letting my model be the guide

Yesterday, one of my friends sent out a group text wishing me and several of his friends Happy Fathers Day. In the same message he asked us each to share some words of wisdom about being a father so that everyone on the text could benefit.

Here is a sample of the replies he received:

“As a father to a son I strive to be the example. As he follows, he learns to walk the right path”

“walk the talk, talk the walk” the walk is more powerful than words”

“More is caught than taught.”

“Our children will learn more from what we do than what we say.”

“The more time you spend with your kids the more influence you’ll have on them”

“Your presence as a father is magical to your kids” (my contribution)

There was an unexpected consistency about the responses. I was expecting there to be a wide range of tidbits of wisdom, but instead, as the original sender of the text summarized:

The recurring theme is show and prove

I thought about this virtual conversation this morning when I caught myself doing the opposite of “show and prove”. One of my daughters was trying to tell her sister something at the dinner table but we could hardly make out what she was saying because her mouth was so full.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full” I admonished … through my equally full mouth.

I was basically saying “Do as I say, not as I do…”

During the week leading up to Fathers Day, I often reflect on my role as a parent and how it is evolving over time.  I also think about ways in which I can become a better father to my kids and guide them as effectively as I can.  The themes I get from this introspection are often things that apply to how I behave as a leader even outside of being a parent.

Show and prove is one of those themes that resonates with me on many levels – especially with how it ties back to the theme I set for my family this year:

Be the change you want to see.

In order to effectively lead others, I need to combine sharing vision and motivating others with modelling actions.  Becoming more consistent with this blog is one of those actions that is important for me to master because I find myself talking more and more to others about creating a cadence with which they ‘ship’ – but then find myself in the situation I was in this morning with my daughter when I am not following through on my own instruction.

Its all a process though, and I can already tell that I am getting better. (Both with the parenting and the blogging).

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.