Allison McWilliams: Mentoring as wise counsel

Allison McWilliams

Allison McWilliams

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.

This spring I am exploring four distinct roles or strategies that mentors can put to use in their mentoring relationships, depending on the needs and the goals of their mentee: teaching, advising, providing wise counsel, and connecting. Great mentors always stay mentee-focused: keeping the mentee’s needs in front of them, and adjusting accordingly. And, great mentoring relationships are always about forward progress towards defined learning goals: mentoring happens in action.

Today I am sharing one of my favorite mentoring roles, that of the wise counselor. Now, to be clear, a wise counselor is not a counselor, as in a therapist. If you feel that your mentee needs actual counseling, seek out the guidance and expertise of the University Counseling Center, Student Health Services, the SAFE office, or the CARE team. Each of these resources have trained professionals and resources to support those needs.

A wise counselor might be thought of as more of a guide, or a guru, or a sage. Someone who is wise in the advice or the counsel which they provide. And, a wise counselor is not necessarily a mentor. Sometimes a person might need someone with more experience, wisdom, or knowledge than they have, as they work through a problem or a challenge. These wise counselors can provide immediate guidance and coaching to help the other person figure out next steps, but they aren’t necessarily going to be in a long-term relationship, or need to know about the other person’s goals or what the outcome of the problem or challenge is. Another way to look at this sort of interaction is as a mentoring moment, as opposed to a full-blown mentoring relationship.

That said, mentors can incorporate the strategies of a wise counselor as their mentees work towards their learning goals and encounter challenges or roadblocks along the way. Mentors use the strategies of a wise counselor when they draw upon their personal experience to illustrate possible action steps and share lessons they have learned from their own experiences. Of course, you always want to be careful not to move into the role of a “fixer,” or diminish the mentee’s ability to learn his or her own lessons because you are always swooping in to save them from themselves. Don’t pontificate. Remember: mentoring is always about the mentee’s goals, the mentee’s learning, and the mentee’s experience, not the mentor’s ability to feel wise or superior.