Mentors and coaches support us on journeys. Throughout our lives, we embark on intellectual, moral, spiritual, emotional, and physical odysseys. We encounter and reach out to figures that guide us through our fears and challenges. Mentors and coaches provide insight, understanding, good advice, determination, and motivation. This article will outline a training I developed at RESOLVE for mediators who mentor and coach stakeholders in collaborative processes. I will explain why we chose to focus on strengthening mediators capacities to mentor collaborative team leaders, what a mentor and coach is in this context, and what is included in the training.
Why stakeholders not mediators?
The field often focuses on how to support new mediators in developing their skills and knowledge. This is certainly a need, but I am more concerned with using my knowledge and skills to shape a world where more people can articulate their interests, negotiate on their own behalf, work in partnerships, and collaborate or struggle non-violently to achieve their goals. Given this long term goal, the mentoring and coaching training focuses on helping mediators call forth what they know about dealing with the complexities of relationships, histories and issues in social conflict to help stakeholders increase their own knowledge and skill. In the RESOLVE training, we are focusing on preparing the mediators to mentor and coach stakeholders who lead collaborative teams. Many environmental managers, environmental advocates, non-governmental and agency staff have some experience with managing collaborative teams or public participation. But some situations tax their knowledge or experience. The coaching and mentoring program provides a helping hand for them as they implement what they know in challenging situations.
What is a mentor/coach in this context?
The mentoring/coaching relationship is a particular kind of developmental relationship (McCauley and Young 1993). A developmental relationship is one in which one person takes on the responsibility to motivate another to learn, expose them to new learning opportunities, and support their development (McCauley and Young 1993). Although there are different connotations to the term's coach and mentor, the clearest differences develop through the formality or informality of the relationship. Informal mentoring relationships are intense, may last for several years, and focus on the individuals' personal growth. Informal mentoring relationships are common in transitions-from child to teenager, from teenager to adult, when we become parents, at midlife and in old age. They are often transformative relationships. These mentors do not emerge mysteriously; we are drawn to individuals and create these relationships when we enter new territory or face challenges. Formal mentoring relationships tend to be less interpersonally intense and involved, may have a shorter period and more narrow goals. Many businesses and organizations have formal mentoring/coaching programs. Relationships between sports coaches and athletes develop within formal mentoring relationships.
What do we do in the training?
The mentoring and coaching training focuses not on what do I do and how should I do it but how do I be. A mentor/coach is a way of being. However, I do not want to imply that this is simply a magical or innate way of being. Becoming a mentor/coach is a way of being that can be learned. The mediators have rich experiences with mentors/coaches in their lives, and already mentor and coach stakeholders in processes. They also read books (mostly childhood books) in which the mentor figure was central. The training does not tell them what to do but elicits from them the personal qualities, developmental moments, climates, and characteristic behaviours of mentors/coaches and relates this knowledge to the contexts that their learning partners will be in.
In our discussions, mediators identified the qualities of their mentor and coaches and the mentors in the books they read. These qualities include integrity, generosity, presence, ability to see potential, be vulnerable and open, intensity and perception, a passion to help others learn and grow, and the openness to be affected by the relationship and then let go.
Mediators discussed mentoring/coaching activities that I categorize as supporting, challenging, or providing a vision. In the discussions we recalled mentors who listened and responded to us, saw us clearer than anyone else ever had, advocated for us, had faith in us, protected us from outside threats or challenges we weren't ready for, and helped us overcome intimidation. Mediators discussed how Glinda, the fox in the Little Prince, the skin horse in The Velveteen Rabbit, Charlotte in Charlotte's Web or Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore in Harry Potter set stretch goals and high standards, created opportunities, asked tough questions, told stories and challenged their proteges to find their own way. Finally, we shared how our mentors and the mentors in our books modeled behaviour and who we could become, helped plan for accomplishments and develop road maps to get there, envisioned paths, and provided new metaphors and images.
Although the training is focused on being a mentor/coach, the mediators also practice specific skills or behaviours. These skills include exploring ways to:
- Set goals with learning partners,
- Create a climate for coaching and mentoring,
- Develop trusting mentoring relationships,
- Manage expectations and requests,
- Combine learning modes of 1) telling and listening with 2) demonstrating, imitating, and asking questions,
- Observe and give feedback and encouragement,
- Frame and ask questions,
- Uncover hidden assumptions and take advantage of surprises,
- Surface dilemmas,
- Set challenges,
- Move analysis from unique features to generic phenomena or overarching concepts,
- Evaluate and let go.
Going Back to Kansas
In the training the RESOLVE mediators are learning how to structure situations with their learning partners that support the learning partners as they learn for themselves. It can be hard for us to overcome the temptation to answer the question, tell our learning partner what to do or step in to rescue them. But as Glinda explains to Dorothy, she always had the power to go back to Kansas. Glinda explains that if she had told Dorothy how to get home, she wouldn't have believed her, she had to learn if for herself. Once she learned that her heart's desire was in her own backyard her journey was complete. Our work mentoring and coaching stakeholders may not take them to Kansas but we can help them integrate their skills and abilities in their own conflict resolution journey.