What does mentoring mean?
Let’s look for an answer in the movies.
Master Yoda was a mentor: he trained Luke Skywalker to become a Jedi Knight. Leigh Anne Tuohy was a mentor: she coached the athletic talent of Michael Oher, who became a top draft pick for the NFL. Lionel Logue was a mentor: as a speech therapist, he helped the King of England speak without stuttering. You can watch them work their mentoring magic in Star Wars (1977), The Blind Side (2009), and The King’s Speech (2010).
When you mentor someone, you use the highest level of people skill to benefit another human being.
Mentors work through a relationship. They guide their proteges with regard to a particular set of challenges. Usually, they offer specialized knowledge. Many different kinds of professionals use mentoring skills as part of their work. For example, physicians make medical recommendations for their patients; ministers offer spiritual guidance to their parishioners; and lawyers provide legal advice to their clients.
In The King’s Speech, the therapist Lionel played a mentoring role for Bertie, a member of the royal family who became the King of England during the course of the film. Bertie stuttered so badly it was excruciating to hear, but he had to speak live on the radio during World War Two—while his entire country listened in! Lionel used expertise from his field of speech pathology to help Bertie overcome his shame and stuttering. As a result, his speeches sustained England’s resistance to Hitler’s Third Reich.
Mentors believe in their protégé and connect on an emotional level. Yoda knew how to access the power of the Force. He persisted with Luke’s training despite the aggravations of dealing with that brash young man. Leigh Anne understood how to use Michael’s quick reflexes and protective instincts in the game of football. She also responded to his need for a loving family. Curing speech defects was Lionel’s job, but he gave more to Bertie than he was ever paid for, including the gifts of understanding and acceptance.
What does mentoring mean in the context of choosing a career?
I’m particularly concerned about the task of preparing for future roles. In other words, career planning. What does your child want to do with her life? How can your student best hone her skills and connect her passions to meaningful work? What kind of training would make the most of your employee’s strengths, providing competitive advantage in the workplace?
These are crucial questions. For me, they’re even spine-tingling questions. However, only your protege can answer. When the time is right, a career development professional will become the ideal resource, but until then, a young person is likely to turn to a trusted adult, such as yourself, to get her started in a good direction.
Please note: Mentoring does not mean telling the youngster what to do.
That’s too much responsibility, and thankfully, it’s not our job. To use a common mentoring metaphor, your protégé is like a seed, already containing what she needs to become a plant. You don’t get to pick whether she turns into a poinsettia, a petunia, or a potentilla. But you do get to provide water and sunshine, so she can grow to be the glorious flowering plant she was meant to be.
While we’re using metaphors for mentoring, let’s add two more. We want to avoid the relational equivalent of grabbing our child by the scruff of the neck, bringing her too close and forcing her to comply. Mentoring is not a socially sanctioned opportunity to control or manipulate. (That’s why Leigh Ann made sure Michael understood that it was his choice whether or not he played football for Ole Miss.) Instead, mentors hold out open hands, offering a gift the recipient feels free to take or leave. When we do our part well, our student will benefit. Maybe even as much as the King of England.