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About the Author
W. Brad Johnson is associate professor of psychology at the U.S. Naval Academy and a faculty associate in the Graduate School of Business and Education at Johns Hopkins University. He lives in Annapolis, MD. Charles R. Ridley is professor of Counseling Psychology at Texas A & M University and Co-Director, Research Core of the university's Center for the Study of Health Disparities. He lives in College Station, Texas.
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The Elements of Mentoring
By W. Brad Johnson, Charles R. Ridley
Palgrave MacmillanCopyright © 2008 W. Brad Johnson and Charles R. Ridley
All rights reserved.
What Excellent Mentors Do
Matters of Skill
So what is a mentor supposed to do anyway? If this question has crossed your mind, you are not alone. Although some of us have benefited from the teaching and coaching of an excellent mentor (or two), many of us have never been mentored and might wonder how such a relationship actually should be structured. Specifically, we wonder what to do once a decision to mentor is made. In this section of The Elements, we focus on the tangible behaviors or functions of mentoring. Each of these functional mentoring elements requires a combination of knowledge, attitude, and skills. Knowledge is informed understanding. You should understand how each distinct mentoring element is crucial for your protégé's development and how you might most effectively deliver it in your unique context or professional field. Attitude is the perspective or point of view. Each mentoring component will be useful only if it is approached in the right spirit and exclusively for the benefit of the protégé. Skill is behavior designed to serve a specific purpose. Many of the elements we discuss require experience and seasoning to master. They must be deliberately strengthened and sharpened.
Some of the skill-based mentoring functions are designed primarily to facilitate a protégé's career development. At times, a mentor sponsors a protégé for a new position, coaches a protégé through the nuances of a new task, or gives a challenging assignment intended to stretch a protégé beyond his or her comfort zone. Here the mentor is demonstrating career functions. At other times, the mentor understands that the protégé's emotional and personal development require attention and intervention. A mentor may give much needed affirmation, encourage the pursuit of dreams, lend emotional support, or engage in increasing collegial friendship with the protégé. Here the mentor is demonstrating psychosocial functions.
Each of the 22 elements included in this section are matters of skill. Each can be learned. With the appropriate attitudes (a sincere and generative interest in the growth of others: what we refer to as the character virtue of care) and necessary knowledge (something we hope The Elements helps you to achieve), we believe you have the prerequisites for mastering these mentoring functions. Also, keep in mind that these elements of mentoring are much like tools in the toolbox of a master mechanic. Discretion is needed for the appropriate use of the tools. Skillful mechanics know that they cannot use all of their tools at one time, that some tools may be inappropriate for certain jobs, and that some tools are more important than others. In a similar manner, mentors assess individual protégés and determine which combination of elements is most likely to be helpful at each stage in a protégé's development. Overall, mentors need more than simply having the right tools in their toolboxes. They need to know how to use these tools to get good results.
1 Select Your Protégés Carefully
As a successful senior manager in a thriving electronics company, Steve frequently supervised and interacted with junior managers and managerial trainees. Although he was courteous, fair, and helpful in these relationships, Steve was cautious when it came to developing more in-depth mentorships. During a five-year period, he intentionally mentored three new managers — all of whom shared his interests in and commitment to the organization. Intentional mentoring requires deliberate and thoughtful planning. Steve was careful to consider a protégé's specific mentoring needs. Each of these protégés caught Steve's attention through their stellar job performance, initiative, and frequent interaction. Although he had the reputation of being an excellent mentor, and although he was often approached by junior managers for career guidance, Steve was acutely conscious of his limited resources (e.g., time, energy, and opportunities for including protégés in his work). For this reason, he carefully scrutinized promising new managers, determined the level of chemistry or "match" in their interactions, and then firmly committed himself only to the small number he believed he could carefully and successfully assist through the early phase of their careers.
Choosing protégés is like investing. You have limited resources and expect good returns. Like stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, some investments are better than others. More importantly, some investments are better matched to your personal preferences, needs, and risk tolerance. Mentors must behave like prudent investors; they must be selective in their choice of protégés. Successful mentors are vigilant and discerning of the traits, talents, and interests of their junior personnel and careful to embark on mentorships only with those who match them well. The investment should pay dividends for both mentor and protégé.
There is another reason for being selective. You cannot mentor everyone. No matter how energized, idealistic, and gifted you are, taking on too many protégés is a sure way to compromise your own health and the quality of your mentoring. Excellent mentors appreciate the costs of mentoring. It takes time, emotional energy, and professional resources, and everyone certainly has limitations. But competent mentors can get trapped. Because of their recognized competence, they often are sought out for their services. Unless they set limits, they easily can become overwhelmed and set themselves up for negative outcomes.
What happens when a mentor fails at the task of selectivity? In attempting to mentor too many protégés, or protégés with whom he or she is poorly matched, the mentor dilutes the power of mentoring in the lives of protégés. The mentor also diminishes his or her own enjoyment of the mentoring experience, which ironically is perhaps the greatest benefit of being a mentor. The well-intended but over-extended mentor pays a price — sometimes to the extent of becoming exhausted, detached, emotionally muted, or even cynical toward his or her protégés. Excellent mentors know when to "say no." When they find themselves fully committed, they gracefully decline accepting new mentoring relationships, especially with poorly matched juniors. In so doing, they protect their current cadre of protégés from poor mentoring as well as help ensure their own vitality.
Look at the other side. What about the psychology of mentors who just can't say no? The obvious consequences are a failure to set limits, inadequate self-care, and ultimately, burnout. They are perpetually overextended — hurried and needlessly pressured as anyone would attest. But the causes are less apparent than the consequences. Failure to set limits may indicate poor assertiveness skills or fear of rejection. It might represent an unhealthy need for approval or an insatiable need to be needed. Being pursued by potential protégés might feed a mentor's need for importance or status. And failure to set limits could reflect a mentor's misunderstanding of the actual professional requirements and emotional demands of good mentorship. Whatever the cause, under these conditions, mentorships are likely to be marginalized.
What guidelines should mentors follow in selecting protégés? Research indicates that mentors in most fields generally select protégés with obvious talent and career potential. Juniors, who earn the label "fast-tracker" based on their past achievements and the perception that they will be successful, usually are appealing to mentors. These protégés favorably reflect the mentor's competence in developing talent, and they eventually may become valued colleagues to the mentor. Communication skills, emotional stability, ambition, initiative, intelligence, and loyalty are other important traits. In addition, mentors should seek protégés who share their interests and have similar career aspirations.
In business settings, mentorships that begin informally often are more effective than those that are brokered or "arranged." The mutual understanding, respect, and trust that naturally evolve in an informally developed mentorship increase the chances that both parties will find the experience satisfying. We should always remember that mentorships, first and foremost, are relationships. As in a marriage, the freedom to choose for both the mentor and protégé provides grounding for mutual commitment and satisfaction. In general, mentors should be cautious and intentional in selecting their protégés.
Decide in advance the maximum number of protégés you can mentor and maintain excellence.
Identify the personal qualities, interests, and aspirations of protégés that make them a good "match" before committing to a mentorship.
Commit to mentor only after some period of informal work and interaction with a prospective protégé.
Remain vigilant to symptoms of mentor burnout.
Honestly consider your motivation for mentoring.
2 Be There
What Phil lacked in outgoing personality he more than made up for in calm, steady consistency. He was not Mr. Charisma, but he was present and dependable. As resident director for a large college dormitory, he was a supervisor, and frequent mentor, to numerous resident advisors — typically upper-class undergraduates designated as counselors and overseers of freshmen and sophomore dorm residents. Although Phil's plate often was full, he made it a priority to engage his new advisors frequently in the form of check-in phone calls, office dropins, and invitations to coffee or hot chocolate in the first-floor café. Even when he was attending graduate classes or away from campus, he made sure his advisors could contact him, and when they did, he was steady, reassuring, and encouraging. Whenever a student incident occurred, Phil always seemed to be nearby and prepared to offer the advisor backup and support. Moreover, Phil's door was always open — both figuratively and literally — and he was a willing coach and advocate for many of the advisors who — like Phil — were considering careers in human services or academic leadership. Phil's proactive contact with subordinates, his transparent commitment to their success, and his steady availability won him deep loyalty among the resident advisors and launched a significant number of rewarding mentorships.
In the early 1970s, the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" became a hit song. Even today, people are moved by the touching lyrics, which speak of one person's availability and presence for another. Being there for another person speaks volumes, more than words or any other action could possibly convey.
Ask young people who they are likely to marry one day, and you'll probably get a range of romantic responses such as "the one person on Earth who was created just for me." But the scientific evidence offers a more seemingly mundane snapshot of how we select life partners: We love the ones we're with. That is, most of us will probably marry someone we have worked with, studied with, gone to church with, or otherwise encountered often. Social psychologists refer to the connection between simple proximity and attraction as the mere exposure effect (Bornstein, 1989). In a nutshell, human beings become emotionally bonded to those people they frequently encounter and get to know.
The mere exposure effect works much the same way in mentorship. Effective mentors are accessible and approachable. They make time for protégés, ensuring more frequent interactions and more opportunity for engagement. Wise mentors recognize that simply being there is often the key to creating an effective mentor-protégé bond. To that end, mentors seek out and "check in" with protégés, especially those who are reluctant by temperament or circumstance to approach the mentor. They manifest an attitude of invitation and interest that tends to encourage protégé contact and, when possible, they stop what they are doing to greet a protégé and address a question or concern.
Being there broadcasts respect for the protégé and commitment to the protégé's development. Being there increases the frequency of interaction, thereby deepening a mentor's understanding of the protégé's strengths, relative limitations, and career dreams. Being there also communicates something powerful about the mentor's priorities; making regular time available to a protégé suggests that the mentor sees the protégé as valuable and time with the protégé as worthwhile. Mentors should not underestimate the power of these communications. Finally, being there allows the mentor to model professionalism and then to impart wisdom in the course of day-to-day exchanges.
Availability, more than any other factor, also predicts whether formal organizational mentoring programs — those in which the organization assigns mentor and protégé — will ultimately be successful. Research on assigned relationships indicates that frequency of interaction is one of the best predictors of whether a mentorship will find purchase, gain traction, and ultimately blossom into something genuinely meaningful to both parties. Apparently, the "magic" of mentoring hinges mostly on exposure and frequency of interaction.
Be accessible to protégés.
Make time and interaction with protégés a priority.
Refuse to allow other commitments to intrude on designated mentoring time.
3 Know Your Protégés
Mary, a senior partner in a multinational law firm, noticed the exceptional work and unusual talent of Brian, a junior lawyer in her division. Mary then decided to mentor Brian. In the early phase of the mentorship, she watched Brian in various contexts and went out of her way to talk to him about his short-term plans, personal interests, and his career aspirations. She made arrangements to work with Brian on cases and gave him a variety of assignments in order for him to get a well-rounded applied education as a lawyer. Mary discerned Brian's strengths in the area of litigation and assigned him cases in this specialty. She also became proficient at "reading" Brian's nonverbal behavior, particularly his signals of distress. She responded to these indicators with inquiry and wise counsel — helping Brian to take stock of himself before working his way into a self-destructive frenzy.
Outstanding mentors study their protégés — learning about each one of them from the inside out. They actually become students of their protégés, attempting to master each one as they would attempt to master chemistry, history, or math. They discern the protégé's distinct mix of talents and vulnerabilities. Mentors observe protégés in various situations, listen to them, and show interest in their dreams and aspirations. They are especially attentive to the protégé's fears and personal challenges — acknowledging them as real but refusing to let the protégé see them as insurmountable.
What is the most important outcome of the deliberate study of a protégé? We propose that it is the ability to name the protégé's prominent gifts — naming them accurately, thoroughly, and always specific to the individual. Although each person you mentor will have a unique blend of talents, and perhaps one or more area of notable capability, many protégés are not as certain about their gifts as you initially might think. Protégés often err in either overestimating or underestimating their abilities. Sometimes their self-appraisals are flat out off track.
In naming the protégé's gifts and talents — making explicit what is often implicit — a powerful but necessary shift occurs in the protégé's conception of him or herself. The shift sets the course for a more promising career. But the neophyte requires the seasoned mentor's validation before the course is set into motion. Once protégés see themselves for who they really are, they are then in a position to build on their strengths and overcome their weaknesses. These are the results of seeing themselves through the sharp lens of their mentor.
To obtain an insightful understanding of protégés, mentors need to have a personal relationship with them. And the type of understanding of which we speak is more than knowing a protégé's name, rank, and serial number. It is a knowledge garnered through substantial observation, frequent interaction, and intense involvement — a real relationship. Research shows that the frequency and quality of face-to-face interaction predict mentorship success. This means that excellent mentors are accessible and available. But they also need to exhibit the human skills of listening, caring, communicating openly, and giving constructive feedback. To conclude, taking the time to truly know protégés is arguably the most important of the mentoring virtues.
Deliberately study and learn about your protégés.
Identify and label protégés' talents and strengths and then communicate these insights to them.
Acknowledge protégé fears and comparative weaknesses without allowing them to distract or overwhelm.
Look for patterns in protégés that occur across various settings, relationships, and type of assignment.
Above all, spend time with protégés and understand mentoring as a relationship.
4 Expect Excellence (and Nothing Less)
As a second-year Ph.D. student in a large psychology graduate program, Cliff began doing research under the supervision of Dr. Wright, an eminent scholar in Cliff's area of interest. From the outset, Dr. Wright was supportive and encouraging but simultaneously challenging. He made it clear to Cliff early on that he would only support Cliff to present and publish work that was exceptionally well-conceived and painstakingly polished. When Cliff's work fell short of that expectation, Dr. Wright pulled him aside and said, "Cliff, I'm not here to do mediocre work and neither are you. This work is not indicative of the scholar I know you to be. Try it again." Although sometimes he was annoyed or disheartened by his mentor's stringent requirements, Cliff was about to establish an impressive track record of publications in his field. Upon earning his doctorate and beginning his career as a newly minted psychologist, he was surprised to discover how much he had internalized his mentor's work ethic. Cliff himself became known as an exacting and careful researcher, and this reputation paid off in the form of marked success in grant funding and scholarly publication.
No one starts out as a gold medalist, not even an exceptional athlete who has an abundance of natural talent. An athlete develops into a superstar through hard work and practice, and this is true of top performers in every field. But excellence also must be expected. How do mentors set expectations of excellence? And, how does a mentor help protégés differentiate excellence from perfection? There are several crucial steps in generating excellence without disheartening or overwhelming protégés.
First, mentors never settle for mediocrity. People tend to perform at the level of their own internalized standards. Often they settle for less. Settling for mediocrity undermines performance because it lowers expectations. Paradoxically, most people are more capable than they think. They need a change in expectations. Here is an important rule: Mentors should expect more of their protégés than their protégés typically expect of themselves. This raises their expectations and lifts their performance.
Second, mentors communicate expectations for excellence. Research on parenting, supervising, and mentoring consistently shows that juniors rise to meet the expectations of mentors — particularly when the mentorship is characterized by trust, support, and mutual respect. Mentors provide a strong sense of inspirational motivation. They communicate high performance expectations
Excerpted from The Elements of Mentoring by W. Brad Johnson, Charles R. Ridley. Copyright © 2008 W. Brad Johnson and Charles R. Ridley. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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Table of Contents
Features 65 chapters covering all aspects of mentoring.
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