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

Leading to pursue purpose or personal affirmation?

I’ve become increasingly convinced that one of our greatest leadership challenges in higher education and far beyond is the way in which we select and reward leaders.

There are two extremes in leadership, to my mind—leaders who have developed and carefully cultivate a vision of leadership and purpose vs. those leaders who step into leadership positions actively pursuing personal affirmation and self-promotion.

Leaders pursuing vision and purpose arrive in these leadership roles with a good sense of self, a defined vision, and a clear sense of how their vision/purpose will be enabled through their leadership role or platform. These individuals often cultivate sources of affirmation that are self-driven or external to the leadership role that they hold. Where one seeks validation is critical as it’s all too easy to let the search for affirmation become the guidepost, rather than the outcome, of value-driven pursuit of vision AND purpose.

Leaders pursuing a vision embrace the need to communicate their vision and engage in bilateral exchanges with those they lead and serve as they actively advance. Vision-driven leaders understand and intentionally cultivate broad buy-in, make tough decisions, and arrive at decisions primarily driven by pursuit of intended outcomes and impact, rather than prioritizing personal gains or a need for external validation.

On the other extreme (and unfortunately all too common in some places and spaces) are individuals with a desire to lead and to be recipients of the perceived “spoils” of leadership—respect, perceived power, admiration and more. These leaders often seek to affirm their sense of self, or attempt to lead in search of a vision. Such individuals often seek affirmation as a core part of carrying out their leadership role, which can have significant impacts on decision-making processes. Indeed, when leadership is pursued or engaged as a key venue for seeking self-affirmation or self-promotion, the most likely outcomes are decisions founded on self-preservation.

These thoughts about pursuit of vision vs. personal affirmation in leadership roles are ones that I’ve been contemplating for some time:

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