Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Using Mentors and Alcoholics

There's nothing more gratifying to me than helping a younger or less experienced person grow into a role that will result in a better life for him or her. I believe this is the case for most people. Mentoring another person is one form of the deeply rewarding process of giving back to our community. It also happens to make the Mentor feel pretty good the way getting out of oneself and giving back unselfishly always does.

In the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, mentors in the program are called Sponsors. The Sponsor's role is to guide the newly sober in his understanding and journey through the 12 steps of the program. There's no defined process though. Every sponsor does it differently.You learn to sponsor from your sponsor. Sponsoring skills are passed from one generation to the next through trial and error. But there are lessons one can learn from the sponsorship process of AA.

The Sponsee asks the Sponsor based upon their understanding of how well that sponsor has mastered his own 'program'. Sponsees gravitate toward those that appear to maintain sobriety effortlessly. Sometimes you find the right sponsor on the first try. Sometimes not. Some people use 'temporary sponsors' until they have a better understanding of what they are looking for. Sponsees change sponsors based on what they think they need or don't need at that time. Proximity of age, background, education level, ethnicity and other criteria are ignored (except gender due to the sensitivity of the issues dealt with). The only thing that matters is, does that person have what I want or need right now. 

AA Sponsors provide a really affirmative guide to how to coach and support others who are learning the ropes. Its informal, effective and central to the program's success as a means to overcome alcoholism. I encourage you to find an alcoholic (non-practicing, of course), buy him a drink and pick his brain about sponsoring. You'll learn a great deal about mentoring in the process.

Your choice of a mentor should be similarly organic. You should not have pre-set ideas of how your mentor is going to work with you.  And not be afraid to change mentors if the fit is not right. You can also ask a mentor to be a temporary mentor until you find one that you want to work with long term. But the point is that you should find another lawyer good at business development and ask them to mentor you.

Mentoring has taken off in many law firms and I believe it is because the mentor and mentee both get significant benefits from the process. Because time is the inventory of the practice, there is a fundamental difference between mentoring in professional services and AA program sponsorships. As such, making the right match and keeping the relationship positive and productive for both requires following certain ground rules. For those looking to be mentored, the following points will help you form the foundation of a relationship that will hopefully last your entire career.
1. Use your mentor wisely. Be prepared when you meet. Provide possible solutions to your issues and get her opinion on those solutions rather than simply bringing your problems.

2. Don’t overuse or abuse your privilege. Don’t encourage others to use your mentor. Don’t take too much of their time. Don't whine and complain. Stay positive.

3. Change mentors when you are not getting what you need. It's not always a perfect fit. When you sense the fit is not working, make a change. People's needs change as they grow. Neither party should be insulted or embarrassed if the fit is not right. And, often a little distance can show you that the fit was better than you thought at the time. You can always go back.

4. Thank your mentor. Find ways to give back by mentoring others. Follow through on their suggestions and report back the successes- your success is the satisfaction that your mentor gets out of the relationship. Be grateful and demonstrate that gratitude by being as good as your mentor believes you are.

Mentoring can be a highly rewarding relationship for both attorneys. Go out and find a mentor. Get building that relationship and following her advice. You'll be glad you did.

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