mentorship is not for puppeteers

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
– Antoine de Saint Exupéry

One of my major themes this year is mentorship because I want to become both a better mentor and a better mentee. Over the past 5 years, I have had the privilege of learning about mentoring through the platform of a mentoring program called Khalfani that primarily serves young men of color between the ages of 6 and 18 years old. Through that experience, I have enjoyed watching young boys mature into young men even as I have grown as a leader myself. I have also begun to develop some personal guidelines that are more effective than others at influencing a mentee and helping them become successful. These guidelines are not only helpful in mentoring teenagers but can be applied to anybody that looks up to you for advice or input into their career or life choices.

The quote at the beginning of this post encapsulates the first of these guidelines. If you want to be effective as a mentor, you have to reframe the way in which you point a person towards success – unlike a puppeteer who makes the puppet act by controlling its actions directly; a mentor should not focus solely on getting their mentee to follow their instructions. This will hurt the mentee more than it will help them because you are not equipping them to develop their own problem-solving and decision-making skills.

Instead, the mentor’s role is to paint a picture for the mentee of their future that is so compelling they will long for it and implement your advice as a means to get to that end.

Practically, there are at least two ways to do this that are easily accessible to anybody:

1. Be the model
2. Tell stories

Be the model

The easiest way to mentor somebody is to live your life according to the principles that you are trying to instill in your mentee. If they spend enough time around you, the authenticity of your life will give you the credibility to speak into their lives. And if you have a life that gives them a glimpse of what they would like their own lives to be like, they will naturally want to know the ‘magic sauce’ that got you to where you are.

Tell stories

Humans are naturally drawn to stories and we remember them better than we do facts or lectures. If you want a lesson to stick with your mentee, find a way to tell a story (preferably one from your own life) that illustrates the concept you are trying to convey. When you do that it does two things:
· It reinforces you as the model they can safely follow
· It gives them a simple memory trigger for when they will need that principle in the future

So as you consistently model things and provide frameworks for concepts through stories, you will have a much greater influence over your mentee than if you merely try to teach them things through a ‘lecture’ format – and you will enjoy yourself more because your interactions will be based on the building of a relationship, rather than the transactional ‘impartation of wisdom’.

Instead of being the puppeteer, you will be the muse and your mentee will be encouraged to create their masterpiece.