Great mentoring relationships seem to have a natural ease that requires little effort yet yields valuable outcomes. What I’ve observed is that beneath this ease, mentoring partners have established and practice three principles that nurture the relationship itself as well as the outcomes – being curious, conscious and committed.
Adopt a stance of being curious about everything – your partner, your goals, your partner’s goals and progress towards those goals. Get to know each other, both past experience and who s/he is now. Ask questions withholding judgment, interpretation and assumptions. Assumptions are the land of make believe. Find out what’s true for her/him and be wildly fascinated about her/his perspective. What new information, ideas and opportunities are lurking in a different point of view? Be reflective instead of reflexive in your responses. Problem solve together.
Being conscious in the relationship means being intentional about the parameters you establish in the beginning and how you will sustain the relationship over time. It’s often assumptions about logistics that cause relationship breakdowns. Make the first activity of your mentoring relationship a conversation about how to work together. Create partnership agreements that include explicit expectations and boundaries for working together such as preferred mode of communication (phone, text, video, email, in person), frequency of meetings, duration of the relationship and confidentiality of conversations.
Being conscious also means being aware of reactions and feelings to what’s going on during discussions and interactions. After every meeting, check in with each other and ask, “What’s working well? What did you learn today? How can we make this relationship even better?” Remember to maintain a stance of curiosity and really listen to what your partner has to say.
In every mentoring program training, I ask participants what concerns they have as they begin their mentoring partnership. One hundred percent of the time, the number one concern is prioritizing and making time to get together with their mentoring partner. My response to the time concern is simple. Whether a formal program or an informally established mentoring relationship, when you signed up or entered into the relationship, you set the expectation to show up. To make time. So honour your commitment. Make sure the meetings happen and reschedule promptly if a change is necessary. Communicate regularly as per your partnership agreement. Engage in the learning opportunity by articulating and clarifying your goals on an ongoing basis. Participate fully.
My favourite activity for increasing positivity and commitment in mentoring is for partners to regularly tell each other what they appreciate about each other. “What I appreciate about you is….” and be sincere. Don’t make it up. Tell her/him what’s true.
Mentoring is about learning. Maximizing the learning in a mentoring partnership requires engaging intentionally in both the relationship itself as well as the goals and desired outcomes for your time together. Curiosity, commitment and conscious attention to the relationship are the sustaining practices that create genuine connection, greater ease and optimal outcomes.
As you reflect on your most memorable mentoring relationships, what actions, activities, behaviours and practices contributed to the positive outcomes?