This post is a continuation of the Mentoring discussion begun HERE. Orient yourself with a review of the first in the series. Continue on with courage and discernment.
Mentoring Is and Is Not
Discern potential mentors based on a review of compatibility with your goals, an assessment of their capacity to mentor, and categorization of your support system. Discernment is perhaps the most important of adult skills. Even more critical than autonomy or self-sufficiency, discernment keeps you working to your advantage, limiting wasted relationships, and maintaining a grounded self in the face of progress and achievements. Develop discernment by paying attention, practicing sustainable vulnerability, and developing your own authenticity. Simply stated, accept that you have something to learn from others. Commit with trust to the lesson. And, never make the same mistake twice.
Mentoring is not blindly committing. You will first want to have an informed sense of your own goals. Beyond graduation and securing your degree, conceptualize what you want your career to be about. Identify the problems that you would like to solve. Brainstorm methods you could use to address the problems or research them further. When you find a potential mentor, inquire about their interests, practice experiences, and research.
Mentoring is also not unfounded expectation. Levels exist that relate to the capacity of the mentor to support your goals. Your basic expectation should be that the mentor will answer your questions. This requires you to have an unclouded vision for what your goals are. Do not expect the mentor to guide your career as their protégé. Expect instead to seek the knowledge you need when you need it.
Other levels are available when capacity meets synergy. A level up from the basic expectation may include a mentor that you can spend some time observing their habits and operations. A level up from this observation level may include a mentor who includes you in activities or projects. Still another level would involve a mentor who actively informs you of opportunities related to your goals. Mentoring is more than just writing you a recommendation letter. Arguably, the mentor is the opportunity you want others to write you a recommendation for.
Mentoring is not an exclusive contract. One of the critical lessons of mentoring is to engage multiple mentors. Because various levels exist, you will require multiple mentors to meet your development needs. You will even grow out of mentors as you develop and your needs for expertise, insight, and opportunity change. Resist the temptation to limit your enthusiastic engagement to one mentor. Follow your same discernment process but remain open to a roster of professional supports that provide at several points of need.
The Proof is in the Product
Misunderstandings about the nature of mentoring and abuses of the relationship have many suspicious of the intimacy suggested by mentorship today. If this is not your experience, count yourself lucky. I have written about the relationship that develops during the mentoring process and its similarity to other relationships. The bottom line is that not all mentors know how to mentor and not all students can comprehend what it is to be mentored.
The focus of all sustainable mentoring interactions will be the product. The product is the measuring gauge of the value of the relationship and the evaluation of its sustainability. Stated simply, if a mentoring relationship does not produce a product consistent with the goals of the relationship, it is a failed relationship.
One of the best ways I have found to manage this proof is to identify the goals and deliverables of the relationship early in the relationship. Sit down with your project mentors and decide on goal and deliverables that fit the needs of both parties. If possible, script some waypoints and agree upon a schedule of interaction—times when you expect phone calls, responsiveness to emails or text messages, protocols for out-of-town trips, and any funding expectations.
[Continue reading to map Committing to Produce.]