Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why Mentor?

I have dealt with this subject before, but it does bear repeating:

I am sure that we have all wondered about the appropriateness of telling someone to ‘do as I say’ and then setting a bad example for them.  This got me thinking about the concept of mentorship, especially as we apply it in Toastmasters.

A quick look at Wikipedia led me to discover the following, which I have adapted a bit:

In Greek mythology, Mentor was a friend of Odysseus (whom we also know as Ulysses) who was placed in charge of Odysseus’s, son Telemachus, and of his palace, when he left to fight in the Trojan War.

The goddess, Athena visited Telemachus taking on the disguise of Mentor.  As Mentor, she encouraged Telemachus to stand up against the suitors who were after his mother and to go abroad to find out what had happened to his father.

Because of Mentor's relationship with Telemachus, and Athena's encouragement and practical plans for dealing with personal dilemmas, the term Mentor has been adopted in English as meaning someone who imparts wisdom shares knowledge with a less experienced colleague.


A further bit of surfing on the Net gave me the following, in terms of the purpose of mentoring:

"Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximize their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be."                             Eric Parsloe, The Oxford School of Coaching & Mentoring

Both the historical background to the word, mentor, and its purpose as defined above, tie in well with what Toastmasters had in mind when they developed the mentorship programme. It all starts with visitors to the club. They are potential members who should be encouraged by existing members to understand what is going on. Why are speeches timed? What is an Um and Ah counter? What is the purpose of Table Topics?

It all seems easy once you have been part of Toastmasters for a while, but for someone who has decided to join up there are still so many things to learn. The CC and CL manuals are given to members when they start, but working their way through them needs explanation. Then there are the various meeting duties which they might be expected to perform. They might even be asked to stand for a position on the club executive. It’s all very daunting and I know that more than one member has been lost to a club where mentoring was not taken seriously. In fact, from having chatted to one or two new members, I found that they had been assigned mentors when they joined, but didn’t really know what to do with that knowledge, as the mentor assigned to them had not once bothered to make contact with them.

You might be asking,” who really benefits from a mentoring relationship?” The answer is simple – everyone.

New members benefit by:

·         Understanding the club programme format and its customs

·         Developing confidence as they participate in club activities and work on their CL manuals

·         Learning speaking skills to advance through their CC manuals

Older members can also benefit by:

·         Refining their skills

·         Mentoring in specialized areas

Mentors benefit by:

·         Keeping their skills honed

·         Earning the respect of their mentees

·         Learning skills from those they mentor

The club benefits by:

·         Having happy members

·         Retaining members – and growing the club

It sounds like a good idea all round! 

However, to coin a clich├ęd phrase, ‘a chain is only as strong as its weakest link’.  Club executives cannot think that they have done their duties once they have assigned mentors to each new member. There has to be follow-up to see whether the relationship is working.  Then, with regard to the parties in the mentoring pair: whose responsibility is it to keep in touch? Initially, it makes sense for the mentor to establish contact and to ‘befriend’ the mentee. Thereafter, the mentee should have the freedom to pose questions to the mentor or to ask for help with the development and presentation of speeches, or with the roles that they have to play in club meetings. If the mentee does not seek help, the mentor should periodically enquire whether there is any area where he/she can render assistance.

I like the biological term ‘symbiotic relationship’, which in essence means a relationship between two entities which is mutually beneficial for the participants. It’s a win-win situation as long as each party does what is expected of him.
When it comes to a mentoring programme at club level, everyone involved stands to benefit. If our purpose is to ensure happy members who are growing as speakers and in self-confidence, this will ensure continued club growth – which, in turn will lead to the broader goals of Toastmasters being met. 

We just can’t lose.  So, let’s give it a real try, shall we?
Until next time
Ricky Woods

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