A Mentor’s Greatest Lament

It’s easy to find a lot of talk about mentoring; being a mentor, using a mentor, and growing from mentorship. One of my most popular posts was about being a stepping stone. But what will you do about that?

Mentors come in many varieties. Anyone who’s been through some form of higher learning has probably been influenced by a teacher or professor. You may remember a magical mentor who inspired you to think differently or be different. To this day, I owe much of my passion for writing to my senior English teacher from high school, Mrs. Geneva Curry.

A Story

Dr. William Hendricks, a well-respected professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was once asked what his greatest fear may be. His response shocked the audience. Again, keep in mind, he was one of the most highly regarded faculty members there.

His answer was “To present and teach my best material, but no one learns.” Let that sink in a minute.

Here’s a well-respected professor who had people clamoring to attend his lectures. His fear was teaching and no one learns.

What did he mean by that? He meant having an audience that was somehow closed to learning.

When I first heard this, I was struck by the significance of being a student or mentee and not being receptive to the teaching that is being offered.

Why would anyone do that? Well, it’s simple. There are those among us who go into a learning situation believing they already have all the answers. They are convinced there is nothing new to learn.

Whether it comes from pride or futility, the idea that you might sit with a mentor and ignore the teaching is insanity!

servant leader

The Smartest Guy in the Room

Have you ever known anyone like that? You know, someone who insists they know it all. They act like and truly believe they are the smartest guy in the room.

These folks just want to sit in the class or in the program because the completion certificate somehow elevates them to the next level. The mindset that you can pass a course without being impacted by it is just plain crazy. What a waste of everyone’s time and talent.

The best leaders I have ever known knew what it was to be a follower first. Once you master the following, then you are qualified to become a leader. This is a key concept that fails many would-be managers.

My freshman year in the Texas A&M University  Corps of Cadets taught me that. The entire purpose of the freshman or ‘fish’ experience in the Corps was to engrain the idea that to be a leader, you must first know how to be a follower.

During that year I was introduced to many examples of ‘leadership’ handed out by the upperclassmen. As you can imagine, some were great. Others not so much. But even from the bad examples, I learned what not to do.

Power of Position

There are those in management who get wrapped up in the power of the position. By definition, every management box on an org chart has a delegated authority about it. Guys who think they know it all can be fooled by this.

The lure of the power of the position trips them up. Rather than seeking more knowledge and better practices to follow, they immerse themselves in the role without ever learning what it may mean to be a leader.

Following the Call

I encourage you to find mentorship. Once the opportunity is open, dive in wholeheartedly. Absorb everything you can from the one who offers to mentor and coach you.

Don’t expect old habits to get you to higher achievement.

In the early days of NASA, the standard for astronaut selections usually involved some high level of pilot experience; fighter pilot, test pilot, etc. While that was a good baseline from which to start, there were new things that had to be taught.

Even astronauts at NASA must learn new and creative new technologies, practices, and principles to survive.

The same is true for leaders of today. The world is moving quickly. Some call it “VUCA” which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Leaders trying to master such a blend of challenges simply must keep learning.

Through mentoring, you can find the resources you need to grow as a leader. Then and only then can you earn the title of manager and leader.

If you’d like to talk about ways you can be coached and mentored, click the button below. I’m offering a complimentary breakthrough session by zoom.

Here’s a recent comment by one of my clients.

I’m in the thick of leadership coaching with Doug and his insight and guidance are invaluable. Every time we talk, I leave with a new understanding, learning, or strategy to implement. Do this for yourself! ~Heather Plank

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