Mentoring – a helping hand to grow

Toastmasters Founder Ralph Smedley said:

We realize that the two most important factors in Toastmasters are Mentoring and Evaluations, there is no doubt that if these two are done well and there is a good Mentoring program, your club will be filled with spark plugs ready to fire upon request. Mentoring and evaluations create enthusiasm, and once you light that fire the only thing it needs is some kindling.

I think Ralph Smedley was a smart man.

Today, mentoring has become mainstream. About 70% of Fortune 500 companies have a mentoring program.

In a Harvard Business Review Study, more than 75% of professionals said they want to have a mentor, although actually only 37% have one.

What about you? Do you have a mentor, do you want to have a mentor? Are you a mentor to someone else?

The mentoring resource or mini path within Toastmasters Pathways Learning Experience provides a trio of useful tools:

  • a protégé success plan
  • self-assessment
  • an evaluation of the mentoring experience by both protégé and mentor.

This trio of mentoring tools are very valuable, especially if you are mentoring or being mentored for the first time.

For a first-time mentor or protégé the methodical approach helps ensure all aspects of planning are not only wrapped but has a bow on top!

Recently, I mentored a member of my club working on a reflective project to complete a path.

My protégé already had a project, a date and a deadline when he asked me to be his mentor, so I took the approach to discuss the principles contained in the documents rather than slavishly answering each question.

As we followed through the 4 principles of effective mentoring, I couldn’t help reflecting on the differences in approach between mentoring a new member or an experienced member, yet still seeing the value for both.

1. Be available

Mentoring is no different to any other relationship, you have to make time for each other. While with a new member you might spend time on getting to know the person before you explore the project and set some goals, in my case we knew each other well so it was easy to work out a schedule and also to dive right into the actual project.

2. Set boundaries

Setting boundaries around your availability, clarifying your preferred methods of communicating, handling confidentiality, the limits of what you can and can’t do as a mentor matter equally whoever your protégé is.

3. Listen effectively

Active listening is equally important for all protégés. It can be tempting to think I know this person well, I don’t need to listen so closely and ask questions. During the mentoring experience I was reminded again how vital it is to hear what the other person is saying, check your understanding, help your protégé test their boundaries and to reflect back to them what you heard, so they get to hear their own thoughts aloud.

4. Promote independent thinking

When a protégé asks for advice you can give suggestions, or you might tell stories to point them in the direction of their own conclusion. The aim is to help them reach their own conclusion. This gets easier with a more experienced member. My protégé had seen me do this project and wanted to be creative – so we talked about different kinds of formats and I could see his reaction to those ideas – it didn’t matter to me what format he chose and I deliberately didn’t express a preference. If it didn’t work out for him, I knew it would be okay. However, if I were mentoring a new member and I saw a high risk of failure, I might have asked more questions to help them address the question of risk – with a new member you don’t want them to lose their confidence before they begin.

This principle is the one that gets the juices flowing as you release your protégé to the world of possibilities and of pushing their own boundaries.

It is when we move out of our comfort zone that we can really discover the magic of what is possible, and then we see our growth in skill and in confidence.

My protégé made me very proud when I saw him deliver his speech. I wasn’t proud of me, I was proud of him because he did the work, and he tried something new – really pushing himself.

If you don’t have a mentor, reach out for one, so you can stretch yourself. If you’ve never mentored or haven’t mentored for a while, I would encourage you to get on the mentoring path. Mentoring doesn’t have to be for life, it can be just for a season or just for a project. However long it lasts, mentoring matters because mentoring makes a difference.

By Morag Mathieson, First Vice President at Toastmasters International