Allison McWilliams is assistant vice president, mentoring and alumni personal & career development. She writes occasional articles for Inside WFU. This is her third for the spring semester. In each, she shares observations and suggestions with faculty and staff from her professional experiences with students.
“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” – Napoleon Hill
The last time I wrote in this space I shared the four key questions for any effective mentoring conversation:
- How are you being intentional with the choices and decisions that you are making?
- How are you setting goals and taking actions to pursue them?
- How are you seeking out feedback from mentors and wise counselors on your choices, decisions, and goals?
- And, how are you intentionally reflecting on what you are learning?
In this piece I would like to focus on setting goals, which is critical, as the self-help author Napoleon Hill notes in the quote above, to moving our dreams to something more tangible, something more actionable.
Mentoring relationships are goal-oriented relationships. They are always focused on, and in support of, the mentee’s goals and his or her forward progress towards achieving them. Indeed, one good self-check for mentors to make sure that you are doing the right work is to ask yourself: Is the advice that I am giving in support of my mentee’s goals and growth, or is it to make myself feel important and knowledgeable?
And on the mentee side of things, it is important to identify the goals you want to pursue before you engage with someone in a mentoring relationship. What is it that you will be working on together? Why is this person uniquely suited to help you with that goal? And, is this something that you intend to pursue, with or without the support of a mentor? These are all questions that smart mentees ask themselves.
Even if you aren’t in a formal mentoring relationship with your students, you can still help them by asking them what they are working towards. Goal-setting ensures that they are taking ownership of their growth and their time here. And, as a bonus, it is something that they will need to be able to do for the rest of their lives, so they are acquiring great professional skills along the way.
And remember, it’s not about setting a “perfect” goal, as there is no such thing. It’s about the process of identifying some desired future state, and working towards achieving it. That’s what mentoring is all about.
Next time, I’ll share some tips on seeking out and providing effective feedback, which is perhaps the heart of any great mentoring relationship.