Get mentoring off the ground!

by Dr Michael Jemphrey

Dr Michael Jemphrey, Robust Mentoring Leader, SIL

Mentoring is a great idea!” — after the Introduction to Mentoring online course everyone is convinced. Everyone would love to have a mentor. However, the reality is that far fewer people feel qualified to be a mentor for others. I think that is common to most of us because we know all too well our own weaknesses.

Yet if we are vulnerable then it helps our mentees to know that they too don’t need to reach the status of PERFECT SUPERMENTOR in order to be of help to others. In fact, as John Updike says:

“Perfectionism is the enemy of creation as extreme self-isolation is the enemy of well-being.”

If we wait for perfection, we will never help anyone. So here are just a few ideas as to how to get mentoring off the ground  in your department or organisation.

Start small and grow in confidence

This can be an informal arrangement of 2 or 3 people who know each other and think they can learn a few different skills from each other. Agree to meet regularly once or twice a month for a few months, establish a small programme,with  someone responsible for sharing a skill each time. Try meeting on Zoom, if you are not close. Be ready to learn together.

Mentor two people at a time

I have tried this out on a few occasions with a couple of translation consultants in training in the same checking session and I really like it! It can be less intense, more relaxed than a one-on-one relationship sometimes is. It has been shown that peer mentees can learn a lot from each other, and can learn from the direction each other receives from the mentor. They can also learn some mentoring skills themselves, if the mentor allows them to give feedback to each other in a safe space.

Structure a mentoring group

Recently an experienced Language Programme Manager approached me saying that she hopes to mentor 20 managers in different countries. Three of the 20 have some limited experience as language programme managers, the rest are just beginning. What a great opportunity! How to face this without being overwhelmed?

As we chatted together we came up with a pyramid system to try out. She will mentor the three more experienced people. They each will mentor the others in small groups. They will all meet together as a larger group every 2-3 months to discuss common topics and difficult questions.

I think this must be something akin to what Moses created in Exodus 18:25-26 when he 

“appointed officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.”

Reflection questions:

  • What ideas do you have that could help get mentoring off the ground in your context?
  • As a next step, with whom do you need to discuss these ideas?

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

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