Thursday, October 9, 2014

When Mentoring is Done

Some mentoring relationships last a lifetime.  Such as a senior colleague whom a person meets early in his career and who continues to follow him throughout your career.

Some mentoring relationships are built rather than materializing serendipitously and are designed to last for a specific length of time.

Some are built but have no certain end.  For these, there is a need to recognize when the relationship either is not what it started out as or no longer needs to be what it began as.

In my university position, I was blessed to be given a coach after my leadership development participation in 2006-7.  I was also blessed to be given a coach in my move to my position at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School Vice Dean for Education.

Each of those relationships was designed to last about six months--give or take.

The second was a mentoring relationship that ended up being about a lot beyond just the job.  The first was at a time when everything in life seemed to be going well. I had returned to running.  I had pulled back from running when I needed to in order to focus more on career.  I was in the final stages of going for promotion to full professor back in the Bloomberg School of Public Health.  My kids were younger.  And my leadership roles were just beginning.  The second came at a time when I was making fundamental shifts.  Getting ready to run in one of the biggest marathons ever--that also turned out to be one of the most dangerous with the Boston Marathon in 2013 and continuing to take my running very seriously.  Getting ready to shift schools.  Getting ready to change from faculty to administration.  Getting reach for one child to be looking at colleges and a second to be looking at high schools.  A much more complex time in my career with much more complex elements of my career.  And a much more complex time of my life.

So, the second relationship was different.  The coach was more of a peer age-wise rather than my senior.  The issues I faced were much different.  The safety of having someone to whom to say, "What one earth is happening here?" was very different than what I had faced six years earlier.  And that safety and security--like Linus's safety blanket in Charlie Brown--was important for providing some sense of "there is an escape--there is safety."  The key is that I don't remember Linus's character ever letting go.  In real life we have to know when to let go.

Would my colleague ever outright tell me, "No, I won't speak to you." after our formal mentoring/coaching relationship was done?  Of course not.  But there is a time and a place for each relationship in our professional lives.

Today, I had carved out a bit of time--after 18 months in my job and 12 months from the end of our official relationship--to speak with my coach.  And while we didn't say a distinct, "Good-bye," I think it was a powerful and wonderful opportunity to demonstrate that, "I've taken in what you challenged me to think about and while neither my life nor my job is being run perfectly I think I'm okay."  Did I say that explicitly?  No.  But I had previously expressed how difficult I found some aspects of the move and how much I thought she had added to the earliest part of the move.  She probed on a few topics.  I answered.  I noted that my perspective on things had changed.  The questions I was asking had changed.  Even the way I asked questions had changed.

She noticed the image change without my having to say anything.

I think that without coming right out and saying it she could see that I had made the transition I had intended to make and her guidance had made a difference.

Will we cross paths again?   Who knows.  But in the future it would just be as colleagues.  That is the other part of mentoring being done.  Sometimes it is done but even if there is another interaction it remains as it was in mentoring.  And sometimes it is simply as colleagues.  I have grown into the position she helped me to be ready to grow into.  About the only "mentoring" thing I would still see in the future is that I bet she will still be among the first I tell when I get another promotion some day.
Will this be the last time I have a coach?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps when I move up again (assuming I do), I will have the opportunity for more coaching.  More insight.  More preparation for new challenges.   Mentors are always a good thing to have.  I hope that the individuals I have mentored think so.  In fact, for at least a few of them, I know so rather than just hope so.  What I do hope is that each relationship I am in--whether I am doing the mentoring or being mentored--will have as clear and positive an end point at which the person being mentored has been successful at moving forward, the person doing the mentoring can sense that, the person doing the mentoring sees how they have made a difference, and the person doing the mentoring knows they are appreciated.   

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