Mentoring and coaching have been consistently revealed as the fundamental key to career and life success.
Nearly every manager will tell you about the mentors that made him or
her successful. Yet mentoring, like counseling, lacks a sterling
success record. Those of us with a psych background are well aware that
in more than half the cases of counseling, the results pale in
What keeps mentoring and coaching from achieving its promise? Certainly
the fault might be that mentees fail to follow through, lacking
motivation, adequate insight and/or organizational support. Also,
mentors can be overly controlling, unable to create a motivational
ambience for the mentee. But both of those issues are small potatoes.
The real issues making for successful mentoring are rarely discussed.
More than any other skill, successful mentoring is built upon two
foundations: passion and perspective.
Mentoring anticipates a number of typical questions. What does it
mean to have a career? Why do we work the way we do and do what we do?
The questions rarely come out that way. Instead, it’s “What do I have to
do to earn a promotion? How can I get along better with the jerk next
to me? How do I get more productivity out of my team? How can I get the
support and resources I need?” Or even, “Where do I go next with my
career?” Passion and perspective underlie all those questions.
In one form or another, the beginning
point of effective mentoring is passion, a lively, eager, compelling
desire that insists that one’s career(s) can be a meaningful and
fulfilling way of life. Passion is obvious with mentors in the arts like
dance, music, painting or even law, architecture or medicine. But how
do business mentors demonstrate their passion?
Passion is demonstrated not in the relating of specific, concrete
processes—the mechanics–within a given competency, but in the telling
and hearing of stories that are deeply rooted in business interactions.
These are stories imaginatively told with many different scenarios,
depending on need, possibility and other circumstance.
Stories told by effective mentors exude real life and business
experience. And they are more than tales of well-being and success. The
effective mentor wants his student to be aware of the potential for
dangerous miscarriages. So they readily admit to organizational evils.
His stories will also provide for a critical and evaluative assessment
of one’s career and organization. The most brilliant stories are
open-ended, begging for the mentee to apply them to his/her own career.
They are developmental tales, allowing great freedom for their hearers
to imaginatively interpret them into their own life and future.
Assuredly, the mentor’s passion is not
naïve. His stories equip people to talk about their frustrations and
failures, the assholes and jerks that are a part of the business world.
And yes, to bitch and agonize over work problems. But they also empower
mentees to care about their organization and its objectives. To
understand that business is not merely a profit margin, but that it
exists to provide a livelihood for its employees, its financial
stakeholders and the community. In short, they are disciplined
confessions in conversation on a face-to-face basis: questions,
complaints, agonies, ecstasies and all.
Abraham Lincoln talked about the story passion this way: “A good
story has the same effect on me that I suppose a good drink of whiskey
has on an old toper (drunkard); it puts new life in me.”
(Part II to follow)
Flickr photo: The Sergeant of Randomness