Perhaps the Most Iconic Mentor-Mentee Relationship
We here at The Gumboot are all about planning for the future. For some of us this means canning food – according to The Globe and Mail, this is being done by “hipsters” more than anyone else (in fact, we have a canning-hipster on our staff). For others “planning for the future” means scheduling a tennis match or being financially independent from their parents (it’s called being “viable”). Or perhaps “planning for the future” means simultaneously creating organizational strategery for a wedding while laying the groundwork for a worldwide social transformation based on a first name. Regardless of what you’re planning, it’s a great idea to learn from someone who has been there before. So, with this in mind, let’s explore the supercool idea of mentorship.
Briefly and historically, mentorship was possibly invented by Aristotle and/or Plato, but recent findings indicate that this may not have actually been an example of mentorship, but a clever ploy to drunkenly socialize with taut young boys. The knight-squire relationship in the Middle Ages presents a great example of the internationalization of mentorship, as this business relationship saw the mentee learn everything from swordplay to “crusading” to getting the most out of peasants at the swordtip of their mentor. The rise of mercantilism saw artisans take on apprentices and teach them the way of their craft so that they could either inherit a business or strike out on their own and, eventually, crush their former Master. This may or may not have been where the idea of “internships” came to fruition. And then, for awhile, nothing new happened in the world of mentorship, until 1940 when Batman and Robin made it cool again. The Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder formed one of the most renowned mentor-mentee relationships, which has been discussed by scholars, Wikipedia and business-oriented blogs like The Next Women. In this example, mentorship is important because Batman’s job is, like, crazy dangerous, so, to protect the community of Gotham, it is important for Robin to learn the ways of The Dark Knight should something terrible happen. Rumour has it that the first Batman and Robin mentorship lesson was growing taller and having facial hair. The second: not sucking as a superhero.
Now. These examples of mentorship are throughout history are great, sure, but they’re not really helping you find one, are they? Well, here’s a suggestion for how and where and when to look.
To quote a twitblog from the interscape: “A mentor is a more experienced person who acts as a role model, guide or leader. They have experience in the work world, and share this experience, advice and encouragement, with young adults who are in the process of determining their future career path. Mentors suggest resources you can access, gives feedback about your skills and abilities, and helps you to make links between career interests, your abilities and your education. Mentors help to bridge the gap between the classroom and career.”
To paraphrase three former students who are collectively and individually smarter than me: In its most basic sense a mentor is an advisor to help model a path – the path could be life, career or world-domination oriented. They are usually (but not always) someone older, more experienced, and a good person to help advise (but not decide) on the best path to take. A mentee’s role is to ask questions, think about the response, and provide opportunities for feedback on their progress. The secret to a successful mentor-mentee relationship is that 90% of the work is done by the mentee in preparing, organizing, and maintaining the relationship. Speaking of 90%, the Recent Findings Institute published a study showing that 90% of Fortune 500 CEOs cite mentorship as the defining key to their success. So, nothing ventured, nothing gained! Remember advice is usually worth the price people put into it, but in this case it is the mentee’s time. If a mentee does not put the work into the relationship they will not have much to show for it.
Here are some tips on how to find a mentor (start by making a list of people in your personal network). And here are some best practices for making the most of your mentor-mentee relationship (ask really, really, really good questions and demonstrate to your mentor that you are acting on the advice you receive).
Obviously, I think Mentorship is great. In fact, I have more than a few mentors, and I recommend you find a wide variety of people to mentor you through life, the universe and everything. Here is a list of ‘em (their names have been altered for anonymity and humour) as well as a few topics of conversation and what they do to help me plan for the future of my community:
Who is he? A former teacher, coach, and climbing toy. Current outdoorsman, gardener, adventurer, and father (of me).
What do we talk about? Global issues and provincial politics, food security, the Vancouver Canucks, leadership, and that I am not special, no matter how cool I think I am.
Here’s an example of some recent advice: “okay, John, you want to write a blog. That’s great. But why am I reading it? If it’s just about you, no one’s gonna read it, including me. It has to be about something.”
The War Horse:
Who is he? Someone who has seen and done it all: started companies, developed organizations, led people, destroyed companies and organizations (hopefully not people).
What do we talk about? We talk about career advancement, winning friends and influencing people, making money, balancing career and life, preparing young people for the future, mentorship, and how to have adventures that will provide you with great stories to tell your grand children. After all, life is about doing so much good and being so nice that you get lots and lots of people to show up at your funeral. Right?
Here’s an example of some recent advice: A recent survey showed that my team and I had much to improve on in terms of our service to students. Frustrated by the kids “not getting it,” I called The War Horse who simply said: “are they right?” To which I mumbled, “yes.” And then to which he said, “then fix it.”
The Knight and Squire "Internationalized" Mentorship
Who is he? A fellow believer in Johnism, he helped me find the humour in seemingly inhumourous things, such as the First World War.
What do we talk about? History, tea, scones, cricket, class-based-humour, bad teeth, The Queen, British stereotypes, the power of academically researched storytelling, and keeping pirates out of schools.
Here’s an example of some recent advice: “giant cups of coffee and drinking fountains are the most prominent symbols of North American gluttony.” (not a direct quote, but more of a well-researched piecing together of ongoing conversations)
The Beauty Queen
Who is she? So easily are people distracted by this one’s downright cuteness. And you’d be wrong if you think you could pull a fast one on her, as she is a brilliant, talented and capable leader. She’s just one who likes pink, fluffy things a lot.
What do we talk about? Leadership, overcoming politics at work, kindness, wedding planning, things that are pink, and the general deliciousness of food.
Here’s an example of some recent advice: My attention to detail sucks and that I have much to learn about this weakness before being great (but I have a lot of potential).
Who is she? A former boss who is “strictly business” and who continues to lead her team through some difficult changes. She is honest, fair, fiercely creative, and has high expectations.
What do we talk about? Books, creativity, strength, ideas from everywhere, standing up for idiots, being the “bad guy,” believing in people, and what it means to be a professional in a public institution with business-oriented goals.
Here’s an example of some recent advice: “you have a history degree and learned about four different technology programs in a few months; you will learn business.”
The Role Model
Who is he? The guy I want to be. A leader at a certain university who doesn’t take himself (or anything else at work) too seriously. This comes, I think, from his deep, beautiful family values as well as his countless tales of friend-based global adventure.
What do we talk about? Work and goals and building relationships. Mostly work. Always work, really. Love, shenanigans and ideas from everywhere are also on the list from time to time.
Here’s an example of some recent advice: No matter how many “out of this world” accomplishments I rack up at the age of 28, this does not qualify me for positions requiring the experience of a 40 year old. These things can only be solved by time. He also showed me the now obvious rationale for drinking black coffee.
Sure, we can learn about humility, networking, attention to detail, food security, governance, fatherhood, love, adventure, and strategies for having a kick-ass funeral by reading books and blogs. But, really, if you think shelling out for a copy of Rich Dad Poor Dad is the same as financial mentorship, well, it’s a good thing you’re reading this post. Look. People collect experiences and stories. It’s kinda sorta what we do. Learning from the mistakes and successes in these stories as they relate to our communities is how we are going to make them stronger.
I challenge you to, first, do some reflecting on what your community needs and how the strengths you possess can help meet those needs. And, second, find a mentor who can help you to create a strategy, role it out and, most importantly, keep you confidently humble along the way.
Sound good? Great! Now get out there and find someone who can help make you better. And then help make your community better. And then – well, you get it by now, and it’s a beautiful thing!
Have fun with it!