Posts Tagged ‘mentoring’

To you I bestow

“I know what I have given you. I do not know what you have received”

~ Antonio Porchia

We learn and grow, every single day. I know more about the world today than I did yesterday. I may not like what I have learnt today. I may, for example, have learnt that someone I respected has shown themselves to be pitied. I may have learnt new ways that people hurt each other and cause pain.

But, I may have learnt valuable insight from another. I may have discovered something that has made me stop, think and look around me with eyes that are different. Not because of what I now know, but because what I now know has changed me in subtle, almost imperceptible ways. The way I view the world around me is forever changed, and will continue to be changed, filtered in the context of my new learning – my insight.

And that may be the greatest kind of knowledge, the greatest kind of learning we can give another. Not by imparting facts and figures, dictats and opinions, but by imparting change and awareness. By encouraging and aiding those we care about to look for themselves, to grow with each day and form for themselves their own worldview.

But what does this all mean?

I’ve been thinking about learning and wisdom a lot recently.

In fact, ever since one of my closest friends asked me to be mentor to his new-born son, I’ve been thinking why? Why choose me to be a mentor? Why, of all the people he knows, pick me to be, if not a spiritual guardian and example, then at least a life and experience guide?

I’m quite a clever guy. Not super-smart, and sometimes lacking in common-sense, but quite clever. I’m a fast learner. While I may moan and complain, I’m also quite adaptable, able to pick up and learn new concepts and ideas. And I’m kind (I think) and caring, when I’m not wrapped up in my own self-absorption…

So I thought I’d try to find out what makes a good mentor, and more importantly, do I measure up?

What makes a good mentor?

(source: University of Cambridge)

If you are interested in becoming a mentor, check yourself against this list:

  • First and foremost, are you interested in helping others to succeed — even if they may surpass you in achievement?
  • Are you reliable, honest, and trustworthy to keep things confidential?
  • Are you capable of active listening — not interrupting, picking up important cues from what someone says, able to reflect back the relevant issues and check understanding, minimising assumptions and prejudices?
  • Are you empathetic – can you convey understanding of their experience without saying ‘yes me too’ and launching into anecdotes of your own?
  • Are you able to question someone sensitively but empowering to help them explore their own issues?
  • Can you pass on your knowledge and expertise clearly, encouragingly and helpfully?

“Are you interested in helping others to succeed?”

Yes, absolutely.

“Even if they may surpass you in achievement?”

Well let’s not be hasty…

This, I guess, all depends on how we as individuals measure success. Is success intrinsically personal, or is a shared success as rewarding as solo victory?

I think, for me, I am more than comfortable with the idea that success can be shared. I am also more than comfortable with the concept that I can teach or help another to success of their own, even if it surpasses my own.

I’ve done this at work, on more than one occasion. Currently, there’s a guy in my team, who is newer than I am, and at a lower pay grade, but I do all that I can to help him get the recognition he deserves. He is very talented, very smart and very hard-working. It would make me very proud, and pleased if he was able to get the promotion he is long overdue for. To that end, I try to get him on projects where he will fly and succeed, and establish a good reputation for quality work.  If it works, it won’t be all my doing, but I’m happy to play even a small part in his success.

I would love it if my protegé became a successful artist, for example. I am quite talented at drawing and painting, but there are hundreds (if not thousands) of people out there more skilled and creative than I can hope to be. But if I was able to inspire and nurture an interest in art, and see that develop into something rewarding? Well, that would be reward for me.

So, yes, I am interested in helping others to succeed.

“Are you reliable, honest, and trustworthy to keep things confidential?”

This is really a three-part question, so let’s see:

  1. Reliable?
    I try, but I do flake every now and then.
  2. Honest?
    Yes, when it matters. Yes, when it doesn’t.
    Would I say something hurtful just because I thought it was the truth? Been there, done that and still regret it.
    Honesty as a principle I support and encourage, but I also am aware enough to realise that 100% honesty, 100% of the time would make for a very cruel and harsh world.
  3. Trustworthy to keep things confidential?
    Absolutely, like the time my friend told me they’d stolen those things from the department store, I kept that to myself… 😉

I think, on balance, I just about scrape through on this question. Phew.

“Are you capable of active listening?”


“not interrupting, picking up important cues from what someone says, able to reflect back the relevant issues and check understanding, minimising assumptions and prejudices?”

Sorry, I thought you’d finished.

I let people speak, and I try hard not to talk over people, it’s one of my pet-hates in fact. Quickest way to get to a room full of shouting is to have a bunch of people not listening. Now, I will admit, that active listening is something that requires continual work and training. I’m not sure that this comes naturally or instinctively to anyone (but am happy to be proved wrong).

I mis-read (or mis-hear) what people say a lot of the time, that’s one of the things I’m working on with the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It’s all too easy to take some words from someone else, pass them through your depression tanks and end up hearing a completely different message at the end. 

Assumptions and prejudices – well there’s a toughie. We all have assumptions and prejudices (no matter how laid back, open and liberal we claim to be) and we all filter our perception of the world through those prejudices and assumptions. I know a bit about prejudice and the fears it can engender. Yes, the middle-class white guy with the University degree and stable life. Bet you’re really crying for me now, eh?

So to take someone else’s point of view and distort with your own values and judgements can be dangerous. We all do it, but we can learn to separate our beliefs from those held by another. We don’t have to absorb their beliefs (unless we wish to, unless they affect and change us) but we must respect them.

This is close, and to answer this question, honestly – I would have to say, “not quite, but I’m working on it!”.

“Are you empathetic?”

Yes, it’s like the time that I had to be really understanding and sit and listen for hours and I was like “hello? It’s my turn now!”.

“can you convey understanding of their experience without saying ‘yes me too’ and launching into anecdotes of your own?”

In all seriousness, yes. I once lived with a girl (as housemates, nothing more) who seemed unable to relate to others unless it was in the context of a similar story of her own. No matter what was being discussed, she always had a story to match, often it would appear fully formed from her lips as soon as someone else had stopped speaking. Was she able to listen and respond that quickly? Or had she just started to listen, got her story ready and then waited for a gap in the conversation to launch? It irked me back then, and that attitude from other people irks me now.  

It’s something that I consciously make an effort to do, and it’s something that (sometimes) comes naturally to me. It also helps that I find most people endlessly more fascinating than myself (which does bring me down, but we’ll save that for another day). I have lots of stories and tales to tell, but very often these tales are related by somebody else, leaving me squirming in the corner!

Yes, I am empathetic.

“Are you able to question someone sensitively but empowering to help them explore their own issues?”

When I stop dwelling on my own issues and have the chance to help someone else, that is something I find very rewarding, even if it is at times difficult and heart-rending to do.

I have a close friend who is wonderful at this, to the extent that (as she admits) she would rather deal with fixing other people than fixing herself. It is a selfless way to be, but (from the point of view of a concerned friend) maddeningly frustrating!

I have all the time in the world for my friends, family and loved ones, and there is nothing i wouldn’t give of myself if I thought I could help. That sounds trite, I know, but I believe it to be true.

Yes, I truly believe that I can provide good counsel to my friends when they need it.

“Can you pass on your knowledge and expertise clearly, encouragingly and helpfully?”

I’m not renowned for my patience, storming out of the office is these days referred to as “doing a Carl”. More often that not, I lose patience with myself, or with the immobility of systems and bureaucracy.

For people who value my knowledge, and want to learn or try new concepts and ideas, then I can conjure up near-limitless reserves of patience and approachability.

And I’m a lover of learning myself. I crave new books and articles that contain the promise of knowledge and things to try out. I love looking at how learning materials are laid-out and constructed, and I try to apply those principles to the documents and materials I produce, and I plan to cover some of that in future posts.

I think, based on what I’ve been told, that yes, I can pass on knowledge in a clear and helpful manner.

With great power…

Being asked to be a mentor is a privilege, a real honour. And I think, on paper, I have the skills and abilities to become one.

The one thing I would love, going back to the points at the start of this post (still with me? good-o!) is that with my background and worldview (but minus my anxieties and paranoia) I can encourage my young protegé to take a different look at the world, to look beyond the surface and see the full spectrum of colour and life, diversity and difference that exists.

It’s a fabulous world out there kids, so let’s go and get it!