On cable television, almost twenty-four hours a day it seems, you can catch sight of a sheriff and his deputy demonstrating core principles of how to develop another person. Yes, Sheriff Andy and his deputy Barney on The Andy Griffith Show have this mentoring thing going on.
In many episodes Andy tried to patiently teach Barney about work, love, and life. Then, invariably, Barney struck out to tackle the problem at the core of Andy’s teaching, and messed up royally. In spite of Barney’s bungling, however, Andy always stood by his friend and coworker, exhibiting a bemused yet persistent patience. Andy was always there for Barney. (But we don’t think Barney ever reached the place where he was ready to receive more than one bullet for his gun!)
Although developing your own strengths is important, an equally important task in leadership is maximizing the strengths and potential of the members of your team. If you don’t do this well, you may experience a measure of success, but you will also end up very tired and frustrated that so little is getting done. There’s just too much to do these days. We all need help.
The old African proverb says:
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Everything is going fast today and you must be nimble. The trick is to go far in a rapidly changing environment. That requires building great teams that go together.
What does Mentoring Look Like?
What image comes to mind when you think of the term mentor? You might picture two people sitting at a table in a restaurant, the older person, his or her head topped with waves of shimmering, gray hair, waxing eloquent while the younger listener is furiously scribbling notes on a legal pad. Although this scene may warm our hearts, it seems just a bit out of sync with the real world.
We would like to offer an alternative image of mentoring: Picture two people sitting across from each other in an office. Obviously, an important project is under discussion. The interaction is animated, intense, and often humorous. These people obviously know each other well. Speech is direct and honest. Mutual respect is readily apparent. Some coaching is occurring, but the protégé is not restrained in sharing some insights on the performance of the mentor as well. This relationship is built on trust.
With this picture in mind, we like to define mentoring as a long-term, mutually supportive and enhancing relationship rather than as a relationship in which a highly advanced human being tutors another who stands a step or two below him or her on the developmental ladder.
What is Mentoring?
Another way to envision the mentoring process is to compare it to parenting. In corporate settings we frequently witness nonexistent or very poor “parenting” skills. Executives and managers often fail to recognize that even the most highly qualified person may have significant blind spots or personal or professional characteristics that are awry or underdeveloped.
Rather than understanding the need to mentor appropriately and taking the time to discipline, train, coach, or partner with their employees, weak leaders simply hire people and turn them loose to do their jobs.
The basic definition of mentoring implies that the leader and the protégé want to build something that will last a long time, that will go far. It suggests sticking together and being patient as the learner and the mentor navigate the learning process.