Monday, October 12, 2009

On Mentoring

Todays discussion is on and about mentoring.

The original Mentor was an older friend of Odysseus. He watched over his family and household while Oddyseus was off fighting the Trojan war and eventually finding his way back home. But mentoring today has little to do with deceased greek guys.

The most common definition of mentorship is a relationship between an experienced person and a less experienced person in order to help, assist, or groom the less experienced person for future success.

It sounds a lot like the same skill set used in parenting. You cannot do everything for your mentee. That just makes them dependent on you to accomplish their job. The main thing they learn is that you will do the job if they do not. Mentees, however, are older and smart enough to know when they are being manipulated. The language barrier doesn't make it any easy either.

You can make recommendations or suggestions, but these work best if you bring them into a conversation and ultimately make them seem like your mentees idea. You have to allow them to come up with their own ideas and occasionally, although not catastrophically fail. That is the biggest hurdle I have seen here. It is difficult for us as Americans to allow anything to fail at any level. There are many 'mentors' here who simply will not allow their mentees to fail at all. I still remember in training at Ft Riley they stressed time and again that even a mediocre Afghan plan is still better than the best American plan.

That sounds very noble and laudable. The bottom line is that like our children, mentees also count on us to bail them out when their plans don't work. That is what I spent today doing. Our team was due to get out and look at some more facilities around the region today. Instead we got a frantic call last night and spent the better part of the day trying to fix a problem which will probably take several more days to properly sort out. What's more is that we knew early in the process that their plan would probably fail and advised them to choose a different path! Patience is a virtue. I do believe that we have increased our mentees trust and level of rapport since we are standing by them despite it all.

I guess like parenting there doesn't seem like there is a whole lot of glory in cleaning up 'messes'. But if your mentee learns from the experience, and can eventually operate on his own then that is the measure of success.

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