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

The “Secret” to Excellent Mentoring…

People frequently want insight into the “secret” to great mentoring.

In response to mentoring presentations or in one-on-one conversations about mentoring, I’m often asked questions that center on whether one move vs. another is “best” for mentoring and its intended outcomes.

My answer to questioners who ask should I do either “a” or “b” in a mentoring relationship is often (frustratingly I’m sure) YES. The reasoning behind this non-committal answer is that it depends on the mentor, person being mentored, the environment or context, or other factors. Certainly, there are many general principles that work well in mentoring; yet, there are few hard and fast rules about specific actions that would always work across the board (or a general secret to success).

The truth is that the “secret” to excellent mentoring is to recognize early and often that there is NO one-size-fits all approach to excelling at mentoring. Thus, the secret is that excellent mentoring is decidedly relational.

A commitment to excellence in mentoring is truly a commitment to getting to know the person that you are mentoring—their strengths, areas of needed growth, personal goals and aspirations, and other critical factors. You need also allow them to get to know you—your mentoring style (fixed vs. flexible), your goals for mentoring, and your expectations (for yourself and them in the process). It is is through cultivating a mutual knowing, and a commitment to doing so on an ongoing basis, that you can truly (and routinely) forge a path towards mentoring success.

If you have thoughts on this or other posts, find me on Twitter at @BerondaM