Practical Strategies for Mentoring

Happy Spring, everyone!  Depending on where you live, there may or may not be signs outdoors that spring is actually here.  Nevertheless, rest assured that the vernal equinox did occur on Monday, and the outward signs of a internal change in the environment will become increasingly apparent.

The change in season is similar to our life changes.  Sometimes there are changes happening in our minds, bodies, souls, or spirits, but they haven’t yet come to the surface. For much of our life journey, we are involved in watching these shifts unfold in ourselves. As creatures made in the creative image of the Most High God, we also get to participate in unfolding these shifts in others.  In my last blog, I discussed a rationale for giving back through mentoring.  Today, I will further elaborate on the practical strategies we can implement to maximize the impact of our mentoring.  By the way, this conversation is not just for the chronologically advanced.  Anyone who has gained skills or wisdom in any area can share those gifts with others.

Chances are, as you continue to perfect your craft, you will receive more and more requests for mentoring.  At times, these requests may seem burdensome.  In the same way that you set aside money for particular purposes, however, you can earmark your time for building mentoring relationships.  Here are some key strategies for successful mentoring:

  • Prior to meeting your mentee for the first time, ask questions to help her clarify what she is looking for in the mentoring relationship. This clarity will help you both use your time most efficiently.
  • Listen carefully with all of your senses to the context of your mentee. What is her story? What experiences does she bring to the table of her goals?  What strengths and weaknesses will help or hinder her pursuits?
  • By the close of your time together, help your mentee develop an action plan. What is her next goal, and what resources and strategies have you identified together that will help her achieve it?  This step is vital because it articulates the active engagement of the mentee with the goods that you have already provided.
  • Communicate the extent of your availability to your mentee so that she knows what to expect and what not to expect. Balance compassion with practicality.  Perhaps you are open to answering brief e-mails as she runs into stumbling blocks while executing her action plan.  Maybe you are willing to respond to a quick phone call on the way to work in the mornings.  It is probably wise to establish the expectation that the next face-to-face meeting can occur after your mentee has completed or made significant progress on her action plan.
  • If you find yourself inundated with mentoring requests, consider innovative methods for offering group mentoring. Perhaps you can reserve a space in your office or at a local restaurant for a monthly or bimonthly get together where you not only share your wisdom, but allow for the cross-pollination of creative ideas from multiple sharp minds, like iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17)!  Some friends who are also mental health professionals and I coordinated a two-hour program called “Choosing the Right Path” at our local HBCU for students who were interested in the mental health subdisciplines.  We advertised the program to faculty across our region and encouraged them to share the news with their students.  Our program included refreshments, a panel of experts from each subdiscipline (in this instance, social work, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and psychology), subdiscipline-specific break-out sessions, and handouts.  Students who attended expressed their gratitude for the program, and we felt gratified with the hope that we had helped those students choose the best path to attain their career goals.  In some cases, we have even continued follow-up contact with some of the participants.
  • Keep a list of referrals handy. Mentoring does not always require your direct presence as much as directing traffic.  Perhaps there is a colleague who is more involved than you in the area of your mentee’s interest, and would be willing to field an e-mail from this mentee.  Maybe you have some professional organizations that can advance your mentee on her journey.  If your mentee needs more emotional support than you can manage, refer her to a mental health professional for those needs.  Remember, you can refer someone to additional resources without ending your relationship.  It’s up to you.

These strategies for mentoring can assist you in extending your time and expertise to many others through healthy boundaries.  Sharing your passion for what you do can result in tremendous results for those who sit at your feet, and can also provide refreshing inspiration that reminds you why you do what you do.  Who can you influence with your passion in the next week? Think about it…

À votre santé (“To your health”)

 

Dr. T

Tonya Armstrong

 

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