Mentors can be useful in getting around organizational barriers and in climbing the ladder of success. As sometime kingmakers, they make promises that can carry a certain seduction.
They can also add a bartering, sinister component to an otherwise promising relationship. The “You scratch my back, and …” approach to mentoring can infuse a scorekeeping dimension that is detrimental to both parties.
Similarly, when mentors feel their proteges need them, they lay the groundwork for a relationship based on dependence. Many mentor-protege partnerships begin with some degree of dependence, but the goal is to build a strong interdependent relationship. Great mentors understand the qualities of a mentor-protege relationship focused on discovery and learner independence, then learn to be living, breathing models of those qualities.
First and foremost, great mentoring is a partnership, and partnership starts with a balanced alliance grounded in mutual interests, interdependence and respect. Energy is given early to role clarity and communication of expectations; there is a spirit of generosity and acceptance rather than a focus on rules and rights. Partners recognize their differences while respecting their common needs and objectives.
Countless books extol the benefits of clear and accurate communication. Partnership communication is also clean, characterized by the highest level of integrity and pure (the truth and nothing but the truth). When a mentor works hard to give feedback to a protege in a way that is frank and compassionately straightforward, it is in pursuit of clean communication. When a mentor implores the protege for candid feedback, it is a plea for clean communication. The path of learning begins with the mentor’s genuineness and candor.
Trust begins with experience; experience begins with a leap of faith. Perfect monologues, even with airtight proof and solid support documentation, do not foster a climate of experimentation and risk-taking. They foster passive acceptance, not personal investment.
If proteges see their mentors taking risks, they will follow suit. A trusting partnership is one in which error is accepted as a necessary step on the path from novice to master.
Partnership-driven mentors exude generosity. There is a giver orientation that finds enchantment in sharing wisdom. As the “Father of Adult Learning” Malcolm Knowles said, “Great trainers [and mentors] love learning and are happiest when they are around its occurrence.” Such relationships are celebratory and affirming. As the mentor gives, the protege reciprocates, and abundance begins to characterize the relationship. There is never a possessive, credit-seeking dimension.
Great mentoring partnerships are filled with passion; they are guided by mentors with deep feelings and a willingness to communicate those feelings. Passionate mentors recognize that effective learning has a vitality about it that is not logical, rational or orderly.
Such mentors get carried away with the spirit of the partnership and their feelings about the learning process. Some may exude emotion quietly, but their cause-driven energy is clearly present. In a nutshell, mentors not only love the learning process, but also they love what the protege can become and they passionately demonstrate that devotion.
Mentoring and learning take courage. Great mentors are allies of courage; they cultivate a partnership of courageousness. They take risks with learning, showing boldness in their efforts, and elicit courage in proteges by example.
Effective mentors must be clean in their learner dealings, not false, manipulative or greedy. Competent mentors must be honest and congruent in their communications and actions. They must not steal their learners’ opportunities for struggle or moments of glory. Great mentors refrain from coveting their learners’ talents or falsifying their own. They must honor the learner just as they honor the process of mutual learning.
Partnerships are the expectancy of the best in our abilities, attitudes and aspirations. In a learning partnership, the mentor is not only helping the protege but also continually communicating a belief that he or she is a fan of the learner. Partnerships are far more than good synergy. Great partnerships go beyond “greater than” to a realm of unforeseen worth. And worth in a mentoring partnership is laced with the equity of balance, the clarity of truth, the security of trust, the affirmation of abundance, the energy of passion, the boldness of courage and the grounding of ethics.