Saturday, January 05, 2013

Mentoring: A Delicate And Dangerous Process

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Mentoring is a very delicate and highly dangerous process. Before you embark upon a mentoring mission or engagement, be certain of your intentions and expectations, and be certain of your student's intentions and expectations. Self-knowledge and the ability to know precisely the student's truest reasons for requesting mentoring from you (via observation of verbal and non-verbal messaging as well as by intensive, candid questioning (which involves a dedicated investment of time) are crucial analysis tools.

Expectation management must be established. Rules of decorum must be drawn up. Differences in communications style (i.e., one person's course correction might lead to the other person's being personally insulted or feeling alienated) must be brought up and clarified at the relationship's outset. And boundaries for approachable areas for coaching, teaching and commentary must be drawn.

If the mentoring relationship doesn't "feel" intuitively correct after an adequate investment of time, decline the invitation or engagement. The best intentions can collide with massive egos (such as mine), and hypersensitivity to end in disappointment or disaster. Don't toy at being a mentor if you are not sufficiently experienced or expert.

Before you play at being a mentor, understand:

1) Feelings will be involved;

2) The rules of civility must be observed;

3) Defined, specific goals (the narrower and better-qualified, the better) must be established at the outset;

4) You will be in a position where you can cause as much harm as good if you are not sensitive to the mentee's feelings;

5) You must be prepared to withdraw diplomatically and delicately from the engagement if you are not achieving your agreed goals - an irreconcilable clash of personal styles or egos, or a lack of receptiveness on the part of either party will create harm. Observe the Oath Of Hippocrates - "first, do no harm."

I will have to terminate a mentoring relationship because I personally failed to observe the basic guidelines which I have set forth above. While this person will remain a business associate and a friend, I cannot be his mentor. He is quite intelligent, a rugged individualist, quite sensitive and my abrasive style of communication offends him. Reciprocally, he is so focused on teaching me how to teach him, and to change my methods to suit his preferences, that a storm is appearing on the horizon.

Following is a slightly edited email which I was compelled to send this person today:

Letter From Mentor To Student

At this moment in my career, and in the evolution of our relationship, I will not personally be able to deploy much of what you have to offer (and your offerings are many) despite your obvious spirit of generosity and interest in increasing the efficiency of our communications by your tools, technologies and methods.

I have my own style of communication, inspiration and prioritization, which you will become familiar with soon, should you choose to remain appropriately attentive.

My initial mentoring steps regarding you, as the object of my efforts, has become quite apparent. I had failed in establishing these things at the outset, and this failure will only serve to distance us through unintended clashes:

1) failing to fully inform you of my personal and technical priorities, as well as my critical time constraints; and in 2) suggesting what your priorities should be (in the interest of your success, as you had only briefly described it to me -- I made many wrong assumptions about your motivation and truest desires) and coordinating the two.I will say this:

If you throw too much in the way of suggestions and communications (in your customary manner) to a busy, bottom-line executive by whom you are asking to be mentored, you will find him to be far more turned off than turned on. I will continue to communicate in my way, which might simply be too offensive to you. And I must respect that --

When you sit in the classroom of life, and you've given another person the podium and responsibility of being your guide, it is counterproductive and ultimately creates alienation when you forcibly and continually try to educate him as to better communicate with and serve you: especially when his mission is to educate you regarding so many things that involve communications and personal messaging style.

This type of conduct is even looked upon by some as disrespect and inflexibility on the part of the student, even if the student has the best of intentions, as I know that you do.

You are a good and extraordinarily intelligent man.

This is my last correspondence to you before we next speak.

I would suggest that you read it very, very carefully, and that you understand its implications for the future of our working and personal relationship. I believe that we must step away for a moment to take sock in what we are doing to determine if this mentoring process can be either re-defined and repaired, or terminated.

Perhaps it would be better if we narrowed our focus, and took things item by item. In this way we could work together, preserve our valuable friendship, and be of the highest and greatest benefit to each other.

As always, thank you for reading me, re-tweeting me and completing me.

Douglas E. Castle

for The Sending Signals Blog


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