Deliberate mentoring: creating tomorrow's leaders by design.
Mentoring involves two or more individuals who work together to develop the skills and abilities of one or more persons. Most formalized mentoring partnerships exist between a single mentor and one or more learning partners. Current management theory encourages organizations to formally mentor employees by providing opportunities to work in different parts of the organization, in a variety of positions, in order to provide the participating employees the opportunity to experience the totality of the organization. In this way, leaders rise in the organization with a broader understanding of its mission and purpose.
The challenges which face corrections today and for the foreseeable future will require leaders that are developed in this way. Tomorrow's correctional leaders will need to possess an ever-more-complex set of management tools to deal with people, resources and challenges from both inside and outside the organization.
The most effective mentors bring to the learning partnership an understanding of their assets and weaknesses, as well as goals for the learning experience. By engaging in a few brief exercises early in the mentoring process, the mentor can avoid mistakes which will adversely affect the learning partner's experience. Before beginning a mentoring partnership, mentors should:
1) Evaluate mentoring ability. By evaluating skills and strengths, mentors can identify what they have to offer their learning partners. The mentoring process provides a medium for sharing skills and knowledge of corrections, as well as organization and leadership principles.
Equally important to the mentoring process is the mentors' evaluation of weaknesses. Identifying areas for personal or professional improvement can help avoid mistakes which detract from the learner's experience, while also providing an opportunity for future growth.
2) Identify mentoring goals. Understanding why mentors want to be mentors is important for clarifying goals which will help both mentors and learners achieve positive results. If mentors understand their reasons for playing this role, they will be less likely to abandon the partnership when the demands of work place additional pressures on their time.
The most effective learners also bring to a learning partnership an understanding of their assets, weaknesses and goals for the learning experience. By engaging in similar self-examination exercises early in the mentoring process, learning partners can help ensure a positive and productive experience. Before beginning a mentoring partnership, learning partners should:
1) Evaluate their ability to be learning partners. When learning partners evaluate their skills and strengths, they identify where they stand in their professional careers. This becomes the starting point for identifying areas where professional growth is possible and/or desirable.
2) Identify goals as learning partners. Understanding their motivation for engaging in mentoring partnerships will help learning partners focus on their goals when they find themselves in stressful situations. It can become easy to see a mentoring partnership as something extra which can be set aside when other, more urgent tasks arise. By identifying their motivation for participating in a mentoring experience, learning partners can discover why it is important to make time for the process part of their work routines.
After the mentor and learning partner have completed the self-evaluation process, they are ready to define the parameters of the mentoring experience. These parameters will include the length of time the mentoring experience will last; when and how often they will meet; the responsibilities of both the mentor and the learning partner; specific projects to be undertaken as part of the experience; the goals to be achieved; and a process for evaluating progress toward achieving these goals.
At the outset, both the mentor and the learning partner should establish how long the mentoring experience will last. If it is intended to be a onetime experience, defining its length will help determine specific goals and performance measures. If the mentoring experience is intended to be an ongoing relationship, it should be divided into a series of projects, with the length of each project determined in advance.
It also is important for both the mentor and the learning partner to determine at the beginning of the partnership when and how often to meet. These meetings provide the learning partner the opportunity to ask questions, clarify instructions, ask advice and troubleshoot with the mentor. They also provide the mentor a chance to evaluate the progress of the project and provide additional support or resources as needed.
The mentoring experience should be treated as part of both the mentor's and the learning partner's work. While the experience may require outside reading or attendance at training seminars by the learning partner, the body of the selected project should become an integrated part of the learning partner's job assignment. Treating the mentoring experience as work also helps increase the commitment of both the mentor and the learning partner toward achieving the goals of the experience in a timely manner.
The responsibilities of the mentor and the learning partner should be defined at the beginning of the mentoring experience. Mentors should be accessible to the learning partner without being expected to actually carry out the selected project. The learning partner should give regular progress reports to the mentor, seek advice when necessary, meet established performance goals and fulfill any outside reading or training requirements. Other responsibilities of the mentor and learning partner will depend on the experience of the participants and the project selected. By defining these responsibilities in advance, both the mentor and the learning partner can gain a common understanding of their roles.
The mentor and learning partner should identify projects to be completed by the learning partner which are within the learning partner's potential, but which challenge him or her to acquire new skills within the organization or the profession. This can be a delicate balancing act, but by reviewing the self-assessments of both the mentor and the learning partner, both should be able to identify an appropriate project or projects.
When identifying suitable projects for a mentoring experience, mentors and learning partners should consider a number of questions: How long is the project expected to take? What resources will be required for the project's completion? What are the skills and abilities of the learning partner? What resources are available to help the learning partner obtain additional skills? How much time will be available for both the mentor and the learning partner to meet?
It is helpful to look outside the learning partner's current areas of expertise when choosing suitable projects for the mentoring experience. Often, the best learning experiences occur when an individual is challenged to experience a different paradigm which provides an opportunity to see the organization from an unfamiliar perspective. Crossing professional boundaries offers a learning partner the opportunity to acquire both new leadership skills and other skills not ordinarily associated with his or her regular profession.
While learning can occur without defined goals, the purpose of deliberate mentoring is to help the learning partner develop specific skills and abilities as the result of participating in a structured project. Without established goals, it is difficult to assess whether or not the learning partner is acquiring those desired skills and abilities. Goals should be specific, have a set time limit, and be mutually developed by both the mentor and the learning partner.
The number and size of the goals will be determined primarily by the size of the selected project. Larger projects may have to be broken down into smaller pieces with a series of smaller goals defined at appropriate time intervals. Thus, a project will not overwhelm the learning partner and doom the mentoring experience to failure.
Project goals should be agreed upon by both the mentor and the learning partner. When goals are not achieved, it often is because one person defined the goal and imposed it on another. By mutually agreeing on goals, both parties understand expectations and have a sense of ownership for fulfilling them.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of a mentoring relationship is evaluating the results. By establishing the evaluation criteria in advance and completing an evaluation process, both the mentor and the learning partner can determine how well goals were achieved; what skills and abilities were acquired or enhanced; what made the learning experience successful; what hindered the learning process; and what the next step in the mentoring process should be.
The evaluation process should be continuous, whether for a single project or a series of projects. At each scheduled meeting, both the mentor and the learning partner should evaluate if the mentor is providing sufficient support, resources and guidance to the learning partner, and if the mentor is hindering the learning partner's progress in any way. They also should evaluate if the learning partner is developing the necessary skills, is progressing toward established goals in a timely manner, and is completing the selected project without excessive reliance on the mentor. This also is a good time to explore the appropriateness of reading assignments and training for the learning partner. While evaluation may seem like a tedious task, it can provide valuable insights and information for improving a mentoring experience.
A formal organizational mentoring program can provide the most effective leadership development experience for its employees. While individual mentoring experiences can help motivated learning partners develop new skills, a formal program can direct interested employees through a broader range of experiences. Formal mentoring programs can be used to provide staff with experiences in a variety of fields such as security, classification, inmate programs, medical care, mental health, finance, policy development, stakeholder affairs and plant support. Tomorrow's leaders will need a more organization-wide perspective to be effective and to develop a vision capable of addressing the variety of challenges which will face corrections in the future.
Organizations interested in offering formal mentoring experiences should evaluate their existing resources and establish a formal curriculum which provides a wide variety of experiences through a series of mentoring modules. Employees should be encouraged to explore experiences outside their normal fields of expertise, and should be provided regular rotational opportunities to explore other fields of knowledge.
While mentors and learning partners should be trained to evaluate each mentoring experience, the organization should evaluate the program at a broader level. In this way, the organization will have information necessary to improve the program, and also identify key components of the program which can be preserved in the event that resources are cut, or workloads increase in ways which adversely affect the organization's ability to maintain a mentoring program.
Following these principles allows both individuals and organizations to engage in meaningful mentoring programs which will develop future leaders who possess the broad range of skills and abilities necessary to meet the challenges facing corrections. By broadening individual understanding of the organization as a whole, tomorrow's leaders will have the tools to create the vision for more efficient and effective organizations. Deliberate mentoring has a place in every correctional organization.
Ronald Andring Sr. is a correctional sergeant at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Wash. and is president of the Washington Correctional Association.
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|Title Annotation:||Series on Leadership, part 6|
|Author:||Andring, Ronald, Sr.|
|Date:||Oct 1, 1997|
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