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Nurturing Your Niche: Mentoring as a Means of Creating a Safe Environment

Mentoring can be classified as being a leadership role but the motivation(s) underlying that desire to mentor can exist within a spectrum ranging from nurturing (positive) to destructive (negative). For example, a mentor who leads from a position of low self-worth and hurt may attempt to fill that self-esteem gap by exerting power over others on a continuing basis. “Leading from hurt” often may be based upon deficient relationships with first (birth) families where children may feel under-valued or downright worthless. When individuals are deprived of their parents’ acceptance and approval, they can develop an insatiable desire for recognition and success while failing to recognize that comparing themselves with others can result in ongoing feelings of disappointment and unhappiness. Projecting such negative feelings onto others can lead to escalating distrust as well as an outright disconnect in the mentor-mentee relationship rather than a collaboration between the two.

In contrast, mentoring from the heart requires mentors acknowledging their own fears, feelings, experiences and history, in addition to identifying their own blind spots. Within their commitment to helping others, mentors assist mentees in identifying their own blind spots in ways that are both safe and supportive. The difference between leading from hurt versus leading from the heart arises from not what a mentor has experienced or is experiencing but rather what mentors do with that past hurt. One example of an active strategy to employ when the world appears to be crashing down, is to draft a list of what is actually wrong as means of bringing the situation back into a more realistic perspective including the better management of emotions. So, ultimately the mentor’s role may be described as the following: The role of the mentor is not  to prevent mentees from taking risks but to provide them with a safe environment in which they can take risks.

Dr. Mary Ann Markey