF MENTORING

Periods of mentoring vary in length of time for empowerment to happen. You should realize this and set reasonable time lengths for the type of mentoring you are involved in. Avoid open-ended mentorships. When you enter a mentoring relationship, do not expect it to last forever. In fact, we prefer breaking up potentially long mentoring experiences into obvious or logical segments, so that at each juncture closure can be made if desired. If you assume that the given purposes and accountability measures will take six months, set up a smaller goal of three months with evaluation. Then both of you can back out without losing face if the mentoring relationship does not meet your expectations. On the other hand, if it goes well you can continue the relationship and set up a new evaluation point. Better to have short periods, evaluation, and closure points with the possibility of reentry than have a sour relationship for a long time that each fears terminating. In summary, here are the basic guidelines: Set realistic time limits. Have exit points where both parties can leave without bad relations. Have open doors where the invitation to continue can be open. Recognize the necessity of a time limit in any mentoring situation.

COMMANDMENT 8: EVALUATION

No mentoring relationship is ideal. Expectations are seldom totally realized. From time to time the mentoring relationship should be evaluated. Wise mentors will use the three dynamic factors (attraction, responsiveness, accountability) and empowerment to help them evaluate the ongoing state of the mentoring venture. This allows for mid-course corrections. Evaluation is dominantly a mentor function. Mentorees will sense growth but will not have the perspective to effectively evaluate; therefore, a joint evaluation is best. In fact, in preparing for mentoring sessions it is a good idea for the mentor to review the whole process and see where progress has been made, where there are problems, and what should be done at the present juncture to improve the mentoring. The following is an example of the evaluation steps we suggest:

Step 1: Mentor evaluates first, on his own.

  • Lacks attention
  • Little prayer
  • Assignments not really on target
  • Interest is flagging
  • Ready to go on
  • Need to redefine

Step 2: Mentor initiates appropriate self-correction

Step 3: Evaluate and discuss – mentor and mentoree

Step 4: Mutual agreement to redefine or modify expectations

COMMANDMENT 9: EXPECTATIONS

Commandments eight and nine are two sides of the same coin. While evaluation, commandment eight, is mainly the responsibility of the mentor, expectation, commandment nine, is mainly the responsibility of the mentoree. Expectations are the root of most disappointing mentoring experiences. The basic rule that can offset missed expectations is a simple one: Use evaluation and feedback to modify your expectations so that they fit your real-life mentoring situation. Recognize that you will seldom reach ideal expectations, because real-life situations have complexities you cannot always anticipate. But you will probably reach realistic expectations. After a time of mentoring, modify what you ideally hoped for down to what is most likely going to happen. Recognize that there will be empowerment and rejoice in that. Lack of meeting ideal expectations does not have to be the source of dissatisfaction in mentoring.

COMMANDMENT 10: CLOSURE

A basic rule in planning passed around more and more is, “Begin with the end in mind.” All mentoring should follow this basic notion. Closure has to do with bringing a satisfactory end to a mentoring experience. Vertical mentoring that has no clear end in mind will usually dwindle to nothing with uneasy feelings on the part of both people. Vertical mentoring is not intended to be an ongoing experience. A happy ending for a mentoring experience involves closure, in which both parties evaluate, recognize how and where empowerment has occurred, and mutually end the mentoring relationship. What frequently happens in successfully closed mentoring is an ongoing friendship that allows for occasional mentoring and future interweaving of lives as needed. So then, don’t forget this final commandment: “Bring closure to the mentoring relationship.” This is probably the most violated of all the commandments, and the most detrimental. Even unsuccessful mentoring experiences should have closure.

LEARNING FROM OUR MISTAKES

Both of us have become increasingly involved in mentoring over the past years. Perhaps you can profit from some of our mistakes. We certainly have! Here are five mistakes to avoid.

1. Don’t be too dominant in establishing the purpose of the mentoring relationship. Draw the mentoree into it for his or her motivation, ownership, and appropriate focus.

2. Do not give out too many tasks too early. Let the mentoree set the pace.

3. Watch out for midway relational “sag.” The mentoring relationship tends to lose its original zest at about the midpoint. Ensure that the mentoree makes bite-size progress, and keep frequent contact.

4. Assess and select mentorees carefully. Check motivation, responsiveness, and right timing.

5. Be careful of “weak closure” and sloppy accountability. Be faithful to the mentoree during the mentoring experience, and end well.

Article adapted from Chapter 13 in Paul D Stanley and Robert Clinton. Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1992.

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