Mentoring is more of a mutual respectful love story
than a simple business matchmaking matter
I would like to start this paper with the definitions of Coach (Coaching)[i] and Mentor (Mentoring)[ii] simply to avoid misinterpretation and confusion about the scope of each expression. From past observations, I noted that very often one is taken for the other, thus inducing people who seek a coach to feel disappointed when they meet a mentor and the reverse experiment happening as well. (See endnote of this paper – Source: The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary)
Some people add « Mentor » to their signature, looking for glamorous effect, others add both (Yes true I have seen – few, yet still – people signing both!) Some have a particular definition for each, finally looking for a coach or a mentor seekers seem to be left on their own.
My paper will not cover the role of coaching, as I sincerely recognize I have never worked as one. This paper is about my discovery of mentoring through personal events of my life that allowed me to meet real people who cared, just cared.
I liked pretty much Suzanne LaBrie’s definition (Personal translation from French) of what is mentoring: “A mutual respectful love story rather than a business matchmaking matter”. In very few words she gave the true dimension of mentoring, and the people who act as mentors.
To me, it all relates to past experiences I have lived at various stages of my life as a teen, growing to learn adult life and its realities, throughout my professional activities, moreover when I was striving throughout my professional journey, I was really privileged to encounter since mentors who cared to give me such precious time but and a listening caring ear, people who never tried to influence my decisions and learning steps. To that I am grateful to the many persons who cared. Not excluding my parents, I am thankful to the Maurice, Colette, Michel and many others who walked with me some of the long miles of my discoveries and passions in my life so far.
Mentoring is, at least to me, something that happens, that something being a human connection, a natural sharing, an equal to equal discussion, openness and reciprocal respect that leads to trust. I have always liked this say: when you make a promise, you earn respect, when you fulfill that promise then you gain trust!
Mentoring is similar to the fulfillment of the promise to listen to the mentored, to respect and to share your own passion that drive your personal and professional life. Then and only then the mentored will grant you his or her trust. Mentoring is about true life stories, no advice or no things to do. In fact there are no user guides for mentoring!
A mentor is chosen by the mentored. People who are asked to mentor someone, other than feeling pride and happy, need also to be aware of the important responsibility they are granted. This part is the hardest, as it is so easy to engage and motivate someone from past experiences that will inevitably impact not only the mentored judgement but probably her or his decisions. On the other hand it is also the golden occasion to state and share parts of true life. Impersonating someone we aren’t, will have negative consequences, induce the mentored to erroneous situations and mindset.
Sharing ones passion, is not sharing our own habits as in Knowledge Management, where it is more about transferring knowledge and not our own habits. As a mentor I would be worried if my mentored behaves lie I do, use my own wording or adopt a code of conduct that is not hs or hers.
I met Maurice, when I was 15 years old, I had received a camera for my birthday and in my desire to become a well-known photograph I used to take pictures and bring the roll to photo processing store. The owner of that store was Maurice. From the results of my photo taking I could see a caring smile, but also some kind advice to avoid the many over exposed pictures I used to take. So with time he offered me to show me some tips and tricks of the trade (I did not know at that time he was a professional photograph for the ministry of tourism, so imagine me a young teen challenging him!), I noted with time that I liked to spend time at his store, discussing photography but also talking about some of my challenges in life as a young adult.
I guess what kept me to come to his store almost every day, was because I felt someone had time to listen to me. From a simple customer, her offered to show me how to develop film rolls (negatives) and print photos on paper (Black and white of course). During these precious moments I felt the liberty to share about my relationship with my dad, that is when I discovered he had a son of my age, a son who was ongoing the same things like me. Maurice always had positive words about my dad and my relationship with him as in father and son. I knew afterwards he was sharing his own experience about his bond with his son. He never tried to take the place of my father nor put any judgemental comment against him.
This journey with my first mentor, had definitely marked my life, I discovered people’s kindness with nothing I had to give in return. The day my son was born 25 years ago, I had a caring thought for my dad who would have been proud to have a grandson, but also for Maurice, who would have smiled and told me that it was my turn now to look after him.
Since I met amazing men and women, my mentors, they walked me through events in my personal and professional endeavours, of course they left their prints, of course I was impressed by their behaviour and achievements, yet none ever told me what and how to do things.
I still remember during a discussion with one of my mentors, I shared I wanted to work as a mentor, she smiled at me and said “Mentoring is the only job that isn’t a real job, it is an attitude and a lifestyle.” She added “No mentor has ever claimed to be a millionaire!” I guess she was right (I am still not a millionaire).
The first time I was asked to mentor someone, was a surprise as there we had so little in common as in my career and the person’s endeavour, globally there were some connections, it turned to be for the duration of our journey (almost three years) a mutual enrichment. The person is today among the most (youngest) successful entrepreneur who inspires a generation of young people. Every time I read her posts on social forums, I remember this amazing journey she walked to realize her dreams, that to me is the most rewarding recognition I could ever get.
I realize how fortunate I am to meet these persons, I learn from them I guess as much as they may need my presence and that reassures me I am still on the right path. Every time I am asked to mentor someone, my first thought is “Why me?” Not that I feel or consider myself too important to give time, but the worry to be at the level of their expectations and to deserve their trust.
If there is something I learn each mentoring journey, I guess is the reminder of behaving as a true person, faithful to whom I am, what I have achieved and what passionate me in life and work experiences. It takes so much care and efforts to gain someone’s trust, and a simple inconsiderate act to lose it completely. Mentors don’t have an easy “job” however it is maybe the most rewarding one I have ever had and dreamed of.
Today’s people are in need to trust above ideals and values, they need to trust people, so a simple matchmaking business relation or a respectful love story among two people?
I guess the answer is within the question! I wish you to enjoy such story at least once in your life! Happy Mentoring!
Michel – March 26, 2015
[i] Coach (Coaching): person who teaches and trains an athlete or performer : a person who teaches and trains the members of a sports team and makes decisions about how the team plays during games: a private teacher who gives someone lessons in a particular subject
[ii] Mentor (Mentoring): A trusted counselor or guide – someone who gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person
Image courtesy: Reprendre La Main