Effective mentors show up healed

Mentoring is hard work, but it can also be challenging to be mentored.

Being mentored requires vulnerability and trust that your mentor is committed to supporting you in YOUR stated goals and aspirations – personal and professional. As recently described in collaborative work with Dr. Stephani Page, this requires that the mentee is actively engaged and provides the mentor with space to grow, openness, active participation, among other things.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult for mentors themselves to enter into mentoring relationships prepared to meet the core needs of mentees, which include personalization, guidance, correction, affirmation, and agency (Figure 1; also see Montgomery and Page, 2018).

Figure 1. Core Needs of Mentees from Montgomery and Page, 2018, https://www.nap.edu/resource/25568/Montgomery%20and%20Page%20-%20Mentoring.pdf

Part of this difficulty arises from the knowledge that mentoring too often takes the form of “imprinting”, or mentors training someone to pattern their behavior and actions after the mentors’ or the norm(s) of a group (Montgomery, 2019). This type of imprinting as mentoring often takes the the form of mentors promoting acculturation or assimilation in STEM and the larger academy (Montgomery, 2019). Unfortunately, this is often enacted as an “assimilate or fail mode” (Paris, 2019, p. 219). Too frequently mentors operating in these frameworks are individuals seeking personal affirmation themselves – confirmation for choices they have made including the paths that they have traversed and the goals that they have set.

Effective mentoring must start from a place of mentors being “healed”, i.e., understanding that their own affirmation and self worth cannot become a “group project” requiring specific personal efforts and actions or affirmation of those that they mentor.

Effective mentors SHOW UP healed and are able to mentor from affirmation not for affirmation.

To be clear, poor or negative mentoring can arise from both GOOD and BAD intention. We too frequently assume such mentoring comes only from bad mentors with bad intent. Certainly bad intention can lead to obviously poor mentoring outcomes such as bullying or exploitation (Figure 2). However, even good intent on the part of mentors can lead to negative mentoring experiences such as taking on mentoring when one is not well positioned or not available to offer meaningful guidance or inputs, or other such outcomes (Figure 2).

typology chart
Figure 2. From “The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM”, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25568.
Image from https://www.nap.edu/resource/25568/interactive/mentorship-defined.html#section5

Fortunately, there are many (and continually emerging) options for ensuring that mentors can improve their mentoring skills. One of the latest of these resources is the recent report of the NASEM Committee on the Science of Effective Mentorship – full report now available here.

Fortunately, there is also this summarized advice:

References:

Montgomery, BL (2019). Mentoring as Environmental Stewardship. CSWEP News, 2019(1): 10–12

Montgomery, BL, and Page, SC (2018). Mentoring beyond Hierarchies: Multi-Mentor Systems and Models. Commissioned Paper for National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Committee on Effective Mentoring in STEMM.

Paris, Django (2019). Naming beyond the white settler colonial gaze in educational research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 32(3), 217-224.

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