A new CRHNet initiative: a national mentor program

ron-3-wcdm2011-1by Ron Kuban, Ph.D., CRHNet past-president.Ron Kuban has been engaged in different facets of emergency management for over 30 years. He has been on the CRHNet Board since its inception, and is its current past president. He is the co-Chair of the newly established National Mentor Program for emergency management.

The term ‘mentor’ is derived from the Greek name Mentor, who was a counselor and a very close friend of Ulysses. Legend has it that during Ulysses’s ten-year infamous odyssey he entrusted the care of his son to Mentor; and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. The mentor role continues today and touches our field of emergency management.

Regardless of your belief in Greek mythology, mentoring relationships have long been an accepted process in the teaching and learning of the arts, especially when one ‘studied under a Master’. Over time, the formal and structured Master-student relationships evolved to become what we now readily accept as mentor-protégée relationships, or more simply as mentor relationships.

Mentor relationships have a long and significant history in human development; they have now become indispensable in our rapidly evolving world and are prevalent in all forms of human endeavor that require intellectual and experiential growth. In fact, these endeavors have repeatedly been facilitated and even expedited through mentor relationships, or the transfer of otherwise-hidden knowledge to someone just starting in their organization, industry or field of practice. No longer restricted to the Arts, such relationships are acceptable globally and are at last formally encroaching into the thinking and practice of emergency management professionals and academics.

The Canadian Risk and Hazards Network (CRHNet) has long valued the application of mentor relationships within the field of practice broadly known as ‘emergency management’ (EM). It noted that many practitioners become involved in EM through ‘professional evolution’, or by being involved in another field (e.g., fire, policing, health, or utilities) and then taking on added responsibilities related to emergencies or disasters. Similarly, many students attend EM-related courses or programs to expand their knowledge or skills, often gained in another field of practice. In either case, these individuals invariably enter a relatively new operational environment with its own culture, language, concepts, rules, players and stakeholders. Many of these newly-entered EM professionals or students would greatly benefit from a mentoring relationship. In fact, given the rapid evolution of ‘emergency management’, the engagement of someone with a ‘guiding hand and wise counsel’ may benefit even those who have been in the field for a while. That ‘someone’ is a mentor.

CRHNet now offers a national mentor program for Canadian students and practitioners in emergency management. This program is part of the CRHNet mission to create a strong professional foundation that would enhance Canada’s resilience to disaster. In developing this program, CRHNet is committed to maintaining a formal structure and related processes; these would facilitate diverse mentor-protégé interactions, which would fully enable the creativity and dynamic interplay that such relationships could (and should) generate.

The mentor program is based on a dynamic interplay between two unique individuals: the mentor and the protégé. A ‘mentor’ is someone who takes a personal interest in another person’s professional growth and guides him or her towards that goal. The literature uses other terms to describe this role: coach, counsellor, guru, teacher, advisor, hero, transitional figure, moral supporter, confidence builder, rabbi, tutor and patron. They all help to describe the broad and interesting role of a ‘mentor’. In fact, the Dictionary of Occupational Titles describes mentoring as the highest and most complex level of functioning in people-related skills. The role provides both the encouragement for planned personal growth and the linkages to resources to make this growth possible.

The ‘protégé’ is a person who is willingly engaged in a dynamic relationship with a “mentor” to achieve professional and personal growth. However, having a mentor is not a guarantee for one’s success: like all other human relationships, mentor relationships depend on the amount of dedication and commitment put in by each member of the relationship and the ‘chemistry’ between them.

The benefits are numerous and appear at many levels. The most readily recognized benefits, because they are the main objectives of mentor relationships, are those that are gained by the protégés being mentored. Mentors are typically better informed, positioned, resourced, and connected than their protégé; typically, they are also more experienced in the ways of their profession, organization, industry, or network. Protégés may gain information, resources, contacts, exposure, or opportunities that they may otherwise not have. By having a mentor, protégés may also gain through added confidence or the availability of a sounding board to safely explore new ideas.

Mentors also benefit from the mentoring relationship. The literature on the topic indicates that mentors gain a fresh perspective (i.e., of their long-held beliefs, current or future professional reality, and its practice), improved own performance (i.e., being ‘energized’), satisfaction from assisting in another person’s growth, professional recognition (or ‘standing’) for their contribution, and a potential friendship (or collegiality) with someone that may otherwise have been overlooked.

Organizations including agencies and businesses also gain much from mentor relationships. These relationships reduce the time and challenges of integrating employees into new positions or roles. They also create a positive and dynamic environment that helps incubate new ideas, increases motivation, reduces time spent on ‘re-inventing the wheel’, reduces operating errors or costs, facilitates succession, and promotes overall growth.

As an aside, mentor relationships are bound to assist our field of practice by advancing the transfer of related knowledge, allowing the exposure of new ideas or perspectives into the overall dialogue, and increasing the number of successful ‘players’ in the field. Therefore, CRHNet is convinced that this mentor program will ultimately also enhance Canada’s resilience to disaster.

 

The CRHNet mentor program is intended for practitioners, students, public officials and academics who are engaged in any of the many elements of disaster risk reduction and response (DRR-R), including emergency planning, disaster response, business continuity/recovery, the sciences (e.g., natural, health, engineering), recovery and reconstruction, community development, resilience or capacity building and many more.

Age, gender and level of experience are not intended to limit either those seeking a mentor, or their mentor. However, mentors in this program are expected to be profoundly experienced in and well informed about their unique sector of DRR-R, and/or well positioned in their respective organization to guide and assist their protégée.

Protégés must be living in Canada. While Canadian mentors are encouraged, this program may accept them from other countries that have similar disaster-related values as Canada. Mentors and protégés may be of the same, or of different gender. However, they both need to agree to that arrangement, as per the process identified below.

The program clearly expects mentors and protégés to be honest with each other regarding their expectations; similarly, they are expected to share openly the information (including issues or challenges) that forms the basis of their mentor relationship. Mentors and protégés are expected to have strong inter-personal communication skills or willingness to improve these skills through this relationship.

Mentors are expected to

  • Serve as a role model,
  • Explore the professional aspirations of their protégé,
  • Be available and responsive (i.e., prompt) when needed or requested,
  • Help the protégée set professional goals,
  • Provide honest, respectful and tactful advice, guidance or feedback,
  • Readily share knowledge and relate experiences,
  • Serve as a sounding board, and be willing to explore new ideas or strategies,
  • Make recommendations towards helping to advance the protégé’s goals and aspirations (as appropriate),
  • Promote the protégé (within the organization, industry or network), help the protégé make connections (as appropriate), or advise the protégé of related opportunities, and
  • Strive to build the protégé’s confidence.

Protégés are expected to

  • Have the desire to learn, grow and succeed; the Mentor is not responsible for the protégé success!
  • Be open and honest with their mentor (e.g., identify existing skills, desired skills or opportunities, challenges, goals),
  • Be prepared to set and work towards goals agreed-to with their mentor,
  • Be willing to work hard as guided by their mentor,
  • Be willing to take risks and operate outside their comfort zone,
  • Be supportive of their mentor,
  • Respect their mentor’s time, knowledge and effort,
  • Be responsive (i.e., prompt response or action),
  • Disagree respectfully, and
  • Provide timely feedback to their mentor.

Mentor relationships are not meant to make the protégé a replica of the mentor; they are to help the protégé fully grow into his or her own professional or academic best.

Mentors and protégés need not be in close physical proximity to each other, although when possible such proximity facilitates valuable face-to-face interactions: they are encouraged to use any electronic means available to them (i.e., Email, texting, Skype, social media and so on) to maintain frequent contact. The frequency of interaction may vary based on the needs, availability and circumstances of either member in the relationship, however, CRHNet expects at least one meaningful contact per month. Mentors and protégés are expected to commit to a minimum of two years.

While mentors and protégés are free to set up their relationship on their own, should they do so through this program, each needs to adhere to the procedure set below. Each has a right to withdraw at any time and is requested to advise CRHNet accordingly.

Individuals interested in becoming either a mentor or a protégé need to apply to CRHNet (through the Mentor Program Co-chair) and identify their interest. (Appropriate forms are available on the CRHNet website at www.CRHNet.ca). Mentors are requested to identify their experience, knowledge base, qualifications, geographical location, area(s) of interest as a mentor, and preferences for a protégé. The latter may include protégé minimum qualification (academic or experiential), degree of professional exposure (e.g., neophyte, limited experience, or experienced), current field of practice, and gender preference (if any). Similarly, protégés need to identify their background and interests(in a two-page essay and a short application form), as well as their preferences or limitations (if any) regarding their mentor. The received applications will be held by the Mentor Program Co-chair who will strive to match mentors and protégés based on information available through the application form.

As the first step in the process of matching mentors and protégés the Program Co-chair would consider what the two individuals identified would prefer to avoid. For example, if a request is made for similar gender mentor/protégé then this would be the factor that may screen out one or the other member. Similarly, expressed restrictions of geography, academic background, operational environment, language, age difference, and so on would also be respected and mismatched pairing avoided.

Otherwise, mentors/protégés will be paired on as many of the following criteria as possible, in order of descending priority:

  • Academic background and interests,
  • Operational background or experience,
  • Organization/Industry (seeking similarity of exposure),
  • Geography (aiming to provide the closest proximity possible), and
  • Personal goals/objectives.

When a possible ‘match’ is made by the Mentor Program Co-chair, the application of the protégé will be sent in confidence to the mentor who would be asked to ‘accept’ the protégé. If accepted, the mentor and protégé will be formally connected by the Program Co-chair; a formal letter/email of mentorship initiation will be sent to the mentor and protégé sharing the contact details of one with the other and re-emphasizing the program expectations. Applications that are turned down by a potential mentor will then be offered, where appropriate, to another potential mentor until a match is made.

Once established, the mentor-protégé relationship is left under the direct and complete control of the two individuals until it is ended by either party. Ideally this program may well generate lifelong mutually-beneficial relationships. However, to ensure the continued success of the program, the Mentor Program Co-chair will send an annual reminder to both members of that mentor pairing to get a sense of the current state of their mentor relationship, its successes, and potential learning points (i.e., best practices) about mentoring.

Three forms are part of this program: Mentor request application (by protégés), Offer to mentor form, and Feedback and recommendation form. Applications by interested protégés or mentors will be shared in confidence with the appropriate mentoring partner. All other related information may be shared in broad (non-specific) terms with the CRHNet Board on an as-needed basis. Applications and related personal information will be erased immediately after CRHNet is advised that an individual wishes to withdraw from the program, OR a year after the relationship becomes inactive, OR two years after an application has remained unfulfilled.

CRHNet is now eager to garner as many potential mentors as possible to get this much needed initiative rolling across Canada.

For more detail about the program please visit www.CRHNet.ca

Please email any program-related questions (including feedback or suggestions) to either of the Mentor Program Co-chairs:

Ron Kuban rkuban@shaw.ca

Melanie Goodchild Melanie Goodchild m2goodch@uwaterloo.ca

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