Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Uganda Bloggers 7 Day Challenge:The 4 Stages of Mentorship: A Quick Exploration Of The Inevitable Conflict Between Mentors & Their Charges


Back when I was but young and naïve I was mentored by a young man who was only but slightly older than I was and who my friends derisively called “The Shark”. He was in the 95th percentile of intelligence of anyone I had known at the time. Even to this day, The Shark is in the top 5 most intelligent people in the world I have met. He was astute. He worked like a demon. He was driven. He was many things to many people but above all he was torrentially unrelenting. He would not quit and could not be out performed. He wore you down with the sheer amount of energy and work output he brought to a single project or even a conversation. These things made him unbeatable but also unforgiving. Of any insurrection or disloyalty. Or any perceived slight done to him.

He was what I wanted to be. I attended law school so I could learn how he thought. I dated law school girls so I could see women through his eyes. I even went as far as mimicking his gestures to achieve the demagogue like – power he held over rooms when he spoke. Oh, how had I been patient.

One day as we walked from his hostel to Wandegeya to get some rolex for supper he said something to me “There are 4 stages to any mentorship Identification, Bonding, Conflict, Resolution. We are heading into the conflict zone. Be prepared.” I was confused so I asked him and what follows is the transcript of that relationship.

Identification: There is a stage where the mentor and the mentee evaluate each other. Each one assessing their prey. Each one thinking they have the advantage on the other. The mentor driven by some egoistic need to impress upon someone young their skills and their wisdom. The desire to get unquestioned loyalty and attention. The mentee thinks he has found a gold mine. Where he can learn without question, slack without rebuke and be treated with favour without end. At some point in this stage the decision is made to enter this dance to the death.

Bonding: The bonding process was essential as after discovery the mentor and mentee got to know each other, spent inordinate amounts of time with each other. The mentor sees all their own promise and achievements in the mentee while the mentee hopes that they can be up to and maybe even more than the mentor. They will adopt their mentor’s speech patterns, diction, choice of reading material and even dress elements or overall approach to fashion (grungy, rugged, formal, sharp, clean cut, etc) It was in this space that the critical mistake of crossing boundaries was always bound to occur. For the mentee, it was out of naiveté but for the mentor the decision was almost always borne out of some misguided sense that they could trust the mentee and after all, if they were “showing them the ropes” why couldn’t they “let them in”. The result was a mismatch between expectations and reality. This is of course naturally aided by the process that it’s only the people who you care about who can hurt you.

Conflict: And then it finally came. It’s confusing that people who can be so obsessed with each other can so quickly devolve into near mortal enemies. Why? Because in most cases what draws people into mentor mentee relationships is what revolts them against each other. In the bonding process above the “deep dive’ that happens allows people to look deep and what they often see is a reflection of themselves. And they don’t like that. They quickly notice traits that are way to familiar with, either taking advantage of others, a mean streak, a penchant for exploitation, taking others for granted, a knack for ingratitude, etc. These things trigger a separation of swift and decisive proportions.

Resolution: In the time apart both parties think evaluate and weigh the mentorship and what it could do for them. Whenever the mentee repents (as the mentor has no need to and will never feel the need to and more importantly is bound for the sake of the relationship dynamic never to apologize) and sees the folly of their ways, they re-approach, this time with the hindsight of wisdom and the cautious shield of distance; careful to never be too clingy or appear too eager or too keen. Tempered. Tamed. Mentored.


Today I have mentors but I make the deliberate effort not to work with them. On projects yes, over the long haul definitely not. Because they are human. Because they are fallible. Also, idols like mentors are better seen on a pedestal and never up close. Whether that is because to not show the cracks in the idol or the flaws in the mentor, it’s a practice that serves to protect both of them.