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Mentoring in Times of Change

“Dear Mentor, Something is Changing…!” by Yvonne Thevenot, ICM-P, ACM-F, CCMP

Job eliminated?  Tapped for an executive appointment?  Applying for your first role?  Applying for your next role?  Declined for a role?  Starting a new role?…..  The list goes on.  As we consider these critical career moments it is almost guaranteed that if you have experienced any of these, you will recall the role of the people who helped you think through your journey, helped you stay positive and focused despite the ambiguity, and who absolutely believed in you every step of the way.  There is a strong likelihood that the people you are thinking of, are your mentors.

“How could they possibly have been my mentor?  They never once told me what I should do!”

A common myth of mentoring is that the mentor provides the answers.  The mentor somehow knows the right path for the mentee and instructs them along their journey.  The mentee, grateful for the mentor’s wisdom follows the path, and somehow magically all turns out just right.  Magical, mythical, and…not true.  A mentor in fact will guide their mentee through questions, and with thoughtful listening, support and encouragement, will help the mentee uncover the answers for themselves, framed in their goals, their values, and their personal commitment to themselves.

So why then a mentor in a time of change?

In “Employee’s Survival Guide to Change” by Jeffrey M. Hiatt, he asks the employee to ask themselves the question “what does this change mean to me?”  The power of engaging a mentor in times of change truly stems the power and simplicity of this question.  While of course someone can ask themselves this question, imagine how even more powerful this question will be coming from the voice of your mentor.  And through reflecting your thoughts back to you, allowing you to consider this question even more deeply.

  1. What does this change mean to you?
  2. What do you love about what this change holds in store?
  3. What has you worried, or concerned?
  4. How have you helped yourself explore the alternatives?
  5. If you chose not to make this change, then what?

Broad-based organizational change often impacts multiple levels of the organization at the same time.  What that means then, is that just around the time that you might want to talk to your manager about the impact of a change, they are experiencing all the anxiety, ambiguity and complexity of change themselves.  A manager may have a vested personal interest in your change that may be challenging to set aside to have a mentoring discussion centered on strictly your goals.

So, if you find yourself in the middle of a change, feeling anxious, unfocused and conflicted, this is no doubt the perfect time to reach out to your mentor.  And when you do, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Your mentor will guide you, ask you questions and help you think, but cannot possibly know what is “best” for you.
  2. You will feel emotional: hopeful, angry, sad, excited, conflicted.  Notice and accept those emotions as expected, human, and welcome – take some deep breaths, and allow yourself to transition to a space of clarity of thought and a plan for next steps.
  3. It’s ok to change your mind. As more information is available, as you transition through the change, you can fully expect your first impression or bias changes as well.  That would be reflected in your views even on as simple a question as “what does this change mean to you?”
  4. Accept that information will be incomplete and do not spend “mental calories” trying to solve the unsolvable. Life is full of decisions that we make with incomplete information, accept that this might be another on that list.
  5. And if you don’t have a mentor to reach out to – make the most of a journal to pose some questions for yourself and then in a thoughtful and mindful way, respond with all the honesty and candor to yourself that a mentor would demand of you.

And mentors, some tips for you:

  1. Resist the urge to “tell”: be extra diligent about jotting questions down in advance and prepare your mind to listen deeply to what is being said…and not said!
  2. Accept that your mentee may be emotional:  mentally prepare for this and have a plan of how you will stay in the moment, and respond.
  3. Be prepared for “I don’t know” and understand that may in fact be true: your mentee simply may NOT know at that moment.  Your role is to scratch at that with the next set of probing questions such as “what additional information would be helpful?….”have you tried writing down the pros and cons”… “have you been in this position before and how did you move through it then”….
  4. Support the dialogue with pro-activity: an off-cycle check-in may be just the friendly reach-out that your mentee needed…but didn’t know how to ask for.
  5. Be prepared to have unfinished business: sometimes as your mentee “crosses over” into a more contented and focused state they may not even realize that you helped them get there, and you may simply stop hearing from them or being updated as they move onto the business of their future.  Understand your role on the path has been of value, and knowing that life always has more change to offer, they will no doubt be back.

Best wishes, and Happy Mentoring!

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Yvonne Thevenot – Business Effectiveness, Change Management and Performance Excellence

 Yvonne Thevenot is role model, coach, mentor and relentless advocate when it comes to business effectiveness, change management and performance excellence.  Her consulting practice draws on extensive first-hand experience in change management as a sponsor of change, business lead and change manager at both strategic and tactical levels.  With degrees from the University of Manitoba and Dalhousie University, her passion for learning contributes to professional designations as a Professional Agrologist, a Certified Financial Planner, a certified mentor and an accredited change manager from two different global organizations.  Her mentoring practice extends to a wide range of professionals in corporate, privately held, and not-for-profit businesses, in a variety of sectors, and with mentees at all stages of career.