Mentors need to help their mentees build an immunity to the peculiarities of the organization.
We have a tendency to think of mentorship as a great calling, and rightfully so. But that mindset can lead to an approach that overlooks some of the work that helps a mentee build grit; the ability to survive first, then thrive.
This means helping the mentee build immunity to a strain of organizational complexity, maladies, and oddities that they have perhaps not been exposed to. Like an immune system that has never had the opportunity to build resistance to disease, the mentee is vulnerable to attacks that would otherwise go unnoticed by people more experienced.
When we take on a new mentee, we tend to think that they will help us cure what ails the organization, but we overlook the fact that the mentee is susceptible to falling victim to what we hope they will help us cure.
Our first role as a mentor then should be helping our mentees build on their strengths, and develop the relationships that will carry them through this difficult process. We should not rush to assign classes, books to read, habits to take on, or moonshot goals to aspire to.
We need to be where our mentee is. We need to focus on the skills and experience that brought them to our mentorship, reinforce these qualities, and slowly add the challenge of expanding in these areas.
Once a mentee learns how to survive, that is, through a regular, consistent application of their strengths and relationships, we can help them thrive. This is where our role as a mentor is to employ our strengths and our relationships to the benefit of the mentee, but no sooner.
A great calling requires great patience, and in the case of mentorship, there is perhaps no greater application of this than the work of helping a mentee develop immunity to the particulars of an organization.