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How Can a Cat Help You with Your Mentoring Relationship?

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

Christos Tamouridis is a Captain in the Army Aviation branch of the Greek Army. He is passionate about leadership development, a big proponent of the maxim "Know Thyself," and is motivated by working with others to accomplish goals. Read on to check out his unique take on mentoring.

The other day I was walking around my neighborhood in Athens, Greece, and I ran into a cat hiding behind a car. With a closer look, I saw that she had something around her neck. Unfortunately, someone had put packing tape around her neck, and apparently, she couldn't get rid of it. Immersed in feelings of bafflement and a bit of anger, I tried to approach her to take it off. As you may expect, she was terrified of me and retreated whenever I tried to get near her. I returned to my house, got some cat food (as we have several cat visitors around our balcony), and headed back to where the abused cat was. I thought that had I given her some snacks, I would gradually bring her to me so I could grab her and take the tape off. Unfortunately, when she was about a foot from my lap, I jumped to grab her, but she beat my reflexes and got away. Following this unsuccessful attempt, I never managed to approach her again, and the whole operation failed.

On my way back home, reflecting on the whole incident, the following questions popped up in my head:

What if people around you (and there definitely are) have similar shackles (or chains) around their necks? (Of course, these chains would be invisible to the human eye.)

And how do you approach these people? How can you deal with people choked by problems, fears, and past experiences that you don't see when you look at them but make them fear and retreat? What if one of these people is your mentee?

Initiating a mentoring relationship is not just a process where an experienced professional advises a new one. According to Baylor University's Community Mentoring for Adolescent Development, an authentic mentoring relationship resembles something like a ritual and includes 4 phases. In the first, the mentor and mentee get to know each other; then, they determine expectations and set goals; third, they aim to achieve those goals, and finally, they close their relationship.

This article focuses on the first stage, where the mentor and mentee meet and informally identify their shared interests, values, and future goals. Research shows that when spending time getting to know one another's interests, values, and ambitions, the relationship appears to get off to a better start.

All of us come from diverse backgrounds, different experiences, and life paths with a different amount of load upon our shoulders (after all, life is difficult, right?). Additionally, each of us started our journey from another starting point, and that is something essential to have in mind when you plan to utter a word of advice to another person. Self-awareness is a crucial characteristic of a mentor who wants to start the relationship as successfully as possible.

Anyway, I believe that a mentor, in the initial phase, should approach a relationship with a mentee with the following presupposition:

All of us have invisible chains, and it is up to the mentor to find the right formula to reveal them and try to take them off.

However, how are we to approach a mentee with the discussed shackles?

As I explained in my story with the cat, rushing into moves without considering that it takes time to cultivate a relationship will probably work against the final goal. The mentee might be afraid to open up and trust a rushing mentor. And as I experienced with the cat, you fail when you jump to grab her out of your desire to help quickly. You have sacrificed a long-term goal (lasting results) for short-term gain (quick results).

Therefore, reflecting on my story, I conclude that time and patience work in favor of building trust with every human being. Our universe has its own rhythm, and we are to align with its music should we want to have an impact on it.

Closing my thoughts, I would like to share my conclusions explicitly tailored to a new mentoring relationship:

  1. Remember that a mentorship relationship is a process better viewed as a ritual. You have to experience every phase of it to take the most out of it.

  2. The first phase is crucial as it focuses on the acquaintance of the two individuals. Please do not treat it as a trivial step assuming you already know each other's thoughts.

  3. Accept that each of us has chains choking us to various degrees and holding us back. Do not jump to conclusions. Start with self-awareness and then try to understand and find those of your counterpart.

  4. However, do it slowly, with patience. Otherwise, you have the danger of frightening your mentee and making them flee away once and for all.

It's been a few weeks and I still have not regained the complete trust of the cat. She is not as afraid as she was on the first day, but she is still questioning my motives! However, I am sure I will free her up with perseverance, patience, and willingness to do good. I'll let you know!

*I would like to clarify that dealing with an individual's past is usually something a counselor deals with. However, in a mentoring relationship, since you are dealing with a human being as a whole, you cannot turn a blind eye to your mentee's past.

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