Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What is your personality type and why does it matter in mentoring?

After attending a recent mentor coffee and listening to the other mentors discuss their challenges with mentoring, I had a brainstorm that I immediately shared with Shelley. She asked me to delve a little deeper in order to share my thoughts in this months’ blog. Enjoy!
In both my personal and professional life, I’ve worked with personality and strengths-finder testing instruments. I’ve come to understand that our personalities as mentors and mentees can shape what we expect or want out of the mentoring relationship.  For example, I suspect that those who want to focus on setting and reaching goals have a highly “conscientious and scheduling” personality (i.e. goal-oriented), whereas a person who has “low conscientiousness”, but has a highly “agreeable and intellectually or artistically inclined personality” style (i.e relational) will be more interested in understanding, connecting, and learning about the other person in the relationship. What a mentor defines as a healthy mentor-mentee relationship may be different from how the mentee defines it based on their different personality types. Mentors and mentees may want to learn about each other’s personalities to reach a deeper level of understanding. Some of the following ideas illustrate this point.

·         “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” –John Maxwell.  As mentors, we know it’s important to build trust in the relationship. For some people, trust comes from getting to know the other person as a friend, and for other people trust comes from staying true to your commitments: we don’t know how the other person views trust or the mentor-mentee relationship until the relationship unfolds.

·         Mentorship doesn’t always come in a formal goal setting environment. When I transitioned from growing up in a poor neighborhood to going to college working as a research assistant at a university, I learned a lot of things about life, culture, and society just by hanging out and talking with co-workers. Simply spending time with these individuals helped me to grow and transition.

·         Research shows that having a good and positive relationship with someone can dramatically boost our mood and self-esteem (  It has also become apparent that when a person gets lifted out of generational poverty, they almost always have a key person in their life who encouraged them (Devol, Payne, & Dressui Smith, 2006).

·         When mentors and mentees understand each other and communicate, they will discover what the other person thinks the relationship should look like. But, it is important for people who have a "goal-setting" personality to realize that even when a session doesn’t involve the exact discussion of goals, as a mentor you may be helping the mentee more than you realize by just being a listening friend.  You are learning valuable mentoring lessons from each other just by observing and learning by example from the behaviors, language and world-view of the other person during casual friendship conversations.

Patrick Monahan is an Associate Professor at Indiana University and is a Trusted Mentor.

Devol, P., Payne, R. and Dreussi Smith, T. (2006) Bridges out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities. USA: aha! Process, Inc.