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December 2, 2012

Mentoring

Mike, and I have been privileged to have had many mentors in our lives over the years.  Mentors are wonderful to have for several reasons. From our experience, there are a couple of reasons that really stand out to us.  One is that as a student you can grow much more quickly any time the ratio of  teacher to pupil  is one-to-one, or one-to-a few.  The smaller ratio of teacher to student allows the teacher to target the student’s needs more efficiently. The other benefit is that growth can and will take place much more quickly because the student can learn to avoid certain mistakes that the teacher had to learn the hard way.  We’ve still had difficult things to walk through on our journey through life, but far fewer than if we’d have had to learn everything the hard way.

Mentors are helpful with academics.  Tutors, for example, are great resources for students needing or desiring a little more help in comprehending various subjects in their academic pursuits.  A wise student will carefully seek out and select someone in whom they feel they can trust and have confidence.  Knowing that their  mentor cares about, and respects them is probably the most critical or pivotal factor for the success of the relationship.

Each of us are mentoring someone in our own spheres of influence whether or not we recognize it.  When you are at work, there are people around you who are observing how you walk through your day– how you navigate through and accomplish your tasks.  Noticing how you interact with other people, whether other employees, or those with whom you conduct business, is happening even while completely unaware.
If you are a parent, your children are learning all kinds of things from you everyday.

The best way for someone to learn how to do something is by spending time with one who knows more than they do.  “More is caught than taught,” they say.  So much more is being learned than what may be apparent on the surface.  Mentoring someone is a responsibility.  It’s also something deliberately done.  There is a purpose for it.   So, does that mean a mentor has to be perfect?  No.  Does it mean they know and can teach another everything?  No.

Two critical points for a mentor to keep in mind are that mistakes will be made, and the student will probably surpass the mentor’s skills and also be mentored by another or others.

No human ever lives mistake-free.  The issue isn’t doing everything perfectly.  The biggest thing a mentor can teach is what to do when mistakes happen.  Even when a mentor deliberately makes a choice and carries out something that is wrong, it’s what they do to try to right the wrong that will significantly impact their student.
No one can teach someone everything.  Each of us is limited in time and knowledge.  But, each of us knows something that can help another.  Focusing on sharing your strengths is key.  Your student will also see the weaknesses, but those will serve the student well.  They’ll learn perfection is not the issue, and you’ll stay off the pedestal they may have  been tempted to place you on.

If a connection isn’t made with the heart of the mentor, the student will not stay under them. The student most desires to know that you care about their success and you aren’t threatened by their progression toward the day when they no longer need you.  This brings up issues in a potential mentor that need to be looked at and dealt with so that this relationship can function healthily.  Mentoring is not enabling.  A true mentor’s heart is to help equip the student to do for his or herself.  You are in their life for a time, for a purpose, and then you’ll send them on.  Hopefully, they will do for someone else what you have modeled and done for them.  And, so the cycle can continue.

© Vanetta Stephens

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