50 Shades of Mentoring

So how can I get from - what has apparently now come to be labelled - ‘Mummy Porn’ to mentoring? Not having read the smash-hit novel it might prove difficult, but here goes...

Everybody mentors. You might not think of giving advice or offering a listening ear in such grand terms, but it’s true; we all share our thoughts, recommendations and assertions with whomever will listen. Some people’s wisdom, insights and comments are always welcome, and some aren’t. So what’s the secret of those whose words and attention we do hang on?

It all comes down to adaptability. They have the intelligence to know when to speak and when to listen. They also know when to challenge, when to test the robustness of thought and when such an approach might, instead, crush the Mentee’s self-esteem.

Sounds easy? I don’t think it is. It takes considerable insight on the part of the Mentor to assess the subtlety and atmosphere of a Mentee’s situation. It also demands that the Mentor is able to demonstrate the delicacy of feeling that matches the mood of the Mentee.

That’s why I think of it as ’50 shades of mentoring’. Catching the moment and having the necessary palette of mentoring behaviours that blends perfectly with the mood of the Mentee.

So how do you know when to challenge? When I was at school the following joke used to do the rounds of our playground:

“Did you hear about the masochist who used to like taking cold showers? So he took a hot one.”

As the joke demonstrates, sometimes it’s about doing the opposite of what is expected. When the time is right the Mentor must challenge, argue and cajole; just play the Devil’s Advocate for the sake of the Mentee. And there are times when they should – sympathetically – listen. Give the Mentee the space to open up and run with their thoughts and feelings. Of course the Mentor might know that these thoughts and feelings lack weight or credibility, but they also know that now is not the time to make that point.

What’s more – so much more – is that they have mastered all of the subtle gradations of behaviour that lie between these two extremes. That’s why I bang the drum about ‘The Fit Mentor’: it wasn’t a title that suddenly appeared; it percolated up – insinuated itself – as I spoke to all of the Mentors and Mentees during the research for the book.

To me, a Mentor that has grasped these principles has truly earned their stripes.   And, unlike the E L James’ characters, it was probably a much less painful way of acquiring them.

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