On Mentoring…

Last night’s #lrnchat focused on Mentoring, and a question was initially very difficult for me to answer: “Who are your mentors?” It wasn’t until we got to the third, bigger question that things became clearer, because that’s when, as a group, we started talking about defining what mentoring is, in contrast of influencing someone and even coaching.  The scale I submitted to the group was essentially this:

  • Influence comes from sharing ideas or modeling behaviors, but the person influencing others does so without a vested interest in the change of the influenced. That’s not to say influencers don’t care or are amoral; it’s simply an objective fact.  Influencers may not even need to know who they’re influencing.
  • Coaching involves some kind of social contract where the coach has a vested interest in a change or growth within a limited scope.  This could be a skill or a behavior; it might be a set of skills or a set of behaviors.  Coaches are often role models, so they may have a wide degree of influence, but a coach’s primary investment in the coached is through the lens of the skill(s) and/or behavior(s) they signed on with.
  • Mentorship involves a deeper social contract.  A mentor has a vested interest in the mentee‘s change or growth as a person, which infers there’s really no limit to the behaviors or skills involved.  A mentor may coach to certain things, but they are invested in the person he/she is mentoring; not the skill for which they can coach.

Each of the above generally (but not always) involves increasing time and effort commitments.  I throw myself under the bus as an example.  I blog and tweet.  Sometimes, people take an idea I float out on the internets and they run with it as their own.  This pleases me a great deal, and I’m very interested to see how he/she takes it to another level — but I do this without regard for any one person or group’s particular change in thinking or behavior.  Many times, it’s completely opaque as to what, if any influence I have on others — but certainly people are influenced by what I blog and tweet.

As a side note, we can even talk about the technicalities of measuring influence virtually, because we have things like retweets and pingbacks and comments, etc.  But that’s not where I’m going…

In my day job, I was brought into the organization a few years ago to help consult on a specific set of problems: namely, getting the learning function to design, develop and manage E-leanring “better.”  This involved me coaching a large but pretty well defined set of skills to a set of Instructional Designers, and it involved me coaching a set of skills to project managers within the organization.  I also needed to coach people managers and IT engineers with some skills, too.  Now, I obviously care about people, so I became interested in the lives of those I work with — but as a coach, I was not interested (nor would I be welcomed) in coaching aspects of their job (or life) that had nothing to do with E-Learning.  In addition to the work agreement that brought me in the door, there was a social contract that was established.

Now over time, working with people, I’ve helped develop long-term relationships with individuals that I’ve signed on as a mentor.  I’m not a great mentor, but I do try to be better at it with every exchange.  I currently have one person whom I’m invested in her success; there’s no tangible reward in it for me other than the satisfaction I get from marveling in her achievements.  Kelly (no last names) is a brilliant multimedia producer who took an opportunity to pursue a Master’s abroad, and is coming back to the States.  Now she’s ready to consult on information design.  Even writing about her growth brings a smile to my face, because I remember meeting her two-months after she graduated college where she was a multimedia producer at an E-learning company, and I was hired in to be her boss — but I could tell she didn’t need someone to manage her work or time; she needed someone to remove obstacles for her.  I bore witness to her growth on the job, and even when I left that gig, I remained invested in her growth.

Side note: I say I’m not a great mentor, and that’s because I’m not as available as I’d like to be as a mentor.

Back to the first question, at first during #lrnchat I had a very difficult time identifying my mentors.  But clearly I’ve had mentors in the past.

Scouting (Boy Scouts of America, at least back in my day) is probably where my models of mentoring come from.  My dad mentored me.  I can say that up until high school (yes, I was still in Scouting in high school) my scouting leaders were all very vested in my growth as a person, in addition to coaching specific skills.

My first master teacher in student teaching was very vested in my development.  It wasn’t just coaching — she provided the constructive feedback I needed to thrive in education, beyond the classroom.

I’ve been blessed to have a lot of coaches who have had a lot of influence on me as a professional.  There may be mentors emerging for me even now, but the whole Jedi Master/Padawan thing is still too informal (for me).  As a mentor, with Kelly, she knows that I’m invested in her growth.  All she owes me in return is that she grows 🙂

4 replies on “On Mentoring…”