Mentors Who Hate Mentoring
Jun 22, 2009 by Don Payne | 0 Comments
As mentoring has been recovered (and it is a recovery of something lost, not the invention of something new) it has emerged into a vocabulary, a research discipline and an industry. It has also acquired a certain persona. One of the definitions of mentoring that I use when I do mentoring training in the public sector comes from Lois Zachary’s book Creating a Mentoring Culture. She defines mentoring in terms of "helping a mentee work toward achievement of clear and mutually defined learning goals" (p. 3). I can make a long argument for the value of that definition, especially the "clear and mutually defined goals" part. Without diluting the importance of clear focus, it is time to validate the powerful mentoring relationships that might not appear on that finely tuned radar.
My wife Sharon is an incredible mentor, but she hates mentoring! Let me clarify.
This has forced me to think more deeply about what counts as good mentoring and what counts as "focus" and "goals". I called Sharon an incredible mentor because I have seen how influential she has been with countless people. How? Well, she has an uncanny way of loving and affirming them. That is so uniquely her that I can’t really describe it beyond that. She also listens to people and empathizes with them so well that they find hope and healing (and she has no counseling training at all). People feel so very seen and valued by her. They grow!
All this exposes something deeply human about mentoring. When we touch the core of each other’s humanity, something very holy takes place. We actually move toward a humanity for which God created us when He made us in His image. So, perhaps there are goals or horizons embedded in our humanness even if we can’t name them or write them on a goal sheet.
On the surface that may appear to undermine the emphasis that so many of us place on identifying clear growth goals for mentoring relationships. Not really. When I look at it a bit closer, it occurs to me that clear (even written) goals are only as good as their consistency with the goals embedded in our humanity. At its best, stating clear goals brings into clearer view something we already need.
When we move toward others, stay alongside them, enter their world, love them well, make our wisdom and experience and faith and courage available to them, we are mentoring at a deeply human level whether we set specific goals or not. I remain committed to importance of self-awareness and clear (even if flexible) goal setting. Whatever one’s personality and style, it can be an important exercise in learning to think more clearly about our lives and growth. However, let’s not polarize focused, overtly goal-driven mentoring with those forms that seem to have no goals. Something powerful is happening in those relationships, even if it’s difficult to explain.
This might be worth a conversation. Your thoughts?