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 significance.
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