Creating Mentoring Relationships
by Jean Saul
"How did you become interested in United Methodist Women?"
This often-asked question sets most members of the organization to thinking about the women who kept urging them to attend, asked them to help with a job or were there to answer questions. Those women may have been mentors.
I definitely name Lorraine as one of my mentors. We sat together on a long bus ride to an Assembly. I plied her with questions about United Methodist Women, and she graciously answered each one. I wasnít searching for a mentor on my way to Assembly, but I had questions, and Lorraine had knowledge of the organization, ability to listen to my ideas and insight to challenge me with new ideas from her experience.
Who was a mentor for you? Have you been a mentor for someone? Would you like to have a mentor? Do you have the qualities of a good mentor?
Ann returns from Assembly full of enthusiasm and ideas. She wants to be active in mission but isnít sure where to begin. Pat invites Ann lunch to learn about her interests and talents, then Pat introduces Ann to members of United Methodist Women who share her interests. Pat and Ann visit several mission projects in their city to get hands-on mission experience. After Ann gets settled into a project, Pat checks in with her every couple of months to see how she is doing.
Sally has a deep interest in prison ministries and wants to investigate the needs in a local prison. She knows Chris has experience with prison ministries so Sally asks Chris for guidance. Chris agrees to help Sally get started.
When Sally encounters resistance from her United Methodist Women unit to a new direction for this ministry, she meets with Chris to discuss strategies for negotiating a potential crisis. Chrisí experience in the United Methodist Women and the prison ministry allows her to be a bridge in the situation.
Pat and Ann, and Chris and Sally are examples of good mentor-mentee relationships. Pat and Chris were available to listen, to point the way, to offer suggestions and to support Ann and Sally. Ann and Sally were open to accepting and requesting support from Pat and Chris.
A mentorís job is to help the mentee reach her goals. The relationship is mentee-centered. The mentor listens, sometimes challenges, offers insights and encourages.
A mentoring relationship needs reasonably frequent and consistent contact. As a dialogue, it is interactive. Both partners contribute, change and grow. An informal mentoring relationship often just happens, like on my bus ride. Someone takes an interest in us, or we in them. A formal mentoring relationship has an acknowledged commitment of time and energy for the purpose of guiding and sharing. Both types can be for specific projects or for extended time periods.
Mentoring is not counseling, being a buddy or a parent, nor is it telling the mentee "how it is done in United Methodist Women." Poor mentoring can be worse than no mentoring. Poor mentoring damages self-confidence and drains enthusiasm.
Finding a mentor
If you would like to have a mentor, look around you. What do you want to learn? The best mentors are women who know the things you want to learn. When considering a woman as a mentor, ask:
For a formal relationship, ask her if she will be your mentor. Explain as best you can, what you want from her, including such things as the kind of direction and time involved.
If she says yes, then you can decide how often to meet and what directions to go. Remember, mentoring grows and unfolds as participants learn and change together.
Being a mentor
If you are asked to be a mentor, be honored to be held in such high regard by another. Then examine your time commitments and your attitudes and actions. Do you have the qualities to be a good mentor?
A mentor can significantly influence another personís life. Time and energy is necessary for such a relationship. You must have an open mind, and may need to set aside your goals and interests to focus on those of the mentee. Listening to the mentee actively and without judgment is important. Confidentiality must be maintained.
A mentor within United Methodist Women must be knowledgeable and supportive of the goals and Purpose of the organization. You must be willing to share your United Methodist Women wisdom in a non-threatening manner.
You may be called upon to challenge your unitís mission team to change as you advocate for the mentee. While most mission teams have some flexibility and receptiveness to new ideas, members may resort to, "We have never done it that way," or ĎWho will come if we change?í"
In this situation, the mentor can help the team see the advantages of supporting the mentee and trying something new.
A key characteristic of a good mentor is her ability to encourage of the menteeís self-confidence. Those who have been mentored well say the most helpful aspect is the "I-know-you-can-do-ití attitude of the mentor.
If you think you can do this, being a mentor will be a valuable learning experience for you. You will learn new leadership skills and expand your mission boundaries by assisting a younger woman find a place in the organization.
Mission teamís role
Conference, district and local mission teams can design training for mentors. Training should be followed up with periodic feedback and check-in sessions and/or support groups for mentors.
Establishing mentoring programs can strengthen mission teams by forging links between current members and new members. Members feel more connected, and the talents of more women are used and developed.
As mentors and mentees relate, visions and insights are shared and enhanced. Dialogue skills learned and used in mentoring can increase teamwork and communication within the mission team.
Current members may welcome mentoring at certain times. For example, when a woman takes a new office, she is often told, "We will help you." This is a prime opportunity for informal mentoring:
In any mentor-mentee relationship there will be cultural differences, such as age, economic status, ethnicity, language or education. The greater the differences in cultural experiences, the greater the opportunity for misunderstanding and judgmental actions. Mentor and mentee should question their assumptions of cultural differences for bias and stereotyping as they enter the relationship.
For example, college-age women use different slang, have different speech patterns and enjoy different music than older women. When asked to be a mentor for someone younger, consider carefully if you can participate fully in conversations with that background vocabulary and music. Ask yourself such questions as:
Mentees need to ask similiar questions about their assumptions of potential mentorsí cultures:
When mentee and mentor seek out what they have in common, perceived cultural differences may seem less significant. For example, mentee and mentor can agree they want to be in mission, want to study Scripture, want to work with other women and want to respect each other. Then when cultural differences pop up, mentor and mentee can acknowledge biases, can examine the facts and can learn how their biases are unfounded.
Working through cultural differences, can expand both womenís interests and knowledge as mentor and mentee learn from each other.
Ending any relationship is difficult and feelings can be hurt. With a mentoring relationship, it is good to acknowledge the ending and celebrate accomplishments of the relationship. A mentoring relationship may end because the project for which the relationship was begun ends, or, one or the other of the participants no longer has time or energy for the commitment. A mentoring relationship may end because partners just arenít clicking with each other.
An appropriate way to end is for both women to acknowledge the end, say what they learned in their time together, and thank each other for those times and learnings. They can wish each other the best in coming ventures and offer continuing support as they can.
Being a mentor and being mentored are valuable aspects of womenís spiritual journeys. Together, women can learn, grow and share insights. And they can enjoy the journey!
Jean Saul, Ph.D., is executive secretary for leadership education for the Womenís Division based in Denver, Colo.