Mentoring is one of the three main goals of the Young Architects Forum. It is a vital part of career and leadership development and is perhaps the best method of transferring knowledge that has been gained through experience. Young Architects make great mentors to interns, college students, and even high school and elementary school students. Being a mentor also helps young architects hone their leadership skills. Young Architects also need mentors who can help them transition into greater leadership roles in their firms and their communities.
The traditional model of mentoring, working one-on-one with a protégé, dates back to the time of King Odysseus when he sent his son, Telemachus, to his friend Mentor for guidance and tutelage. Mentors are individuals who help others reach their potential through teaching, coaching, and nurturing. This model has evolved through the ages and taken various forms, including the tradition of apprenticeship in architecture. In the past, apprentices studied with a master for several years before venturing out on their own.
One classic example of mentoring is the relationship between Charles McKim and Henry Bacon. Bacon worked for McKim, Mead and White in the late 19th century before gaining his own independent commissions in the early twentieth century. Throughout this entire period McKim guided and encouraged his protégé, Bacon. Many people maintain that Bacon received the commission for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., because of McKim's influence.
In a mentoring relationship, two roles exist: mentor and protégé. Chances are you have been both at various times and in different circumstances. A mentor is someone who guides, encourages, and nurtures individuals to excel and grow. A protégé is the beneficiary of this patronage, interest, and care.
Given the fluidity of job changes and responses to the marketplace in today's workplace, most new architects have several positions before they complete the first ten years of practice. In 1977 management theorist Rosabeth Moss Kanter concluded that "having a mentor was critical to career success." For the next decade mentoring programs in corporations flourished. Many of these programs were specifically designed to attract and retain women and minorities, while others were developed to aid in succession planning. These programs are formal, informal, or "buddy systems." The primary reason behind any program is to transfer knowledge and experience from one generation to the next.
Ideally, both mentor and protégé benefit from the experience. The protégés benefit in both career and psychosocial functions. The career functions include "sponsorship, exposure-and-visibility, coaching, [and] protection," and the psychosocial benefits include an "increase in competence, effectiveness, and work-role identity." Mentors provide these benefits through their role modeling, friendship, and counseling. They also benefit from the experience by improving their own communication and leadership skills and keeping abreast of the latest technology skills. In addition, they gain satisfaction from knowing they are passing on their knowledge and experience to the next generation. In some cases, mentors have felt reenergized through the experience of working with a protégé with enthusiasm and vitality.
Creating a Mentoring Program
The following issues should be considered in the development of a mentoring program. Often these programs evolve and change over time. Ultimately, the goal of the program should be to strengthen the profession.
Formal vs. Informal
Informal mentorship evolves without a great deal of organizational involvement. The mentor and the protégé "find" each other and negotiate between themselves the terms of their relationship. These relationships can happen spontaneously at any age and in any environment. Mentors sometimes initiate these relationships when they see a reflection of themselves in an individual. In other cases, the protégé approaches a prospective mentor for counsel and advice. In a few cases, the individuals may already know each other but some event precipitates a change in their relationship.
Formal mentoring relationships are developed with the help of an external organizing force, which may develop the program, match the teams, create training experiences for both participants, and establish criteria by which the program is evaluated.
One-on-One vs. Learning Group
Two mentoring models have evolved and both can exist within a formal mentoring program. The traditional, or "oneonone," model is one mentor working with one protégé. These teams set their own schedule and agenda. The strength of the traditional model is that it "addresses the individual's needs and thoughts as they evolve, in a free-flowing manner with no set agenda or plan."
The newer model is that of a "learning group" in which one mentor or learning leader works with a group of three to five protégés. The learning leader is viewed as a partner in the developmental process rather than as a patriarch. This model can be very effective when only a few mentors are available. Ideally, the members of the learning group should be diverse in gender, race, and career goals. Strengths of the learning group include the opportunity to learn various perspectives and to create a peer network for the protégés. The critical element of the learning groups is the development of dialogue in the Socratic manner.
Matching Mentors and Protégés
The most important component in the creation of a mentoring program is matching the mentors and protégés. The pairing process can range from simple to extremely complex.
Some programs invite all interested participants, mentors and protégés, to a meeting or social gathering where they can interact. At the conclusion of the event, participants list three individuals with whom they wish to be paired. The lists are compared and teams are matched. A variation on this theme is having all of the participants complete profile sheets. These sheets are then kept on file and interested individuals, either mentor or protégé, can review the sheets and select their match.
Other programs invite the potential mentors and protégés to independent meetings. The individuals complete questionnaires, which go into detail on career goals, interests, and education. After the questionnaires are completed, the program coordinator matches the pairs, based on their compatibility.
In the final and most complex scheme, the individuals answer a complex series of questions. The answers are scanned into a computer program, which determines the matches. In some very selective environments, the protégés must be nominated for the program. This can create an air of elitism, which can be detrimental to the program and is therefore not recommended.
While no research has proven conclusively which method has the best results, the "random" method has the potential to result in a higher percentage of unsatisfactory matches. There are potentially endless variations on any of these matching methods. It is important to adapt the process to the group of people and the circumstances.
All participants should receive some training about the responsibilities, expectations, and benefits of participating in the program.
Some methods of training include:
The success of the relationship will, in part, be determined by the way the relationship begins. In some programs, the first meeting between mentor and protégé occurs in a social setting where, in addition to meeting each other, the pairs meet other participants in the program. Some programs encourage the mentor to help the protégé create a career development plan that fosters the discussion of each team member's personal history. Subsequent meetings can focus on the development of goals. All of the programs encourage all participants to get back together periodically just to check in and see how the relationships are developing.
Invariably, despite all the best efforts of planning and enthusiasm, the mentor and the protégé simply don't find the relationship mutually beneficial. This could be for a variety of reasons, including geographical distance, work schedules, family situations, or chemistry. After a reasonable effort has been made to resolve these problems, it is probably wise to dissolve the team and allow the participants to try again with new partners. As part of your planning, decide the criteria by which such dissolution could occur.
Evaluating the Program
Critiquing the program is extremely valuable for its continued growth and development. The assessment can take the form of brown-bag lunches to ask the participants how the relationships are developing and whether they are meeting the expectations created at the outset. Survey forms are also an effective method of gathering data on the experience of the participants. Always remember to ask for suggestions about how the program can be improved as well as its strengths and weaknesses. Encourage all participants, including those who did not find success, to participate in the evaluation process. Review the comments and critiques and propose ways of implementing the revisions into future programs.
Advice for Mentors and Protégés
• Meet with the protégé and identify his or her specific needs; provide assurance that you can fulfill those expectations.
• Define the expected time commitment between mentor and protégé; consider establishing a scheduled time for meetings. (Identify an end date for the relationship?)
• Identify an appropriate location for meeting with the protégé.
• Be patient and positive in the relationship. No question is "dumb."
• Suggest, don't dictate.
• Be available when needed and as appropriate.
• Communicate...share successes and failures, coach, advise, discuss real-life stories. Consider the question of confidentiality.
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Sample Programs and Related Links