Don’t be a ‘Curling’ mentor

‘Curling parents’

When I was in Denmark a little while back, my brother introduced me to the term “Curling Parent”.

This is a term coined by Danish Psychologist Bent Hougaard, referring to those parents who insist on sweeping everything that may get in the way of their children, their polished stones.

By the way, if you don’t know about the sport of curling, well it’s one of those ice-based sports (a bit like lawn bowls, but colder and with stones and brushes) which grabs the attention of the nation once every four years when the Winter Olympics comes around.

Anyway, these “Curling Parents” continuously make sure that nothing is interfering with or negatively affecting their children.

There are even reports from companies of parents applying for and attending job interviews, then negotiating salaries and conditions on behalf of their children well into their 20s!

These young people struggle to handle set-backs and challenges, they have less resilience and fewer tools to resolve problems. What also characterises these children is that they have a large need to be seen, recognised and admired.

And this is not just a Scandinavian phenomenon. When I did a little research on the web, I realised that this is also happening in other countries, using descriptions such as “Helicopter Parents”.

So what does this have to do with mentoring? You may already have guessed…

“Curling Mentors”

Apart from having to recognise that such children will be entering the workplace, we can also learn that facing challenges and tackling setbacks are crucial parts of our learning and development – not only in life but in business, too.

When we bring new team members into our practice and we want to mentor and support them to develop and grow, we must recognise that being too caring is not always in theirs and our interest. Holding a mentee’s hand the whole way through the process can stand in the way of the individual genuinely learning for themselves and gaining confidence in their own abilities.

Things for the mentor to be aware of

There are many pitfalls which the manager/mentor can fall into which can result in them effectively becoming “Curling Mentors”.

By taking the burden away, or pointing the mentee in the right direction (either directly, through advice, or indirectly, through endorsement or permission to do something) we are in danger of solving a problem which it would be preferable if the mentee had solved by themself. Encouragement and support is a good thing, but when taken too far it takes the responsibility away from the mentee.

Mentors should also be aware of mentees looking for the easy way out, by asking for advice or looking for approval of the choice they are forming. This passes the burden of responsibility to the mentor/manager and, although it feels good for the mentee in the short term it simply allows them to blame the person giving the advice if things don’t work out.

Similarly, it can be easy for the mentor to go down this route, as they will often enjoy feeling wanted and appreciated when they have solved the problem and ‘spared’ the mentee.

But such a route is usually more counterproductive than helpful, as it reinforces the impression that the mentee is helpless to find their own path, and is actually remiss of the mentor who should be attending to the learning and development of this person.

How can you avoid being a “Curling Mentor”?

It is important to recognise that development often comes with some discomfort and challenges – not only for the person being mentored but also for the one trying to guide that person forwards.

If you are trying to help someone develop, try asking yourself a few questions:

  1. Are you challenging the mentees to learn from stretching themselves, both in terms of finding their own solutions and trying new things?

  2. Are you prepared to balance and manage the risk of failures and set-backs that the mentees may experience during their learning? If not, they may struggle to gain confidence and build resourcefulness.

  3. Are you mentoring skills good enough? Do you trust the mentoring process, and the tools at your disposal?

  4. Do you allow the mentees to explore their own thoughts and ideas fully before you offer your own? And do you ensure that your ideas are not given undue importance, just because they come from you?

Do you have experiences to share on this topic? Or would you like more information about the issues created by mentees who are too supportive towards their mentees? If so, you might also like to read this additional article by my colleague Ned Skelton http://www.quivermanagement.com/2011/09/24/the-crime-of-the-helpful-coach/.

For details of forthcoming courses in coaching and mentoring with Quiver Management, please visit our website.

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