New study highlights the five mentoring competencies (5MCs) in mentor training

Spiekermann, L., Lawrence, E., Lyons, M., & Deutsch, N. (2021). A qualitative analysis of the utility of a competency framework for mentor training. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Despite the prevalence of formal mentoring programs, many mentors have trouble establishing and maintaining close and long-lasting relationships with their mentees.
  • The five mentoring competencies (5MCs) model can help establish better research guidelines for youth mentoring.
  • 5MCs consists of the following:
    • Zest (being an enthusiastic mentor who believes in the potential of their mentee)
    • Teamwork (treating your mentee as an equal)
    • Heart (being empathetic & appreciative of differences)
    • Grit (perseverance in addressing mentorship issues)
    • Brains (developing a solid understanding of youth development & effective mentoring practices to create suitable interpersonal skills and developmental expectations)
  • This study explores if and how mentors used the 5MCs during the first three months of their relationship with their mentees.
    • More specifically, this study assesses how mentors apply 5MCs to resolve mentorship issues.
  • Findings indicate that mentors used different competencies to a) address the unique needs of their mentees, b) strengthen the mentoring relationship, and c) address mentorship issues.
  • There wasn’t an individual competency that was more valuable than others.
  • Future studies need to assess if 5MCs are applicable for different types of mentoring programs.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This study takes a qualitative approach to determining the potential usefulness of a competency framework for mentor training. Participants were 37 college women mentoring middle school girls as part of a school-based mentoring program. Mentors were trained using a competency model designed to help them navigate the nuances and challenges of forming a relationship with an unknown youth. As the first step in empirically evaluating the effectiveness of this approach, this study examines if and how mentors made use of this training in their relationships with their mentees. Findings suggest that mentors applied the competency approach in order to develop stronger relationships and overcome mentoring challenges.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Considering the findings from this study, we suggest that issues around relationship growth, as well as challenges, are normative experiences for mentors, and the five mentoring competencies (5MCs) may be a useful framework to help college women mentoring adolescent girls navigate both. These findings represent a step forward in developing an empirically driven, user-friendly framework for instructing mentors in best practices. Additional research is needed to determine if the 5MCs could be applied to different mentoring programs. Particularly, the application of the 5MCs to problem solving relationship challenges (Spencer, 2007). Every mentor in this study discussed facing at least one relationship challenge and the overwhelming majority (92%) referenced multiple relationship challenges. Unlike other studies resulting in a high attrition rate for mentors (Rhodes, 2002; Spencer, 2007), no mentors withdrew from this program. Therefore, we suggest not the ‘if’ of facing relational challenges, but rather the ‘how’ of facing relational challenges and the possible influence on mentor retention and relationship recovery. The 5MCs were designed to address the ‘how,’ and the results from this study may provide a useful framework for instructing mentors in how to navigate mentoring relationships.

All of the mentors in this study described using multiple competencies in congruence with descriptions of the 5MCs in the mentoring handbook (Lawrence et al., 2017). In the majority of cases, the 5MCs were not mentioned explicitly or in direct response to the assignment prompt, but they were implied through descriptions of using different tools and techniques associated with the 5MCs. Thus, mentors were not simply citing the 5MCs to fulfill an assignment requirement; they were authentically using them in relationships.

Each of the 5MCs were reflected across responses, and no single competency seemed to be significantly more useful than the others. While mentors prioritized different competencies depending on the changing needs of their mentoring relationship, they used the heart competency most to identify and respond to these changing needs. Given the dynamic nature of relationships, the heart competency may be an important mentor skill in laying the groundwork for a successful relationship with youth mentees. In particular, the heart competency may equip a mentor in navigating a relationship with shy or reticent mentees as well as those who seemed disinterested or blatantly rude. In this study, mentors who failed to use heart effectively, or were not attuned to their mentee’s needs, applied other competencies in a way that they felt hindered relationship growth (e.g. were overly enthusiastic in an attempt to use zest, or were too quick to turn the conversation back to their mentee in an attempt to use teamwork). The concept of heart as a foundational competency is supported by Varga and Deutsch (2016) finding that misattunement was the most important predictor of relationship dissatisfaction.

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