A common futile cycle of leading and being led

There is a serious futile cycle frequently functioning in leadership and mentoring.

Much like the long-held view of futile cycles of biology as reactions which run in opposite directions with no overall effect other than releasing energy, futile cycles in leadership and mentoring are often characterized by lots of activity on the part of the mentor/leader and the mentored/led—in the absence of useful or measurable progress towards a goal.

Most commonly in these futile cycles, mentors or leaders offer ‘affirmation’ or feedback in forms THEY see as valuable; yet, the proffered feedback may not overlap with the feedback desired by the individual being mentored or led (Figure 1).

Where leaders and mentors spend significant energy crafting solutions that are not meeting the needs or desires of specific individuals to which they are offered, two outcomes arise that can undermine the ongoing relationship.

  1. The leader or mentor feels that their effort was unacknowledged or unappreciated, or that the intended recipient of their effort is ungrateful. These interpretations can undermine future commitment or effort or derail building a relationship of trust needed for continued successful leadership and engagement.
  2. When the individual being led or mentored doesn’t receive the feedback or response that aligns with their needs or desires, the individual can often feel unseen, unheard, or undervalued.
Figure 1. Venn diagram of leader/mentor feedback offered and feedback desired by individuals who are being mentored or led.

This outcome of leaders offering feedback that is wholly distinct from that desired arises frequently due to two major causes, among others. The first is the likelihood that the leader offers support or feedback that would have been appreciated by the leader themselves. The second is due to a leader going to a “standard playbook” of responses in a given situation – e.g., recruitment, retention, or other critical times.

Where leaders take time to cultivate relationships of trust and engagement in which those being led can express ‘meaningful desired outcomes’ that support their progress and growth for the leader’s consideration, the likelihood of cultivating overlap between the feedback offered and that desired can lead to mutual appreciation (Figure 1).

Where mutual appreciation is cultivated and achieved, the motivation and ultimately retention of individuals is supported and the drive and engagement of leaders is supported as their energy and efforts are recognized.

An understanding of and cultivated abilities to ethically, equitably, and proactively foster the true relational nature of #leading and #mentoring is something we don’t always screen for, reward, nor fully appreciate in selected leaders or mentors.

We pay high costs in many environments in terms of lost energy, momentum, and trust as we traverse futile cycles that are frequently about misconnections of opportunities to understand and/or affirm values of those we lead and mentor through offering feedback, support and rewards that they individually value.

When futile cycles are prevalent, the cultivation of meaningful relationships between mentors or leaders and those they mentor or lead generally is not.

As always, if you have thoughts on this or other posts, find me on Twitter at @BerondaM

Mentor, rather than imprint

In many recent talks on #mentoring, I’ve continued to distinguish effective and progressive mentoring from many other forms of support that we offer, particularly in academic environments, and often under the banner of “mentoring”.

We frequently offer advising and call it mentoring. Advising is distinct from mentoring in that the former is advice that is helpful for anyone on a specific path. For example, all students completing a particular degree must take certain courses, perhaps participate in particular internships, or accomplish other specific goals. Mentoring is specific advice and input based on personal knowledge of a particular individual.

We also frequently engage in imprinting and call it mentoring. I’ve described imprinting based on the common understanding of a mature individual “training” less experienced individuals in navigating safely through a context based first and foremost on the mature individual’s experiences or behavioral norms of a group. One of the most common examples is a “mother” duck leading ducklings, who “fall in line” behind her.

Imprinting has its place, for example the ducklings learn (hopefully) how to safely navigating their environments, in order to survive, grow and persist.

However, mentoring should not be imprinting.

I have met resistance (and not infrequently so) to my suggestion that mentoring should not be centered on imprinting, which the objectors perceive as simply helping one learn how to navigate safely through an environment. Moving wholesale away from imparting principles for navigating an environment is not exactly what I’m suggesting when I indicate that mentoring ≠ imprinting.

Instead, I’m suggesting that mentoring can’t (or shouldn’t) focus on an individual learning to “replay” exactly the moves that a mentor has made to pursue success. Rather, the advice from a mentor should focus on why specific moves were made – i.e., “to what end” specific moves where made. Then, a discussion can be engaged as to what specific ways a mentee may achieve a particular end.

This perspective focuses on the “why” rather than the “what” and acknowledges that individuals may have distinct ways or motivations to approach the same destination. Alternatively, the individuals may be navigating the same “training space” as the mentor with a completely different destination in mind upon leaving the space. Imprinting doesn’t always allow for these realities.

So imprint if you desire, but understand that it’s not mentoring…and it may be self-serving and self-affirmative.

As always, if you have thoughts on this or other posts, find me on Twitter at @BerondaM

Mentoring as Environmental Stewardship

I had an opportunity in January 2018 to participate on a panel at the Allied Social Science Associations (ASSA)/American Economic Association (AEA) meeting on “Best Practices in Mentoring Underrepresented Minority Women in Economics.”

As a follow up to this event, I was invited to submit a piece to the American Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession (CSWEP) newsletter.

I wrote about Mentoring as Environmental Stewardship.

In this piece I write the following, “Optimally enacted, mentoring is about success of the individual in and with contributions to a particular context.”

I truly believe that this is one of the keys to successful mentoring, that is to support optimal outcomes for the individual and the “place” in which they function/work.

Additionally, I argue the following in this piece:

A link to my full write-up is provided here:

A link to the full newsletter which contains additional pieces on mentoring is here.

As always, if you have thoughts on this or other posts, find me on Twitter at @BerondaM