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ty to the "teacher's pet" experience. School teachers are often among the first "outsiders" to recognize talent that needs encouragement. And they have no hesitation about supplying it. It may seem unfair that certain children are the target of a teacher's extra-mural counselling while others are not. But it's a fact that life isn't fair.
Mentoring by association
This is the kind of mentoring most of us are familiar with. An individual, let's call the person a "Seeker," realizes he or she could profit from more experienced guidance. From someone who "knows the ropes." So that individual sets out to find assistance. But where to find such a person?
You have a better chance to find a fit body on a volleyball, tennis, or handball court than in a supermarket. Join an association in your field, or a health club, or a sport organization. Then work to get on one of the association's committees. (You deserve some punishment on earth for a term of office!) You will quickly spot the person you think might be of assistance to you, and quickly get a sense of whether or not that individual might welcome your approach.
I have had the experience on a personal basis. When I was already an accomplished speaker, I was approached by a young man who told me he wanted to become a speaker. He told me he saw me as a role model, and he had read the Secrets of Power Presentations a few times already. Naturally, I was impressed and pleased. But speaking is a tough job. It's the easiest business to get into-and the toughest to stay in. At that time, I was working very hard myself to establish my own reputation. I had no time to be a mentor to anyone.
But that young man volunteered. He came and helped me to organize my Grade 12 Speaking Contest. Not just once, but over several years. His first assignment was to get the pizza. By the end he was giving out the prizes. He also came with me to speaking engagements. He helped me with my arrangements, and listened carefully to my platform presentations.
Naturally, we talked about things as time went on. I gave him pointers and suggestions. More importantly, he followed them. And this raises a good point.
Nothing is as discouraging to a mentor as someone who seeks help, then doesn't take the advice. It will kill the relationship very quickly.
The young man's true interests lay in marketing, and at a certain point in time he suggested we might collaborate on a marketing book. I knew all about the difficulties of self-marketing in a competitive environment so I agreed.
Secrets of Power Marketing: Promote Brand You, by Peter Urs Bender and George Torok, was the result. I had become George's mentor, and eventually that mentorship broadened not only into productive activity, but also into true collaboration, beneficial to both.
Today, George Torok is still a licensee of my programs, and is perusing his own course as an author and speaker on marketing and creativity. But we still do work together, and both of us immediately think of the other when projects arise on which we think teamwork might be useful.
This relationship demonstrates another important aspect of mentoring. Eventually the "mentee" no longer needs the mentor. The individual should be capable of going his or her own way-considerably wiser from the experience.
Often, both go their own way, and seldom meet again. That occurs when the mentor has had more of a "teaching" role. But more often, the mentoring relationship develops into a true friendship, and results in life-long benefits to both. When one individual is willing to fully accept and live with the shortcomings of the other, the trust that is generated becomes a very powerful force indeed.
Mentoring through self-discipline
Sometime individuals want and need mentoring, but cannot find a suitable guide. That's when self-discipline comes into play. Mentors are everywhere. They're on the shelves of your local library, the Internet, on tapes, videos, DVDs and CDs. There has never in history been such an opportunity to learn without interference. Think of it! Little more than a century ago, public libraries were barely established. I remember my own father talking enthusiastically about "Mechanics Institutes" where unschooled, untrained people could go to borrow books to learn more on their own. Today almost all this information is available on the Internet. You need not even step outside your own home to access it!
I'm at the stage in my own profession where I don't need a mentor anymore. I now start to get complimentary lifetime memberships-a sign life must be over soon. But I still watch Biography-on TV and on the Internet. There I find the histories of both of my contemporaries and those who have gone before me, and try to apply the lessons they have learned. In fact, when I'm stumped, I often turn to Biography to see how others have handled the same problem.
My assistant George Hancocks is a classic example of self-disciplined mentoring. Since coming to work for me he has had to face a wide range of technological challenges associated with learning new computer programs and systems-all of them unfamiliar to him. In the beginning, I assisted him to learn the programs he needed to help me. But that learning curve took only a few short months.
He doesn't have the time to take courses or train in the traditional classroom manner. He heads directly for the Internet, for instruction manuals, and for any how-to books, videos, or CD's that seem to have a bearing on his work. This doesn't mean he can solve all his technical problems himself. He still needs what I call "mentoring assistance" from time-to-time. But he looks first, learns what he needs to know more about. Then he formulates questions that go right to the heart of the problem. The time he might need from a personal mentor is thus greatly reduced.
There is one principle of mentoring, however, that is key. What was given must, at some point, be given back. Whether you choose a mentor or a mentor chooses you, remember that mentoring is a two-way street. When you've reached the point you needed a mentor to help you to, look back. Is there someone there who needs your help? Be generous. We all have to start somewhere (with a little help from our friends)!
Peter Urs Bender is an international Executive Management Consultant. He lives and works out of Toronto. He is also the author of four best-selling books: Leadership from Within, Secrets of Power Presentations, Secrets of Power Marketing, and Secrets of Face-to-Face Communication. His newest book Gutfeeling will soon be realeased. He can be reached at 416-491-6690, or www.PeterUrsBender.com.
© Peter Urs Bender
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