Mentoring is a life-changing part of development. The goal is to coach and guide people through life transitions and structures, focusing on the “being” rather than the “doing.”
In many ways, mentoring resembles a parent who lets a child learn how to feed herself. It can be downright messy! Food ends up on the face, in the hair, on the floor, on Mommy and Daddy—and occasionally in the mouth. Milk is spilled so frequently that a whole industry evolved to provide those nearly spill-proof cups! Parents have two choices: Let their child thrash around and learn how to manipulate a spoon, or continue to feed her themselves. But really there is only one good choice—as is true with mentoring. You just can’t spoon-feed a child forever. Neither should you artificially prop up a work associate who must learn to handle responsibilities. You need genuine concern, patience, and a great sense of humor, whether you are teaching a child eating skills or mentoring an employee in how to handle customer complaints. But it’s worth the effort. People committed to growing together through thick and thin accomplish great things.
Research has shown that leaders at all levels need mentoring. Even though you may be mentoring others successfully, you need a mentor too. Just put yourself in the protégé’s shoes.
There are two issues that we want you to be especially cognizant of:
- Vulnerability. You must open yourself up to your mentor by being “woundable,” teachable, and receptive to criticism. The essence of vulnerability is a lack of pride. You cannot be proud and vulnerable at the same time. It takes a focus on humility to be vulnerable.
- Accountability. Commit yourself wholeheartedly to your mentor (or protégé) and put some teeth in the relationship by establishing goals and expected behavior.
Accountability should include:
- “Being willing to explain one’s actions.
- Being open, unguarded, and nondefensive about one’s motives.
- Answering for one’s life.
- Supplying the reasons why.”*
Like vulnerability, accountability cannot exist alongside pride. Pride must take a backseat to a person’s need to know how she or he is doing and to be held accountable by someone who is trusted. People who are accountable are humble enough to allow people to come close and support them, and, when they drift off course, they welcome the act of restoration without the pride that says, “I don’t need anyone.”
Be vulnerable and open to being held accountable. Leaders at all levels need mentoring, and you need a mentor too.
* From Dropping Your Gaurd by Charles R. Swindoll