Summary: This essay will be in two sections. In the first section I will reflect on my personal experience of mentoring with two significant mentors. The second section will review where my story intersects with the mentoring experience.
My mentoring stories.
A mentor from young adulthood.
My first two careers after leaving school at age 15 were firstly completing a trade as a fitter and turner then completing my nursing studies. When working as a nurse I went through a personal spiritual experience and ended up in a small community in Emerald, Queensland. The community had a philosophy of work, study, tutorials and sharing life with people who had similar desires.
One of the most keenly anticipated parts of the experience was the regular tutorials. These were occasions when a community leader would meet individually with each student to check in with their progress and to listen to their concerns and ideas.
Initially it took a while to connect to my mentor. He was naturally a shy person that didn’t quickly disclose personal information. But, the relationship deepened as the first year progressed and we shared more experiences together and we began spending time with each other outside the formal tutorial arrangements.
Once my student days were completed the relationship continued. We became colleagues and then after a period of time I replaced him as Dean of the college. Over time the relationship matured and deepened to become a valued friendship. He was a person who demonstrated amazing humility in allowing me to lead the community that he founded.
Today I cannot remember many things that were said to me. But, I am deeply grateful for the time that he invested into me. As I emerged from my previous self destructive lifestyle I was impressed that he valued me enough to commit himself to my well being. Like most young people I was uncertain about myself and my capacities, I was still learning to develop relationships and I was still developing a sense of my vocation.
This relationship was instrumental in my choice of vocation for the next 25 years and his influence continues to shape me today. I saw that John made enormous personal sacrifices to mentor many young people. I knew he sacrificed personal career options to follow what he believed in. He served as a role model who lived out what he taught. He served as an inspiration to me of what happens when an ordinary person committed himself to a higher cause.
A current mentor.
My current mentor was for nearly three decades principal of a Bible College. I had observed him from a distance for more than a decade and felt a deep respect for his obvious humility and his evident personal warmth. During this first 10 years we didn’t connect one on one but I observed the way that he related to others and I valued his honesty and integrity.
I remember him stating clearly to a group of people that his one of his biggest failings during his tenure as Principal was the lack of leaders produced. He saw this as a huge deficiency in his own leadership. I admired his openness and my respect grew deeper at his frank admission. I saw him an an amazing leader who had brought his organisation through a radical transition from an extremely traditional college to a student centric, multimodal college, that enabled access to quality education to a huge geographical area.
We began communicating personally when I was completing my Masters in Online Education more than a decade ago. This was the early days of online learning and he asked me the whether online learning was an appropriate platform for ministry training and particularly spiritual formation. We shared many of my ideas that emerged from my studies and were percolating in those early days of online education.
After he retired Keith committed himself to mentoring leaders. He was widely sought after by a number of CEO’s of organisations and also large churches. He has often said that in retirement he actually found his vocation and felt more productive and fulfilled than in his previous role.
With some trepidation I approached Keith to ask if he would consider mentoring me. I wasn’t sure if he would consider me worthy of mentoring because of his popularity and because so many important people were mentored by him. When we began our mentoring relationship I was an honorary small church pastor who had started a part time business and had little to offer when compared to his many high profile mentees. However, he said that he would meet with me to see if we were a good fit.
We met and connected and five years on we have an ongoing relationship. He speaks with amazing clarity into my life. I continue to resonate with his wisdom and insight. I am pleasantly surprised that he sees the time that we spend together as worthwhile. Usually at the end of session he thanks me for my time.
Personal observations about my mentoring experiences.
I describe my life so far as fortunate. I have a wonderful family, good friends,encouraging workmates and a great city to live in. I consider myself a privileged person who has benefited from a lifelong education that has opened many possibilities.
In the midst of this I have sought to maintain connected to a range of mentors. My relationship with those people I call mentors is different to the many other positive relationships I have.
They have connected personally.
In the two key mentoring relationships I described in section one growing trust allowed me to open areas of my life that previously I would be kept hidden. As the relationship has developed there is increased capacity to connect to each other’s deeper selves. The commitment my mentors demonstrated to our relationship created a space where a close personal relationship could ensue. They didn’t just see me in terms of my human capital but as a whole person that was valued for my intrinsic worth.
I was recently talking to another mentor who is very successful in business and academia. I consider him as a mentor (even though we haven’t formalised the arrangement) and when nearly finished thanked him for his time. He smiled when I said how much I appreciated the chat knowing that I was of no economic benefit to him. His said that quite simply it’s not about the money it’s about the people.Then he proceeded to spend another 10 minutes with me telling me stories of how he had invested in other people during his career. Spending time with people was his passion and I believe also a key ingredient of his success.
The mentors that I highly value know the worth of being able to waste time with someone. They are able to listen to my story attentively and because of this my story can explore nuances that are not available if they didn’t have the time to be attentive (Ref: Link). My experience of other helping professions such as psychologists and coaches is that the relationship is firstly transactional and based on a very specific time period. For example the psychologist has allotted a one hour session and it’s always acutely obvious that to go over that time will impinge on the next person’s time. I have observed that my mentors have cleared the space in their schedule to allow for time to attend to the my story.
Mentors that have high levels of influence in my life have been willing to open themselves and connect their story with my story. Healthy development of the mentor/mentee relationship is dependent on this movement toward a deeper personal relationship as Casto et al. (2005), state, ‘‘successful mentoring requires a mutual commitment to time, open communication, clear yet flexible boundaries, and adjustment to new rules and roles as the mentee moves toward becoming a colleague’’ (p. 336).
I attribute the success of my relationship with my mentors to a growing meaningfulness that has developed into strong friendships. My review of the literature is that increased meaningfulness is to be expected in the final stages of a successful mentoring process, the relationship transforms into a more collegial, peer-like relationship (Kram 1983; Vance and Olson 1998; Morton-Cooper and Palmer 2000).
They have helped me to understand my story.
We develop stories to bring to our lives unity and purpose. They assist in bring context to life’s experiences. My story is made up of the key actors, tensions that have arisen, resolutions or lack of resolution and hopes about the outcomes. My story is constantly evolving in light of new discoveries and new truths that come forward through different phases of my life. Generally when telling my story I am searching to bring some resolution to the events that have come forward at that time. Over time my story has matured and emphasises different things to what I did in early adulthood.
A significant part of a mentoring relationship is in the storytelling. Most of our time spent together is not seeking to identify particular issues to work on but on telling the story about the journey so far. There is incredible insight sharing a reconstructed past and the anticipated future in the desire to ensure that there is a future hope (Ref: Link) .
In a mentoring relationship the mentor keeps the mentee mindful of the journey by actively listening and contributing to the conversation. By listening to my story they enable me to make meaning of my journey. Keith always includes in a mentoring session a time on reflection on the key themes that he feels has emerged from our time together. I always appreciate this brief summary because it charts the journey as Keith as heard it and then is reflected back for me to hear the things that I have said.
My significant mentors have helped me to understand my place in the world. I want to know that I fit somewhere and they have helped me discover the unique value that I bring to the word. As Allen and Eby (in press) note, individuals possess a universal and fundamental “need to belong” (p. 399) (Ref:Link). My mentors have guided my understanding of where my story intersects with the rest of humanity’s story and then beyond that to an understanding of where it connects to a bigger spiritual story. This outside value has given increased meaning to the way that I see my current circumstances.
They served as role models.
I know that I have modelled myself on my mentors. This highlights my attraction to Athene’s activities in The Odyssey where role modeling is a central quality of mentoring. Athene provided Telemachus with a standard and style of behavior which he could understand and follow, this was done because Athene took on human form to communicate in a way that was understandable for Telemachus. Athene helps us comprehend that mentors need to make themselves available to mentee as role models and to understand how their modeling can stimulate perspective, style, and a sense of empowerment within the mentee (Ref: Link).
John was a shy retiring person who never wanted to be in the limelight. Yet, he was one of the most gifted and powerful teachers that I have sat under. I don’t remember tiring of his lectures even after a year of learning. He spent hours with me sharing his own methods and insights into people and his own experience of dealing with the issues of community. Role models invest time, know-how, and effort in enhancing another person’s growth, knowledge and skills’ (Shea 1999, 3).
John’s teaching style heavily influenced my early teaching approach. His was a well structured, thoughtful approach with no hype but a solid logic. Today I recognise that he could have included more emotion however he contributed much to my current teaching practice. I recognise that sometimes I am the other extreme of having too much emotion so this early modelling served to moderate my style.
Keith is a significant leader in a church denomination. His influence has spread well beyond his assigned role as college principal. He earned his authority through his generous humility, innovative style and obvious care for others. There are few people that I have met that have such a powerful presence that is based on transparent modesty.
His leadership approach has significantly shaped my own understanding of leadership and particularly the concept of servant leadership. This phrase was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said:
“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature”.
A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. I believe that this describes Keith well. He has served as a leader and mentor because he first chose to serve. He brings a people first approach to leadership demonstrates his commitment first to culture that then enables successful strategy to be developed.
I recognise that the two chosen mentors are both leaders but extreme introverts. I often wonder why I am attracted to these mentor qualities? I think I chose them initially because I saw that I lacked strengths that they had. In the MERID model (Figure One) they both belong in the non-directive, reactive spaces. I tend to be directive and reactive in my approach so I think that I gravitated to the strengths in their styles in an attempt to mitigate my own weaknesses.
Figure One – MERID model
As I reflect on the what things have mattered to me in the way that I have been mentored I realise that they are things that I have implemented in my relationships with others. I am discovering that as I am getting older there are an increasing number of mentoring type relationships emerging. I haven’t always set out to deliberately mentor some people but as the relationship develops and takes on a higher level of commitment this becomes an appropriate word to use.
Further reflection on my mentoring relationships evokes a deep sense of personal satisfaction from these relationships. I have been fortunate to have discovered positive role models, people who have been willing to waste time with me and people who have shared the journey over a period of time and for these qualities and behaviours I call them mentors. The label mentor assigns a sense of commitment to the relationship that implies the depth and character of the mentor bring mentoring qualities.
The notion of transition is inherent to the concept of mentoring and may be seen as a change or growth in personal capability, position or some other area of achievement (Clutterbuck and Lane 2004).
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