This series offers resources from the Mentoring Focus Group of the Women in Leadership Project. This group has met since the beginning of 2012, brainstorming ways to encourage mentoring of women leaders across Mennonite Church USA. These articles are one outcome, and are commended to individuals and organizations who are involved in mentoring or want to get started.
By Janeen Bertsche Johnson
Mentoring can involve a number of different kinds of support, from skills training to coaching to spiritual guidance. As you think about what potential focus a mentoring relationship might take, consider the people already in your personal and professional support system. Marian Coger, in Women in Parish Ministry: Stress and Support (Alban Institute, 1985), suggests three basic types of support:
*Comforters are the people who love and accept us unconditionally, who hold us (literally or figuratively) in their care without needing to fix anything.
*Clarifiers are the people who listen to us and ask questions which help us discover important connections or themes, who help us sort out what is relevant in a situation.
*Confronters are the people who can challenge us in a way that we can accept (because they care about us), who give us constructive criticism and point out things we might not be able to see.
Each of us needs these three roles in our personal support system and in our professional support system. For example, if I am struggling with a personal issue, one of my friends is great at listening sympathetically and letting me know that I am in her prayers (comforter); another friend asks great questions to help me see new possibilities (clarifier), and a family member reminds me that my expectations aren’t always fair to others (confronter).
At work, several of my trusted female colleagues are my comforters. There are others I ask for help clarifying a situation, and the confronter role occasionally is played by my supervisor.
In reality, these roles often overlap in the same support people. But this model has helped me in several ways:
*If I want a particular kind of support, I need to ask for that. Otherwise I may be frustrated because someone offers something different than what I need. This is especially true if I just want someone to comfort me and they respond out of one of the other roles instead.
*Likewise, if someone is looking to me for support, I try to ask what kind of support they need. I remember the time that Jesus asked Bartimaueus, “What do you want me to do for you?” even though it was obvious that Bartimaeus was blind! Letting a person name what kind of support they need keeps us from rushing in to offer advice or try to fix their problem, and it empowers the other person.
*Our support systems are often weakest in the confronting area. In our culture, particularly in the church, it is difficult to challenge another person’s work and especially their behavior. We may need to give someone explicit permission to challenge us if we want to build this part of our support system.
I encourage people to make a chart with these roles, and fill in the names of the people who provide different kinds of support. This can help us discover what kinds of support we are missing. This framework can also help shape a mentoring relationship.