In this week we will focus on discussing the different phases within a mentoring relationship. The phases that we will consider are initiation phase, the cultivation phase, separation phase and finally the redefinition phase.
1. Initiation Phase
In this phase the emerging champion admires, respects and trusts the mentor. The mentor believes that he has something to offer. The mentoring partners select one another. Initial interactions involve learning the other’s style and working habits. The initiative to engage can come from either of the potential partners. This should not be surprising since both derive benefit from the relationship. Normally the onus is on the emerging leaders to seek mentors. Sometimes a wiser mentor may see potential in someone and feel like he can contribute to his growth. The case of Barnabas seeing potential in Paul and coming to his rescue is a case in point. Astute mentors are always on the look out for potential champions to nurture and develop. This increases their influence and legacy.
Many times people hurry to formalize the mentoring relationship before ensuring a fit between the two. I am cautious and do not want to describe the relationship as mentoring when a potential protégé approaches me. I will commit to helping the person, meet a number of times just for a chat to establish where he is coming from and to find out if there is compatibility. This allows me to establish whether I am the best person to serve him or whether I could redirect him to someone else. A few weeks ago, a young man asked to be mentored but due to time constraints and distance issues, I referred him to one of my close protégés for mentorship under my cover. I met him later and he indicated that he had felt offended because he felt he had been rejected. After establishing that he had had no relationship with his father, I explained the issues of distance and how they would impact the relationship. After explaining that he was still being mentored by me he then accepted the working arrangement we had put in place. Some people may not like being referred – they seek not the effectiveness of the process but just being in a relationship with someone they idolise.
You do not want to commit until you know the heart of a person. I therefore allow the relationship to build naturally while I am learning the potential partner’s motivations. If you commit to somebody who has ulterior motives you will be taken for a ride. Do not over-commit on things you cannot deliver. You are doing yourself and the person you are mentoring a disservice.
At this stage you also establish the potential protégé’s value of time. Does he keep appointments? Time is more expensive than money because it is the currency of life. Money in our economy derives its value from time. That’s why most knowledge workers are paid for their time and not the amount of work done. Successful people have a premium on their time. You do not want to lock yourself in with a chronic time waster. I had to terminate a mentoring relationship once because the couple my wife and I were mentoring would either not show up or would be late most of the time. They did not respect my time. The fact that the mentor may not charge for his time does not mean that his time is cheap.
Often times I ask potential mentees to do a write up on themselves describing their goals, their expectations and giving a brief biographical sketch of their lives. It is normal a 3-4 page word processed document that will also serve as a bench mark on the progress made in the relationship. This paper helps me understand the person better. It also serves as the first assignment that would allow me to assess the seriousness of the person in terms of desiring a mentoring relationship. In the last few years I can safely say that about 90% of the people who get excited about mentorship after a seminar, and ask to be mentored fail at this stage. They normally fail to submit this paper. To me it is both a smart way of eliminating time wasters or non serious people and a means of establishing that mentorship is hard work. If someone would not care to reflect on his life, and document his dreams and goals and expectations of the mentorship relationship, it tells me they may not be prepared to give what it takes to reach his goals.
Once both parties are comfortable with each other they can formalize the relationship and proceed to the next stage. However sometimes it is not necessary to describe the relationship as a mentoring one. It is not the definitions that matter but the essence of nurturing the other person into the fullness of his destiny.
Roberto Guiliani, the prominent New York mayor who fathered the US during the tragic events of September 11, 2001 was greatly influenced in his leadership philosophy by Judge McMahon whom he served as a judicial clerk immediately after graduating from law school. However it does not appear as if during the process either of them formally recognized the relationship. By the time Guiliani left he succinctly states that the judge had become a “second father” to him. Years later the judge created an opportunity for Guiliani to expand his leadership skill by appointing him a receiver (or curator for non- US readers) of a coal mining company which had filed for bankruptcy. That experience further refined his leadership skills and widened his experience profile.