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THE HEART of MENTORINGTen Proven Principles for Developing People to Their Fullest Potential
By David A. Stoddard with Robert J. Tamasy
NAVPRESSCopyright © 2003 David A. Stoddard
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt Starts with the Heart
Principle #1: Effective mentors understand that living is about giving.
One morning a few months ago, I was sitting on a wooden platform at the foot of a waterfall in northeastern Georgia. I had several books and magazines with me, as well as two notebooks and a backpack filled with pens, bottled water, energy bars, insect repellant, and other supplies that a serious author needs for a productive day. The sound of the water crashing down the rocks to the churning pool below and then rushing along its downstream course was crisp and invigorating.
I had been diligently researching and writing down my thoughts for about an hour when another man climbed down the stairs to the platform so he also could enjoy the view. After a minute or two he turned and, noticing the materials sprawled around me, asked what I was working on. I told him I was in the midst of writing a book on mentoring.
"No kidding? I'm part of a mentoring program myself," the man replied. He explained it was an optional activity for government employees in his particular state. His department worked in inner-city communities to help in solving problems, and he had decided to take advantage of the opportunity to designate one hour a week- with pay-for mentoring a young inner-city person.
Having observed that so many teenagers, regardless of where they live, seem to lack direction, I thought this mentoring concept sounded like a good idea. Being curious about this man's motivation, I asked why he had decided to make himself available as a mentor.
"Well, I would like to help them to achieve a better life," he answered.
"That's great!" I responded, before asking, "Do you find it really fulfilling? Do you love doing it?"
"Not really," he admitted with a shake of his head. "I have a family and I'm extremely busy, and sometimes the young people don't follow through on what I ask them to do. So it can be frustrating. Sometimes it seems like a waste of time."
"Then why do you do it?"
He paused for a moment and then commented, "Well, I think mentoring can help solve some community problems. But mostly, I think, because it's just a part of my job."
Wow! "It's just a part of my job." Without knowing it, that man standing alongside the busy waterfall had just summed up the general state of mentoring today. He was involved in it, and I commend him for that. But he certainly did not have the heart for it or a clear understanding of what genuine mentoring is all about. He had started out with high expectations, envisioning how these young people would welcome his advice and words of wisdom and then eagerly begin to apply them. When that didn't happen and he didn't see results fast enough, his good intentions began to fade and mentoring turned into just another line on his job description.
This government employee is not alone. Typically, much of the mentoring I have seen and experienced in the business and professional world is treated as a program or project. There is a certain value in this, to be sure, but at the core, mentoring must be a matter of the heart. Whether you take an informal or formal approach, if your heart is not in it, you cannot be effective. Trying to do something when your heart isn't in it feels cumbersome and becomes a chore, not an activity you enjoy and look forward to doing. At best, you go through the motions; deep down your sentiments might be like a friend of mine who says, "I'd rather eat a bug."
Effective mentoring begins with the heart, motivated from the inside, then manifests itself outwardly-not the other way around. If our mentoring focuses only on expected outcomes, we inevitably forget that the central focus of mentoring is the people involved. More than just a sound business practice, mentoring is really a stewardship issue. It's an opportunity to give of ourselves-our experiences, our expertise, and our gifts-and take advantage of opportunities to help someone (to borrow from the U.S. Army slogan) be all that they can be. Those who mentor from the heart have discovered a foundational principle: The secret to living is giving.
To help you get a picture of what I mean, let me start by telling you about how mentoring became a central part of who I am today.
It all began in 1979, when a businessman named Dave Hill invited me to lunch. At the time, I was working with my brother in a construction company that we had started, and I was flattered to have a successful businessman with so much credibility ask to spend some time with me.
To be honest, back then I would not have been on anyone's list of potential role models in the business world. I didn't know how much it showed, but I was greatly confused about what I wanted to do in my life. Financially, I was a wreck and didn't have much hope of getting things turned around. So, when Dave offered to meet with me, I couldn't believe it.
Talking with him over lunch was incredible. There I was, sitting across from a man who represented the kind of person I wanted to become one day: accomplished, confident, in control of his finances, and exhibiting a clear sense of what his life was about. He seemed at peace with himself and life, and showed contentment and an obvious sense of purpose-everything I lacked. Meeting with him felt intimidating at first, but Dave's interest and genuineness eventually enabled me to relax and loosen up.
We had a great time together, but after I left the restaurant, do you know what I did? I didn't get fired up, excited that I had found someone who was willing to mentor me. It was just the opposite. I sat in my car, without turning on the ignition, as tears welled up in my eyes. I felt certain-I just knew-that once Dave saw who I really was and the mess I had made of my life, he wouldn't want to meet with me anymore. Why would he want to waste his time? I may have looked good on the outside-I had to do this to survive-but on the inside I was filled with confusion and despair.
But I was wrong. We had scheduled an appointment for the next week and when I arrived at the restaurant, Dave was there. As we talked, he asked me a lot of direct questions, but not once did I feel that he was judging me. To my amazement, Dave accepted me for me. He met me right where I was.
The interesting thing about Dave was how open he was with me, sharing very candidly from his own life. He taught me principles he had discovered through experience, showing that he could relate to the struggles I was facing. While he was far ahead of me both professionally and personally, I learned he had areas of his life in which he still struggled. Using his own stories, Dave demonstrated that he wasn't talking theoretically but was offering valuable insights that he knew worked in real life. Often as we met, I would sit there and think, "Man, I hope I can be like Dave one day!" Knowing he had confronted and learned how to deal with challenges of his own gave me some hope.
I'll never forget the times we would meet and I would tell Dave about my latest problem, whatever it happened to be. He would lean back in his chair, flash his kind and understanding smile, and assure me, "Dave, you're in a great position!" At first I thought he was crazy. What do you mean-a great position? I would think to myself. I've got a big problem! But as we talked through each situation, he would always point me toward a solution. Slowly, through his mentoring, my life started to take a positive turn. Appreciating how much his help meant in my life, the desire grew in my heart to one day be able to come alongside someone else in the same way.
In 1983, with some trepidation and a lot of faulty ideas, I took my first steps on the path to becoming a mentor. I began to meet with one man. To be honest, I did all the wrong things. At least that's how it seems to me now. It was so bad that I can't even remember the guy's name! But I was young and had to start somewhere.
My biggest problem was that I approached mentoring with an agenda. I focused on changing the other guy's behavior, expecting him to complete the assignments I gave him to do. (Somewhere along the line, I forgot how I had often failed to do many of the assignments my friend Dave had given me.) In this initial attempt at mentoring, I could see that the young man's primary objective was to get to know me, to become acquainted with someone a little more seasoned than him, and to learn from my experiences. But when he would show up for a meeting without having done the assignment, I would frown and let him know I wasn't pleased. Basically, I made him feel like a failure.
After a total of three meetings, we never met again. In retrospect, I can't blame him; we have enough opportunities in life to fail without meeting voluntarily with someone who wants to reinforce our negative feelings. Determining that mentoring hadn't brought the results I had expected, I concluded it wasn't for me and I wouldn't do it anymore. It took me a while to realize it, but my attitude toward mentoring had been totally self-centered, not other-centered. Like the man I encountered by the waterfall, I felt mentoring was a good thing to do, but I had not yet acquired the heart for real mentoring. I still had not realized that it was all about what I was willing to give, not what I wanted to receive.
You may have heard the story of the prominent leader known for his business savvy who was asked to explain his secret of success. "How did you acquire your wisdom?" he was asked. "By making good decisions," was his response. "Well, how do you learn to make good decisions?" "By making bad decisions," he replied. I can relate to that. My early mentoring experiences were fraught with mistakes and poor decisions, but with time I discovered that failure can serve as a wonderful teacher.
Finally, by reflecting on how Dave had mentored me, I resolved simply to model for other men what he had demonstrated for me. Recalling our times together, I remembered that my unfinished assignments never bothered him. And it had not been assignments that had begun to turn my life around anyway. It was the fact that Dave was there, ready to offer comfort and encouragement when needed, along with hope for a very frightened mentoring partner.
One of Dave's goals had been to bring me to a point where I was prepared to work with others. His impact during that stage of my young adult life is incalculable. He helped me to find the balance my life needed so desperately, provided much-needed insight for my struggling business, showed me how to climb out of a deep hole of debt, and stood by me as I met and then prepared to marry the woman of my dreams. Most of all, Dave reflected the joy and fulfillment that comes from "giving your life away"-investing time, energy, and genuine care in another person.
Under his wing, I grew from a child to a peer, developing my own heart for mentoring others. Dave and I remain close friends to this day, although our relationship eventually took a different shape. I did not realize it as we met week after week, month after month, that he was preparing me for a totally new stage in my life, a time when a new mentor would begin to take me further along in the journey as I addressed some complex career issues. But we will save that story for another chapter in this book.
It has been more than twenty years since my first experience in mentoring. Contrary to my impression at the outset, I have consistently found what an incredible opportunity it is to mentor young people, many of them struggling with issues similar to those that confronted me when I first started meeting with Dave. The best part is that every time I mentor someone, I feel I'm learning a lot, too; sometimes it's like we are mentoring each other.
At this point, you might be thinking something like, Dave, that's a nice story and I'm glad for you, but why should I bother to get involved in mentoring? Well, I'm glad you asked. The answer is simple. As Dave Hill told me so many times during the years we met together, "There is no greater joy than giving your life away."
To be honest, when he first said this to me, I didn't believe him, but over the years I have come to appreciate the profound truth of that statement. Robert Lupton, who for more than twenty years has directed a nonprofit organization in Atlanta that is dedicated to helping and equipping the urban poor to live productive, self-sustaining lives, has reached this amazing conclusion: "The greatest poverty is the inability to give." Lupton has discovered that a key component of providing a sense of self-worth and meaning to people in poor circumstance is being able to turn the tables and enable them to become givers rather than always being recipients.
If what Lupton says is true-that the greatest poverty is the inability to give-then it would seem that the contrast would also be true: The greatest wealth is the ability to give. That's why I have realized that my friend Dave is right. There really is nothing like giving your life away.
One of the major reasons many people are not giving their lives away and experiencing joy and fulfillment in helping others is that they are too engrossed in themselves. But there are consequences of excessive self-interest, including stress and misery. This happens because self-centeredness is opposed to how we have been designed to need one another, serving as mutual sources of support. In his book Stewardship, Peter Block expresses the idea this way: "The antidote to self-interest is to commit and to find a cause. To commit to something outside of ourselves. To be a part of creating something we care about so we can endure the sacrifice, risk and adventure that commitment entails. This is the deeper meaning of service."
In the post-September 11 world, we have seen a growing comprehension of this truth. Recent surveys show that these tragedies, which helped each of us to gain a deeper understanding of the value and brevity of life, have prompted Americans to begin refocusing their lives more outwardly. For instance, about three out of every four people polled indicate that helping others holds far greater significance to them now than before 9-11. At the other side of the spectrum, "making lots of money" remains a paramount concern for only about 20 percent of those surveyed.
More than 75 percent of those responding state that spending more time with their families has grown in importance, and approximately two-thirds have a heightened desire to serve the country in some manner.
Excerpted from THE HEART of MENTORING by David A. Stoddard with Robert J. Tamasy Copyright © 2003 by David A. Stoddard
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