Help Your Mentees Enhance their Character
by Dr. Linda Phillips-Jones (in memoriam) with slight edits by Dr. G. Brian Jones
One of your major tasks as a mentor is to help your mentees set development goals for themselves. Most mentoring pairs start with goals related to skills and knowledge acquisition. Recently, we’ve seen mentors and mentees also focus on skills related to character. (See Ideas on Mentoring for more information on character development.) As you consider what you’ll do in the new year, think of exploring this topic with the people you mentor.
Ideas for Building Character
1. Establish trust
Revealing one’s character strengths requires considerable trust. Talking about character growth areas requires even more. Unless you already know your mentees, they probably won’t choose character development goals at the start. Once you build trust in each other, this work can begin.
Here are some ways mentors become trustworthy. They show genuine interest by making time and remembering what their mentees say in past meetings, maintain strict confidentiality, keep their promises, and even reveal personal information about themselves.
2. Have a discussion about character
If your mentees don’t bring up the topic, initiate a discussion on the topic of character: what it is, what you admire in others (including your mentees), the character strengths or improvement areas you’re working on in yourself. You could say something like: “I’m trying to be more open, less judgmental and would like your help with this over the coming months. Are there any parts of your character you want to strengthen or improve, and could I help?” You could give them a copy of this month’s article for mentees.
3. Choose one character marker on which to work
Just like you, your mentees vary in their character strengths and growth areas. For example, an individual may be very honest and appreciative but falter when it comes to being dependable. Your mentees might want to enhance a strength or use it more often. Or they might want to address an area that’s a difficulty and a struggle for them. Take time to find out why your mentees want to improve a specific character marker. The deeper the trust between you, the more likely it is that your mentees will ask for your help with especially sensitive character virtues.
4. Determine some current and desired “behavioral indicators”
One way to measure character is to identify actions or “behavioral indicators” that demonstrate a particular character marker. For example, if one of your mentees chooses dependability, what behaviors do they exhibit that prove they are and aren’t dependable? Even more important, what new behaviors will show that they have improved? Here are some possibilities, they:
- Keep every promise made to you or others
- Complete all tasks on time and to a high degree of quality
- Are completely consistent in what they say on a subject
- Always tell the truth, even when it’s difficult
- Notice that all of these assume 100% success, which may be too difficult. You and your mentees will have to decide what indicates a “good” or “strong” level of character on a specific trait.
5. Assess where they are now
Once you’ve decided on what’s “good” or “strong,” figure out how your mentees rate now on the character marker. You might even assign a number (such as a 4 on a 10-point scale, where 10 represents a character strength) for now and another number (perhaps an 8 or 9) for where the mentees would like to be in several months or a year.
6. ID stretch learning experiences
Finally, together choose some experiences that will stretch your mentees. Do they need to do some journaling or other self reflection? Talk with and observe people who seem strong on the selected character marker? Agree to be accountable to you including revealing times they “blow it”? Set up situations that purposely add pressure and test the performance of this marker?
You can probably think of many more creative ways to help your mentees improve. The key will be for you to accept their progress as well as their failures and, when appropriate, to reveal your own character journey. Letting your mentees know how they’ve helped you is a generous gift to them and will increase the level of trust between you.
For more ideas on being an effective mentor, check our Archive and Products.
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