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.
- 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.
- 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.
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