Mentoring on the take

In my experience, mentoring breaks down on one way streets. Mentoring creates the wrong impression when it's all about giving and getting nothing in return. It falls into all the same problems with burnout that comes with all lose/win deals. When mentoring appears linear, like factories production lines and delivery systems, it's operating on a flawed premise.

Mentoring works for everyone involved when it comes back around. It's meant to be recursive and mutually beneficial. There's no lop-sided, "good for you but not for me" conceit. Since the mentor and protege are at different stages of development, what each gets from the interactions differs. While it's usually obvious what the mentor is giving, what is being received is often hidden, subtle and internal.

When my mentoring others is working for me, here's some of what I get from giving:

New questions: As my awareness becomes increasingly comprehensive, my own curiosity is overwhelmed by the panorama of pending possibilities. My mentoring conversations give me a focus for further personal explorations and reflection. It feels like am being shown what to wonder about next while I've been open, curious and unassuming about the next direction.

New combinations: As it becomes increasing evident to me that problems arise from one-sided outlooks, mentoring conversations reveal new "both/and" combinations. The number of potential paradoxes is infinite. I cannot presume to know which need to be formulated and applied at any given moment. I need to be given the particular pair of opposites to take through thesis /antithesis /synthesis.

New cycles: Everything is in relationship to everything else imaginable. Separations are illusions. Yet all that connectedness overwhelms my ability to capture particular recursions. Mentoring conversations bring into my awareness a specific vicious or virtuous cycle that connects the incidents together. I see how the underlying dynamics of the particular success or failure is self-perpetuating.

New metaphors: As I am inviting others to get more creative, free of the foregone conclusions and open to exploring other possibilities, pictures come to my mind. I see the situation in symbolic form. I'm given new metaphors to capture the playful aspects of the seemingly serious problem. I take what's occurring as dream-like and capable of easily transforming into something more desirable.

As I receive treats like these from mentoring, I have even more to give. The reciprocal process is mutually reinforcing, beneficial and energizing.


  1. Steve Roesler4/02/2008 5:59 PM


    Your narrative about mentoring and our conversation about systemic thinking really go hand in glove.

    As I hear your thoughts on mentoring, they prompt me to think immediately of how effective mentors help create new ways for people to see connections that they hadn't seen before.

    Good stuff, man. . .

  2. Steve
    Great to see you here too. You're a model of systemic awareness to be seeing connections between mentoring here and systems on your blog -- as well as seeing mentoring as a source of others making connections. To be continued :-)