Very early on in my life and career, I bought into the hype about mentors. “Everyone should have a mentor”, was the catch-cry and it remains so. My experience with mentors, however, has been patchy, to say the least. Frankly, I don’t think would-be-mentors have any idea how to do it. So what is mentoring anyway?
In my humble opinion, those who would be mentored need to take matters into their own hands.
A guy named Charlie Beacham was my first mentor at Ford. He taught me the importance of the dealers, and he rubbed my nose in the retail business.
Good and Not-So-Good Mentors
My first mentors were my foster parents, Harry and June Rowland. They were awesome. Even after caring for my brother and I for a year, until my mum got her life back together following a suicide attempt, they let me continue to visit them. My relationship with them both was a significant factor in my developing resilience.
As a child growing up in a single-parent family, I seemed to always naturally seek out adults for their wisdom and support.
As I began planning my career, I followed the common wisdom to find someone to mentor me. The problem I discovered was that, while this wisdom is good, because I was seeking out the relationship, these men did not seem to know how to mentor. Sure they were keen to be a mentor, but none of them really did anything with the relationship they had agreed to. I have a string of disappointing mentoring experiences behind me.
I really hit the big time with the late Rev. Hon. Dr. Gordon Moyse A.C. That guy was a giant of a man. To read Leaving A Legacy: The Autobiography Of Dr Gordon Moyes is to be left in awe at the end of every chapter.
Another mentor of mine, the late Andrew McNeill of The Barra Group, had recommended on many occasions that I get in touch with Gordon. He thought that Gordon and I share many experiences and interests. I eventually became brazen enough to approach Gordon, following an event at which he was a guest speaker. Surprisingly, he accepted by overture and we began meeting monthly in his office at the Parliament of NSW.
It turned out that we do share many experiences and interests. I really enjoyed and valued the time that Gordon was willing to give me. I will forever cherish his wisdom.
What you want in a mentor is someone who truly cares for you and who will look after your interests and not just their own. When you do come across the right person to mentor you, start by showing them that the time they spend with you is worthwhile.
Anyway, our meetings came to an end and the fault was completely my own. Sitting across from Gordon, I gave him the run down of my life since our last meeting. I was doing alright, thank you very much. He asked, naturally, “Well, is there anything I can help you with, Ian?” To my great and ongoing regret, I said, “I guess not”.
I was too embarrassed after that to call him back lest he think I was wasting his time, so I stopped catching up with Gordon. He lost his seat in the NSW Parliament, retired, and I never got the chance to sit down with him again. Gordon passed away this year. He will be missed.
Reflecting now on my various experiences with mentors, I realise that while I did the right thing in seeking a mentor, I did the wrong thing by not helping them to mentor me. I assumed they knew what to do to mentor others. Taking Gordon as an example, he really should have called me back, knowing I would still need his support, even if not that particular month. In his defence, he was a busy man, with many demands on his time. So, I should have sucked up my pride and given him things to talk to me about, points on which to hold me accountable.
Nine Functions of a Mentor
The problem is that often neither the would-be mentor nor the want-to-be-mentored know what a mentor is supposed to do. We are unclear as to what is mentoring. To help in this, I filed away an article some time ago that brought together the leadership and mentoring insights of three key leadership gurus: Dan Rockwell, Bob Buford and Peter Drucker. In that article, Rockwell distilled and commented on Peter Drucker’s 9 Functions Of A Mentor, as identified by Buford in his 2014 book “Drucker And Me”:
- “Define the landscape.” Focus on details to get things done —see the landscape to plot a course. Mentors are fresh eyes.
- “Expose ‘white space’ —define opportunities— what is needed now.” Passion disconnected from meeting needs is wasted. Sincerity is not enough.
- “Clarify strengths and capacities.” Tapping untapped strengths represents new directions, deeper fulfilment, and greater fruitfulness.
- “Identify incorrect assumptions.” Listen for limiting beliefs.
- “Encouragement to ‘go for it’.” Great mentors inspire action. Dreaming big is only a beginning. Dreams without action drain vitality and affirm helplessness.
- “Help sort out the right strategies.” Mentors bring strategic thinking to your personal strengths and individual passions.
- “Affirm results.” Success creates focus, fuels motivation, and confirms direction.
- “Point out wasted effort.” Stopping is harder than starting. One the most challenging lessons in leadership is learning that trying harder doesn’t work, if you’re stuck. Mentors point out spinning wheels and flying mud.
- Establish “gentle accountability.” Accountability in mentoring relationships is an agreement. It’s not imposed by dictatorial mentors.
What a great summary of the best insights and direction a mentor can provide to one being mentored!
The best way a mentor can prepare another leader is to expose him or her to other great people.
(John C. Maxwell)
I actually have a personal example that demonstrates these at work.
Getting Back to Reality
I once suffered a major career setback. Not debilitating, but certainly unexpected and the moment stopped me in my tracks.
I shared the fallout by text message with my current primary mentor, promising details later. His immediate message back to me was, “I am really puzzled why they would say no. I await your email details. What does the Lord want to open up for you?” (emphasis added) With that final question, he spoke right to the issue! I was immediately lifted above the emotions that threatened to overwhelm me into a broader, healthier perspective.
His question reminded me of my own worldview, represented increasingly in the following:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
My mentor was able to bring my thoughts back under control, to remember that I trust my God and try not to rely on my own rationalisation. Sure, I can think my way around the issue, but I will always be fallible in this. I need a bigger perspective.
My mentor reminded me that my ultimate goal is to be faithful to my beliefs and values. I know that, when I do this, my path will become straight. Now, my path may lead me straight through a prickly bush of difficulty, but I will get through. My God is opening up a way for me. Mine is to walk in it with patience and perseverance.
Keeping You Under Control
Your worldview may be different. Nevertheless, in the face of setbacks, your emotions may take over, causing you to forget what you stand for, what are your guiding principles. It will be hard for your thinking to reign supreme when your emotions rise up with a fury unexpected.
In such situations, a mentor can and should be a person who can bring you back to your sense. To remind you of your principles and help you keep your integrity. However, if I had not gotten in touch with my mentor, how would he know I needed him to speak into my life?
So, my advice to you is this: Find a mentor and help your mentor be a mentor. Drucker’s nine functions are a great description of what a mentor can do for you. While he must know when to be directive in your life, your mentor needs to be reminded of when to be directive. Take charge of your relationship with your mentor by letting your mentor know when you need him and for what you need him.
Do you have a mentor?
Share in the comments section below some positive experiences you have had with a mentor, when he has contributed greatly to your life.
[this is a reprint of an older article, with slight edits to update its content]