The 7 Pillars of Visionary Leadership, Pillar V - Mentoring
By Michael E. Rock, Ed.D. | May 1, 1999
PILLAR V: Mentoring
"Sharing Knowledge: Empowering a Future"
(Part 5 of 7)
"If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep."
Lt. Col. John McCrae, M.D. (1872-1918)
"In Flanders Field"
"How many roads must a man walk down
Before they call him a man ...
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
The answer is blowing in the wind"
Bob Dylan, "Blowin' in the Wind," 1962
"Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?"
Peter, Paul and Mary, 1960s
We have just witnessed a crystallizing point in the lack of mentorship: the killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. History may show that April 1999 was indeed a turning-point. The evil and the horror that was evident in those killings shocked the world and especially North American society in a way that other events did not. Most parents were asking themselves, "What have we bred in our midst? What has happened to us?" As in the opening quote, "Where have all the flowers gone?" Or, "Where have all the mentors gone?"
The word "mentor" comes from a character named Mentor in Homer's Odyssey. Because Odysseus had been away for many years, his son Telemachus was deprived of a father figure who could serve as a role model. The goddess Athene therefore disguised herself as Mentes and encouraged Telemachus to take a journey. Telemachus was gratified "in his spirit, courage, and determination, and he remembered his father even more." The next guise Athene chose was Mentor -- Odysseus' former companion -- who encouraged the youth: "You are no thoughtless man, no coward, if truly the strong force of your father is instilled in you, such a man he was for accomplishing word and action."2
We have lost our innocence. As a society, we ask, "How can we empower a future worth going to?" This question is the mentor question. It is the question that asks how we can "pass on the torch."
We also live in what is called the "horizontal society." Our society has an identity crisis going on. "Traditional authority figures no longer hold sway. ... We form groups of like-minded individuals who find their identity through the miracle of mass culture."3 According to Yale law professor Lawrence Friedman, in his book The Horizontal Society,today we live
- In a virtual reality where traditional social hierarchies no longer rule;
- In an environment where our sense of identity has been irretrievably altered, a no-man's land.
- In a society without strong ties of vertical authority -- ties that attach us to parents, bosses, heads of state, priests and others.
The result of all this "horizontalism"?
- A strong tendency to reach out, establish identities and form relationships with like-minded people in groups that do not meet face-to-face but through the miracles of technology.
- A horizontal identity that confers a feeling of power, potency and freedom, and distracts us from the barren landscape of disconnectedness that is modern life.
- A society which can best be described as a "public opinion state.
- A disappearance essentially of what we have known as childhood, due to television which is visual, non-hierarchical, and understood by anyone, with the net result that we have the adult/child, or the adult who acts like a child4.
In the spring of 1999, I was concluding a course on ethics and values in business. The course book was The 7 Pillars of Visionary Leadership. For their final test, I held small team interviews. I had asked them to read the last three pillars and come to class prepared to discuss their most favourite passage. Out of 65 students, at least one-thirdchose the opening quote from Pillar V: Mentoring. It reads as follows:
And if the blind lead the blind,
both shall fall into the ditch."
Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew, 15:14
A true mentor coaches people to believe the following about themselves:
|VISIONING||I know where I am going|
|MAPPING||I know how to get there|
|JOURNEYING||I am willing to start|
|LEARNING||I am open to change|
|MENTORING||I am open to others|
|LEADING||I will set an example|
|VALUING||I will do what is right|
In a leaderless and horizontal world where downsizing and dismissal of loyalty are now entrenched, is it any wonder that the bizarre has filled in the vacuum when true mentoring is absent. Another third of these same students chose the following Chinese proverb found at the end of the Mentoring chapter (PILLAR V) as their favourite passage. It reads as follows:
If you want one year of prosperity,
If you want ten years of prosperity,
If you want one hundred years of prosperity,
QUESTION: "Does Your Organization Honour Wisdom?"
Let's do an organizational check. Think of the organization you work in. Estimate fairlyand honestly your answer to the following seven (7) questions. Use the scale below tomake your choice:
1 = To a very little extent
2 = To a little extent
3 = To some extent
4 = To a great extent
5 = To a very great extent
The organization I work for ...
|Item No.||Item||My Score|
||Values experience and know-how.|
||Invests time and energy in people development.|
||Fosters a genuine sense of community.|
||Cultivates and nurtures wisdom.|
||Develops good role models.|
||Not only wants to do things right, but also do the right things.|
||Applies knowledge constructively to what it already knows.|
If you scored 32-35: You value mentoring in your organization.
If you scored 28-31: You're doing all right, but need to improve.
If you scored 25-27: You definitely need to take stock right now.
If you scored 0-24: You're are, or will be, in trouble.
The Teachable Point of View: Ancient AthensOne of my favourite mentoring passages in The 7 Pillars of Visionary Leadership is the one about the young man who visits his mentor, Socrates, in the early hours of the morning:
A beautiful story recounts one young man's excitement about learning. A young manknocks on Socrates' door in the early dawn. Socrates is still half asleep when heanswers the door and says, "What's here?" The young man cries out, "O Socrates. Goodnews, good news!" Of course, Socrates is wondering what could be such news at suchan early hour. The young man continues: "O Socrates, Protagoras has come. I heard ityesterday evening. And I was going to you at once but it was so late ." By this timeSocrates is getting curious and wants to know what this Protagoras talk is all about. Heasks, "Has he stolen something of yours?" At this the young man bursts out laughing."Yes, yes, that's just it. He's robbing me of wisdom. He has it, wisdom, and he can give it to me. Oh, come and go with me to him. Start now."6
Concluding ScenariosCase example #1:
At the heart of mentoring is the reality of remembering. To forget or not to know one's history, for example, is to walk foolishly into the future. One company that has learned its lesson about mentoring is Xerox Corp. It realizes today that it let slip out of its hands the some of the very heart of technology that makes the new economy tick. James Corridoren, an analyst at Standard & Poor's in New York says, "Top to bottom, Xerox has the best technology in documents." Writer Amanda Lang of The Financial Post comments, "To be true, there are examples where the company seemed to hold the future in its hands, only to fumble on the way to a slam dunk. Remembering that past could be all Xerox needs to focus on the future." 7
Case example #2:
In mentoring a roadmap to manage stress, Elaine Calder, 51, Canada's pre-eminent arts troubleshooter, passes on her wisdom. In her efforts to make sure "the centre holds" (literally) for the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, she outlines her four steps:8
- You have to do an enormous amount of listening;
- You have to be really honest;
- Don't waver in your commitment; and
- Have an understanding partner who puts up with long hours and rented digs.
Case example #3:
Women Entrepreneurs of Canada is a volunteer program run by partners who match businesswomen with more experienced advisors. Marian Pitters found such a mentor in Wendy Banting, the owner of a secure paper shredding company. Mentors provide the type of guidance they are seeking -- from a non-competitive standpoint. Mentors, suchas Ms. Banting, spend at least three hours a month reviewing business plans, either over the phone or in person, in addition to attending monthly workshop sessions. These sessions help those seeking advice to become more disciplined, knowledgeable, and focussed. Again, it's "passing on the torch."9
The time is now upon us to critically examine our relationship to history, the treasuresthat have been passed on to us, and the essential role we all play in building a futureworth going to. "We borrow the future from our children," the saying goes; but we mustalso remember that we alone also connect the past to that future. May we remember thepast and may we reflect well on what it is we are passing on to build that future.
For a summary of The 7 Pillars, go to Harcourt Brace & Company Canada's Website: or call 1-800 387-7278.
The 7 Pillars of Visionary Leadership: Introduction PILLAR I: Visioning PILLAR II: Mapping PILLAR III: Journeying PILLAR IV: Learning PILLAR V: Mentoring PILLAR VI: Leading PILLAR VII: Valuing
PILLAR I: Visioning
PILLAR II: Mapping
PILLAR III: Journeying
PILLAR IV: Learning
PILLAR V: Mentoring
PILLAR VI: Leading
PILLAR VII: Valuing