Your motivation and expectations will shape your choice of activities and conversation topics with your mentee. A successful mentoring relationship needs to be based on mutual interest and mutual respect. You’re there to share, guide, and listen − to be a friend to each other.
Despite best intentions, some mentor motivations, such as to see change in the youth, can lead mentors to bring in activities and discussions to their match that “turn off” the mentee, or distance the mentee from the mentor.
If you and your mentee are enjoying your time together, you’re both going to look forward to your weekly activities. Sounds obvious, right? However, some mentors can get caught up in specific goals or challenges, and they can forget to focus on simply enjoying their time with their mentee. Helping youth set and work toward goals is a fun, important and empowering part of the match relationship. A goal doesn’t need to be daunting or complicated. It’s simply an objective, aspiration, or desired result. Goal setting allows matches to celebrate success and encourages achievements. Goals are good; over-emphasis on goals can take away some of the fun of the match.
With that in mind, let’s see how your friendship is evolving. Are your expectations being met? Do you enjoy the activities you and your mentee do together? Who is selecting the activities? Are you focusing more on goals or on relationship building, and do you expect that to change over time? The structure of your match is a key factor. Karcher and his colleagues have written extensively on how to approach mentoring and pave the way for a successful, sustaining relationshipv. If you’re thoughtful about how you approach mentoring, you’re likely to be setting reasonable expectations for you, your mentee, and the relationship.
Karcher’s TEAM framework, described below, provides a few key ideas about how to keep your relationship balanced and collaborative. It emphasizes the need for both fun and future-oriented, purposeful activities, as well as relational plus goal-directed activities. Most of all, it emphasizes using information that you learn about each other to decide, collaboratively, what you will do, discuss, and focus on together.
Finding Your Mentoring Style
Doing or Being What is your focus?
What’s most important?
Fun or Future What is your purpose?
Who does it serve?
Meet in the Middle How do you make decisions?
Mentee- OR mentor-driven:
Explicit outcomes, skills, or goals are given priority.
Building and sustaining the relationship are given priority.
What you do today is the focus (playful, youthful purpose).
Preparing for tomorrow is the focus (serious, adult-world purpose).
One of you makes most or all of the decisions.
Decisions are shared and reflect both of your unique perspectives.
| || |
Successful Mentoring Relationships
Doing or Being
what is your focus?
Fun or Future
what is your purpose?
Meet in the Middle
how do you make decisions?
|Both goal-directed (task-oriented) and relational (friendship-focused) approaches can be successful. Success depends on many factors, including the age of your mentee, the purpose of the program, etc., and whether or not you and your mentee have identified any goals you plan to work toward together. Most matches incorporate both approaches over time.|| ||Both fun and future approaches are important. Consider how often you are serious in your match and how often you are lighthearted and fun. Both are essential, and will evolve as the mentoring relationship evolves.|
A future focus is more instrumental or serious, incorporating academic or behavioural discussions, talk about the future, and often tutoring.
A fun focus has more of a developmental, here-and-now purpose, including casual conversations, games, sports, and creative activities.
| ||The best mentoring interactions are collaborative, reflecting the unique interests, skills, and values of both you and your mentee in decision-making. In collaborative relationships, you create an environment that helps ensure that you both get your needs met.|
Strong relationships − those that meet the realistic and reasonable needs of both you and your mentee − include interactions that serve fun as well as serious purposes. We can generalize to say that a relational approach is critical, meaning youth always need to feel prized, special, and important. Sometimes, however, youth feel most valued if you help them achieve specific goals or think through specific problems. For example:
- Often, younger matches (elementary age) start off best with a playful and relational approach, while teens may prefer a “what can this relationship do for me” approach that helps the youth see the immediate value of meeting.
- Often boys will prefer to engage in activities and allow the relationship to develop in the background, while girls more often seek a relational connection from the start and turn to problem-solving later.
Both routes can result in strong, effective relationships – be alert to what seems to work best with your mentee.
Your program staff will have a good understanding of program options, as well as the expectations of you and your mentee. Knowing that every relationship has its ups and downs, and that each partner shows up with different goals and needs, a strong dialogue between mentor, mentee, program staff, and parents/guardians will help ensure that expectations are reasonable and compatible.