by Rik Nemanick, Ph.D.
One of the things that separates mentoring from coaching is the time scale in which the two operate. Coaching tends to be focused on the here and now, closing immediate gaps and accomplishing short term goals. Mentoring is focused on the long term, the protégé’s journey that may last years. Understanding a protégé’s goals and aspirations will help create a context for more meaningful conversations. Spending the time up front to explore these goals will guide the mentoring interaction, helping the mentor to ask better questions, give better advice, and create an overall direction for the partnership.
One thing mentors learn is that protégés come to mentoring at very different stages of career exploration. Some will approach mentoring with very clear goals for their career (“I want to be the vice president of sales for the company’s South American region in five years”), while others have no idea what is possible for them or where they are going to be in five years. Both of these protégés are on a journey, but they are at different points on different paths. They can both benefit from mentoring, but their mentoring will look very different if their mentors take the time to learn where they are and where they are trying to go.
Below is a brief description of four phases of career exploration. At the beginning of the mentoring process, spend time finding out where your protégé is in terms of these phases to help establish where you want to take mentoring. Use the phase to set a one year mentoring goal that will guide your conversations.
- The Explorer. The first phase is the protégé who has a drive for something, he just isn’t sure what he wants. He may not be sure what is possible or where he should take his interests and talents for a satisfying career. For this protégé, the focus of mentoring is on Exploring, looking at the larger map of available career choices and finding out more about the possible destinations. The goal for this protégé is to spend a year exploring and finding a destination that will be satisfying.
- The Scout. This protégé has a good idea where she wants to go, but isn’t sure how to get there. She wants her mentor to work with her constructing a plan for the future that will be motivating and achievable. She may need to test out a few different paths to see which one works for her. The Scout’s goal is to spend a year building and testing a plan, perhaps taking the first few steps on the plan by the end of the year.
- The Navigator. This protégé enters mentoring with a destination in mind and a plan on how to get there. He wants a mentor to help him test his plan to see if it is sound and realistic. He also wants someone to hold him accountable for making progress down the plan and provide encouragement along the way. The Navigator looks at his path and decides how far down it he and the mentor will get in a year.
- The Homesteader. The fourth phase of exploration is the protégé who will be in her current role for the foreseeable future. She may be newer to the role and is just learning it, or may have arrived at role that is a great fit for her current needs. For her, mentoring is about growing within a role, keeping from getting stagnant and complacent. She wants to challenge herself to grow and keep her skills fresh, since she doesn’t know when she might want to start exploring again. Her goal for mentoring is to expand her skills and her roles over the course of the year to ensure she continues to learn and engage.
While these phases are presented as a logical sequence, most protégés do not experience them that way. As they learn and experience more, they change their understanding of where they want to go and what it takes to get there. And, circumstances may change around them that may reshuffle their priorities. A strident navigator may get transferred within her company, derailing her plans and forcing her to reassess her goals and path. An Explorer may spend a year exploring options, only to find that he had the ideal job the whole time and switches to becoming a Homesteader.
Spend the time at the beginning of the process finding out where your protégé is and where he or she wants to go. Then, check in every three to six months to see how things have progressed. After that, enjoy the ride with your protégé. Remember, your protégé is in the driver’s seat.
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