Part 1 of a 2-part series by Arch's Mark Walch, excerpted from Michael Shenkman's new book Leader Mentoring, to be published in spring 2008 by Career Press
Note from Michael: Mark Walch has worked with me for more than ten years as a leader mentor and developer of the Arch of Leadership Mentoring Program. He has mentored more than a hundred aspiring leaders in corporate, entrepreneurial and service organizational settings in our community mentoring program. He offers support and mentoring to “amateur” mentors as they learn (by experience) what the process demands and offers.
Mark is also Executive Director of the New Directions Institute, based in Albuquerque, NM, an organization that promotes healthy and holistic living practices. Today I wanted to share with you Mark’s thoughts on how mentoring works including such principle tenets as active listening and mirroring.
As a licensed therapist and experiential learning specialist, I have found mentoring to be a unique relationship. The parties enter into it with clear intentions but with unclear expectations. I agree to assist a mentee in discovering and unfolding their potential which may or may not mean leading others. However, should they choose to lead, then the integrity in which they offer themselves to the role becomes central in our relationship.
Mentees selected for the Arch of Leadership program, or who apply for our open community program, are individuals who generally have a very high ego strength. They must be able to withstand difficult questioning because the focus of the mentoring sessions in our program is on their development as leaders. Although we offer support and encouragement to understanding themselves and their path to leading, we also challenge them in ways that are appropriate to the assaults on their sense of self that leading will throw their way.
The mentee is also expected to have voluntarily joined the program and have an interest and motivation for personal leadership development. This allows me to push into the beliefs of these mentees and, as a result, help them make significant progress.
I also find that mentees having some personal experience with mentoring is invaluable. Some emotional maturity and life experience can be critical, as well as a clear understanding of the intent of the relationship and a willingness to work the program as it has been designed. Clearly an interest in others and in others’ development is the primary requirement. Open--mindedness to coaching and to growth and development always proves important as well.
Our Philosophy of Mentoring: Active Listening and Mirroring
One primary tenet of The Arch of Leadership program is that leaders affect people’s lives (while managers affect processes). Helping a mentee discover this value and the importance of the role in affecting other people seems to trigger a major shift in the relationship between mentor and mentee. Mentors are able to deeply probe the belief structures in place in an immediate and experiential way through the process of active listening and mirroring. From their perspective, mentees see more clearly the urgency in being able to explore and experience beliefs held that have driven and shaped their lives.
Active listening demands that I be fully cognizant of my own reactions to what the mentee is saying. Mirroring is the process of accurately describing those reactions just as honestly as I can so that the mentee gets an immediate reflection of how he or she is affecting me (and therefore other people). As a mentor, I must come to each session with a complete focus on actively listening to and mirroring back to the mentee what they are sharing. Mirroring is truly available only in a relationship without any agendas, hierarchies or covert agendas. The clarity in which I might see and listen to my mentee is facilitated by the relationship being clearly created for that purpose. It is the ultimate relationship for honest unfolding of human potential.
The reactions I have, and my communicating those reactions in a direct and impartial way, enables mentees to assess their potential for affecting others the way they intend. When they incite a different reaction than intended, great surprise, concern, sometimes anger ensues. But this is where learning takes place! Processing the reactions another has to the challenging questions and unrelenting inspection and listening is pivotal for determining the level of growth available to the mentee and in the development of this aspiring leader.
The relationship established in our mentoring program allows for deep honest communication. In a coaching situation, the coach is entering the relationship with specific information and techniques to direct the other to some mutually agreed upon goal. This goal is usually pretty accessible and known. But a mentoring relationship is different: it embarks on a journey to an uncharted experience of self. As such, the mentor does not have a predetermined agenda of getting the mentee to some place. After all, how would I, as a mentor, possibly know where or how the relationship will develop? The very arrogance and transparence of “acting” like a mentor would lead to an artificial relationship and be out of congruity with the leading process.
We are always working with our mentee to be authentic and integrated with their true nature and values. These may or may not be in alignment with societal expectations or norms. However, if they have not been true to these values and developed the capacity to see them in themselves, their ability to truly lead others into an unknown arena is diminished and ineffective.
The mentee’s potential for leading is often locked up in self-limiting beliefs and hidden belief systems that are integrated into his/her worldview. This invariably limits a mentee from taking the next step with leading. Mentoring in this regard, in response to this one aspect of the process, encourages self-development by means of an introspective discovery of themselves.
This discovery can follow a pattern of growth and development through several stages. But each person’s development is completely different. As we say in our program: there are no cookie-cutter leaders, and thus any cookie-cutter development program would not be worth a plug nickel. Each mentoring relationship therefore must culminate in a different, i.e., its own, ending.