“If I accept the challenge of volunteer mentoring, then I will also grow, but I might not get along with the person I’m supposed to mentor.”
Part 2: Optimize the developer-learner match
A good match between a developer (Coach) and a learner is just as important as the developer's coaching skills. The following information provides important guidelines when pairing developers and learners.
What developers should look for in a learner
- Willingness to learn
- A moderate to high degree of self-awareness
- Commitment to attend coaching meetings
- The learner should be someone the developer doesn't dislike.
What learners should look for in a developer
- Prior success as a coach
- Good judgment
- Organizational savvy
- Excellent listening skills
- The developer should be someone the learner respects.
You might have noticed that liking the developer is not included on the learner's list of what to look for in a developer. While liking the developer can be beneficial, it is far more important than the learner respect the developer.
With regard to what developers should look for in a learner, the phrase "someone the developer doesn't dislike" has been purposely chosen; the developer does not need to like the learner, only to have no adverse reaction to him or her. If the developer dislikes the learner, that individual would most likely since the developer's negativity even if the developer tried to hide it.
When the learner respects the developer, the developer doesn't dislike the learner, and the coaching achieves tangible results, mutual positive regard and respect usually develop as the coaching progresses. Because most managers do not get to choose their learners- since coaching is often part of the manager's job- the coaching relationship can be severely compromised if unresolved tension exists between the two. Managers in this situation should try to repair the relationship before the coaching begins. If that is not possible, it is advisable to find an alternative developer for the learner.
The question is often asked whether learners and developers should be paired on the basis of a shared characteristic, such as gender, race, age, and/or personality. Individuals who are similar may understand each other better, and the developer may serve as a more viable role model, but these developers can also unintentionally reinforce the learner in ways that do not support growth.
When paired with someone who is dissimilar to them, learners often benefit because the developer brings in a different perspective. With respect to personality types, when the developer and learner are not the same personality type, there are definite advantages; for example, the developer brings a different set of mental models, emotional responses, and behavior patterns from which to challenge the learner.
If the developer and learner have the same personality type, the match can still be beneficial, but only if the developer possesses a much higher level of self-mastery than the learner. When this is the case, the developer can do the following to optimize the process and results: fully understand the learner, serve as an excellent role model, challenge and inspire the learner to grow at an accelerated pace, and offer development activities that the developer knows will work from direct experience.
REMINDER: Make the best match possible, and plan in advance how to compensate for a less than the optimal one.