A mentoring relationship becomes truly powerful when you intentionally engage experiences that stretch your professional “muscles.” Getting out of your comfort zone and engaging in learning exercises that actually challenge you, will help you grow in new directions. The following examples are often components of formal mentoring programs:
—Activities in which both success and failure are possible and the outcome is obvious to others.
—Opportunities that require assertive “take charge” leadership.
—Assignments that involve working with new people, a lot of people, or both.
—Projects that require influencing people, activities, or factors over which you have no direct authority.
—Work that can be closely watched by people whose opinions count.
—Tasks that are intellectually challenging and involve a lot of variety.
You can ask your mentor for such skills exercises, and/or you can invite your mentees to “muscle up!” by developing new skills from learning challenges like these. Similar skills exercises can become part of your life-long-learning; a sort of personal Olympics in which you “push the envelope” of your previous abilities!
If you drive much at all, you’ve had the experience of hearing a siren wailing, seeing flashing lights, knowing you MUST pull over very soon to get out of the way of the police, fire or rescue vehicle.
Working in a mentoring relationship can be like that too.
You’ve been speeding along, making great progress and then, over time, you loose energy. You feel pulled over by the side of the road. You know you’re getting warning lights, but you have a bit of confusion. Your mentoring relationship may need life support and somehow you think YOU may be the problem.
One of the biggest obstacles to a successful mentoring relationship IS internal. Constant self-criticism can drain the blood right out of any potent relationship. “I can’t.” It’ll never work.” “It’s too challenging.” “I’m not ready.” “They won’t like it if I do that.” “I never do that very well.” “This could make me different than others.”
These are all wounding words, and they can cut to the core and halt progress. The best remedy is to drive straight forward and ask these questions to confront your inner loudmouth critic: “Am I really helpless?” “Do I actually NEED to escape this next challenge?” “Why?” “Is that really true?” “Do I remember my energy level when I began this?” “What motivated me then?” “Am I ambivalent now? Why?” What could I gain if I drive straight forward?” “What would I get that I don’t have now?”
Having some self-doubt is all too human. But if your roadblock is steady self-defeating chatter within, it’s time for first aid–give yourself aid, first. This applies to mentors AND mentees. Human development is a journey loaded with challenges and obstacles–but the rewards can be SO satisfying–for those who mentor intentionally and for those who apply themselves as mentees.