If you're new to a breed, showing, breeding, performance then you've heard the line- "Get A Mentor!" But where are we supposed to start? When mentoring works the way it is supposed to, it is a great thing! When it doesn't, a lasting negative impression is left. Granted, many reputable breeders are more than willing, and happy, to mentor their puppy buyers. After all, they want to see their puppy have a full, happy, healthy life. Many are just as excited as you are that you are interested in whatever the 'next step' is! But what if this is not the case? We are going to share some personal experience as well as some research base information on how to find a good mentor and more importantly how to spot when the mentoring relationship has turned.
What Makes A Good Mentor?
Lets first start by outlining some of the things that make a good mentor.
1) Willingness to share their knowledge, expertise, and skills. The mentor should be able to realize the amount of commitment and be willing to constantly share ongoing support and information to the person they are mentoring.
2) A Positive Role Model. Start by finding someone that YOU look up to and that you respect in the area of interest you are hoping to be mentored. These are the people that don't just 'talk the talk' but are willing and able to 'walk the walk'. These are the people that often hold a lot of respect amongst their peers as well.
3) Takes a personal interest in the mentor relationship. Lets face it, good communication is key in any level of mentoring. If your mentor is shutting down and not communicating, how is that benefiting you?
4) Has enthusiasm for what they do! We all want to learn from someone who still has that fire and passion for what they are doing. If they've lost their fire for what their doing, there's little chance they'll be able to help grow your passion for it either.
5) Provides guidance and constructive feedback. Not only is teaching the positives important, but also being able to constructively help point out the weaknesses. Positive constructive feedback is where the mentee will have the most potential for growth. No one learns well if they are constantly being beaten down.
So when looking for a mentor, try to keep in mind what it is you are specifically looking for in a mentor! Respect is a two way street...if there is no respect in either direction, there is no chance of a positive relationship.
How does it go wrong?
So now that we have a simple set of ideas to consider while searching for a mentor, lets look at some reasons why those relationships fail. Lets first start by saying that these relationships don't start out with the idea of failure, but we all have lives, jobs, stressors that can crop up.
The most common reason these relationships fail is the obvious conflicting personality types. It has been shown that the more two people have in common, the more they are both willing to put into the relationship. If the dissimilarities become too great and if there is too much unwillingness to bend to one another's needs the relationship will implode.
The next most common concern is neglect of the mentee. This one may seem like common sense, but for the mentee to really benefit from the mentor relationship the mentor must show interest and be positive to help foster a positive personal learning environment.
Now we can likely chalk some of this up to the mentor's own preoccupation in their daily life. This does not excuse the damage it does to the relationship though. This kind of hurt can cause the mentee to shut down and be less willing to accept guidance in the future.
Next is one of the most damaging reasons for the relationship to fail, and one that I have personally been through. Mentors that manipulate. The most common form of manipulation in the dog world is the politicking aspect of manipulation. Politicking involves purposeful malicious acts of campaigning to damage the mentee's reputation. If the mentor is one of high standing or respect in the field, this can lead to irreparable damage to the mentee's reputation. A mentor that criticizes their mentee behind their backs and blames them for mistakes that the mentors themselves made are not mentors that have your best interest at heart. Rather, are using their mentee for their own amusement or gain. Coming back from this type of relationship can be difficult, depending on how much damage was done over the course of the relationship.
Next is somewhat less common, though it still exists. The mentee that manipulates and sabotages the mentor. Though often the mentee has less reputation and means to fall back on, the damage done is still there. Reputations are tarnished on both sides of this sword. Often this type of malice crops up out of revenge toward their mentor in result of mentor manipulating the relationship.
Finally the overly submissive mentee. Becoming too reliant on the mentor often leads to an overly controlling, or one sided, relationship. This is not a relationship the promotes mentee growth and development. Be able to stand on your own two feet!
How To Make It Work
Give your relationship structure! Work with your mentor to outline a realistic goal oriented path. This will help the mentor identify the best way to mentor you in your goals, as well as give you the feeling of security that your goals are being put in the forefront of your relationship. All while keeping your goals achievable so as not to discourage you.
Have more than one mentor! That's right, you can and should, have more than one mentor. There is very little likelihood that you will find exactly the type of fancier that you want to be in one person alone. Diversify, collect multiple different views on the subject, and with those develop your own identity.
Be sure to seek feedback! Be sure you are actively participating in the mentor relationship, don't continually expect them to reach out to you. Reach out to them as well. Showing your dedication to the goal will keep both the mentor and mentee engaged in the relationship.
Prepare for the end. Yes, there is going to come a time when you and your mentor have 'tapped out'. You need to realize this going into the relationship and hopefully you'll be able to call the relationship at it's end while still remaining friends.
Keep Your Chin Up!
To wrap this up, lets look at where to look. As mentioned earlier, your breeder may be your first and best option to go with. Providing of course they are able and willing to take on the commitment to growing your goals. The next place I'd suggest looking is through your local dog/breed fancier's club. Keeping in mind a mentor needs to be knowledgable and experienced in what it is you are hoping to get into. If you are interested in showing dogs, go to dog shows and meet people! If you are interested in working dogs, find and go to these events and get a dialogue rolling. With the increased accessibility to social media, the options are endless! Some of the best mentors I have had the pleasure of working with I have met through Facebook or in breed specific groups. Sometimes your mentors come from the least expected places. Don't be discouraged, it will happen. Wait for the right one and things will just click.
Be wary of negative advise. It was once told to me that we should 'be wary of those who offer to mentor you, they always have their own agenda'. I am here to say this is some of the worst advise I have ever received from a mentor. Perhaps the 'agenda' is actually helping someone in the right direction. Sometimes the best mentors are the ones that volunteer, at least it shows they may actually have the time to mentor you. Don't shut people out too soon, and take the time to form your own opinions of the potential mentor before deciding yes or no. Remember you have to be able to respect the person you're being mentored by, and they need to be able to respect you as well.
Growing up in Montana my love of the Siberian Husky started at a young age. It has been quite a journey so far. There has been much to learn and still a lot more yet to learn! I truly believe that we are never too old, too experienced, or too full of ourselves to learn something new. I also believe that knowledge is useless unless we are willing to share it with others.