Allison McWilliams: Owning (and sharing) your learning goals

Allison McWilliams, director of mentoring and alumni personal and career development in the Office of Personal and Career Development, writes occasional articles for Inside WFU.  This is the second for the spring semester.  In each, she shares observations and suggestions with faculty and staff from her professional experience with students.

Allison McWilliams, the Director of Career Education in the Wake Forest Office of Personal and Career Development on Monday, October 10, 2011.

Effective mentoring relationships are built around intentional action towards defined goals. Why should mentoring partners set goals? Mentoring goals help define expectations for the relationship and help define how you and your mentee will know when the relationship has been successful. Mentoring goals also provide a framework for the conversations that will take place during the relationship and for the work that the mentee will be doing.

For example, a student working on a research project might have as a goal, “Create a draft article to submit for publication by the end of the semester.” As the mentor, you can frame your mentoring conversations around the progress the student is making towards accomplishing that goal, stumbling blocks he or she encounters along the way, and how that goal connects to the student’s larger academic and career goals. This SMART goal also provides a timeline for the relationship – the end of the semester – and a measure of accountability, whether or not an article is completed.

Effective mentors facilitate their mentee’s ability to create, work towards, and achieve his or her goals. And, while the focus of any mentoring relationship should always rest squarely on the mentee, as a mentor you also should take the time to set learning goals of your own. What is it that you hope to accomplish during the course of this relationship? How will you learn and grow? Sharing your goals and your progress towards achieving them is another way that you role model behavior and provide an additional mentoring conversation opportunity. It also allows you to demonstrate the value of a adopting a growth mindset, the belief that innate talent and intelligence does not pre-determine our abilities to continue to develop, learn, and achieve throughout our lives.

If you’re struggling to come up with goals for your mentoring relationship, you can use the Mentoring Learning Outcomes and self-evaluations to identify one or more areas where you would like to see improvement for yourself. Each of the four Mentoring Learning Outcomes has four associated strategies which provide multiple opportunities for growth. For example, you may want to work on your ability to ask thought-provoking questions and practice active listening skills in your mentoring conversations. As you begin your mentoring relationship, share this goal with your mentee and ask for feedback on your progress. Effective mentors willingly disclose their own challenges and successes as appropriate to the mentoring relationship.