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Mentoring Matches: How to Find One That Works

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Barbara Neumann
and
Meagan Butler

Next generation women clamor for mentors, but many mentoring programs fail to draw these women into vital mentoring relationships. Or, if the young women do come, many drop out within a couple of months. It seems what worked well in the past feels strange to our young women today. Since our next generation women function in a more organic environment and usually don’t appreciate relationships artificially chosen for them, it’s a good time to rethink our strategy.

3 Reasons Matching Doesn’t Work

1. A natural click is missing.

Matching programs can be helpful in finding people with life commonalities, but they usually can’t predict a click between two people. A click is an intangible something that occurs when a mentee and mentor are drawn to one another. It starts out subtle, yet obvious—it pulls two women together without any effort. It just . . . happens. It’s the invisible thread that holds the relationship together and sparks momentum. When a click is present, a comfortable relationship for both women follows naturally. It’s this natural click that enables a mentoring relationship to be enjoyable from the very beginning.

As they try out a mentoring situation, the click can be a factor both mentor and mentee are gauging. They may discover it’s just not there. Older women are sometimes tempted to take this personally, but attraction depends on factors beyond the mentor’s control. Don’t let hurt feelings creep in and dampen your enthusiasm for these relationships. Continue to be open to women who are hungry for a relationship.

2. Credibility isn’t automatic.

Although a click is essential, the young woman looks for even more: credibility. She must know her mentor has both solid character and a life worth imitating. The trustworthy character of a potential mentor is more important to our next generation gals than whether they both like Jane Austen books. The two women may have everything in common, but if the mentor lacks credibility in the young woman’s eyes the relationship is pointless. Even if we assure her that a particular woman is trustworthy, she’s unlikely to accept our endorsement. She must see it firsthand.

3. It’s scary.

Secret fear of a mismatch often accompanies the matching approach. How many profiles must a young woman submit to find a mentor that clicks? How long must she meet with one that doesn’t? A sinking feeling grows with each failure as she searches for a mentor. And, like a bad date that seems to never end, a mentoring mismatch can feel just as miserable. Fear of a poor match scares many young women away from matching programs.

For these reasons, it’s nearly impossible for matching programs to consistently hit the mark on natural attraction, click, and trust. It’s true that sometimes women artificially paired find all these elements present and the match works well. But more often than not, an awkward relationship that feels artificial is what you get. If that’s the case, our young women look for a quick exit and we lose a wide-open mentoring opportunity. Is there another way for women to find each other? We believe there is.

Three Approaches that Work

1. The mentee finds her mentor.

Our research and experience indicates older women must graciously release the pairing process and allow the mentee to select the woman with whom she wants a relationship. Allowing the younger woman to choose can feel risky, but she isn’t the only one who orchestrates the relationship. The Holy Spirit is an important part of the process, and he not only sparks her desire to be mentored, but also guides her choices.

You may be asking yourself how this will happen. When a young woman is confronted by a life dilemma or lacks a desired skill, she’s naturally prompted to look for an experienced woman who “gets” her and the situation. She senses when another woman can be the resource she needs and instinctively moves toward her. Allowing young women to make this choice creates the environment of trust so essential to mentoring.

2. The mentee initiates wisely.

When a young woman notices a potential mentor, her approach can make or break the situation. “Will you be my mentor?” can scare off the bravest of women. “Mentor” carries heavy meaning for many older women, and they find this request overwhelming. Expectation for deep wisdom and time-consuming commitment is assumed, she feels unqualified, and she’s tempted to say no. Fortunately, there’s a better way for mentees to go about this. “Want to get some coffee?” is usually a comfortable invitation older women accept readily. The casualness of a coffee date removes the heavy cloak of responsibility and her fear of inadequacy. After all, we’re women. We can always do coffee and conversation.

3. Mentors anticipate relationships.

Natural relationships occur when older women are open and welcome young women into their life. In this atmosphere, the young woman feels confident she’ll be received when extending an invitation for coffee. Mentors, what vibes do you send out to potential mentees? Young women sense when an older woman is available for mentoring. If they think you’re too busy or uninterested, young women will look elsewhere. Women prayerfully engaged in their surroundings are more prone to catch potential relationships.

Because God works in different ways for each mentoring situation, there are times when a mentor senses a connection before the mentee. The younger woman might need just a little push in the right direction. It’s okay for the older woman to occasionally extend the first invitation, but the same rules apply. It should only be an invitation for coffee to see if there’s a spark. This gives the young woman freedom to accept or decline gracefully. Trust God with the results!

If there’s a connection, a mentorship will naturally take place.

Watch it work!

Many a young woman feels frustrated when she looks for a mentor and can’t find one that understands her identity and needs. It can be so discouraging that she gives up and depends on a peer instead. However, there are special benefits that come from an older woman/younger woman relationship--benefits she can’t obtain from a peer.

If you’re a young woman, make the effort to put yourself in a place that allows you to meet older, admirable women. Don’t be afraid to ask one of them to coffee. Listen for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and watch the Lord work in these new relationships. If you’re an older woman, extend warmth to the young women in your sphere and be ready for those who respond. And, both of you prepare to be blessed!

Related Topics: Discipleship, Women's Articles