This post is the eighth in the series The Mentor’s Way, a set of guides for mentors who want to bring out the best in others.
We are all on our own journeys of discovery, learning, and growth. There were parts of your own journey where change was rapid and learning needed to come quickly. On other parts of the journey, you faced difficult choices that needed to be made. There were parts of your journey where you really needed the help and perspective of a mentor. As you worked your way through the difficult parts of your journey, your need for mentoring ebbed and flowed with the demands placed on you.
Looking back on your journey, you probably recognize the times a mentor’s steady guidance and broad perspective helped you. As those circumstances changed, your need for that mentor changed as well. Mentors often recognize this change before protégés do. They see some of the signs that indicate mentoring is no longer as much of priority as before:
- Meetings become less frequent, more sporadic
- The protégé has fewer topics to discuss
- There are fewer ad hoc e-mails or texts with questions or updates
- Your protégé is slower to respond to your requests to meet
Instead of resisting this change in your relationship, embrace it. It tells you that your protégé is growing. Your protégé has reached a place where the speed or focus of learning has changed, and she or he is ready to change course with you. The transition may come gradually as your protégé shifts focus to other things. Or, it might come quickly, such as when circumstances change such that what enabled your meetings is no longer there. In naturally occurring mentoring, these rapid changes can occur when something structural changes in your relationship (e.g., your protégé changing locations where meeting is no longer easy). In facilitated mentoring, the transition is often brought about by the end of the formal mentoring period. In either case, use this transition as an opportunity to reflect on your journey together as a way of honoring the time both of you invested together.
If you reach a transition point with a naturally forming mentoring partnership, you may want to acknowledge it. Send your protégé an e-mail saying that it looks like your meetings may not be able to be as frequent as that had before. Let her or him know that, if your protégé wants to meet again, you are open to it, but that you have enjoyed the time you were able to spend together. Note two or three ways you believe the protégé has grown over the time you worked together and how you hope you can stay in contact as your protégé continues on her or his journey.
If, on the other hand, you are in a facilitated partnership that has an official “end date” for mentoring, ask to hold a wrap up meeting. Ask your protégé to reflect on her or his initial goals for mentoring and reflect on what progress the two of you made together. Also, ask what else the protégé has learned along the way and add your own thoughts about her or his growth. Finally, leave the door open if your protégé wants to meet again in a less formal fashion.
The last rule of mentoring brings us back to the first rule: Lead by Following. As your protégé continues on the journey, she or he will know when mentoring is needed again. You may get a call out of the blue in three months or three years when your protégé needs the safe place of mentoring again to face a challenge. Or, you may get to hear about a long term goal that has finally been achieved. Mentoring is a powerful way to help another on the journey we all travel. The more you can offer others, the more you will get in return.