Walking into Discovery: A Metaphor for Coaching, Mentoring, and Peer Assistance

rac-trial-islandThe city I live in is one of the premier tourist destinations in Canada. It’s a city known for gardens, ocean views, residential architecture, mild temperatures, and friendly people. Traffic, crime, noise, and pollution are all minimal here. And although I’ve lived here most of my adult life, it’s only been the last few months, that I’ve really gained a knowledge of where I live.

While I used to drive or cycle virtually everywhere in the city, I’ve been spending much more time walking as a way to exercise and improve my health. Daily walking has become a passion and has led me to literally “take the road less travelled.” I’m addicted to it. And I’m amazed at the benefits it has had, not just for my health, but for my perspective and spirit.

Slowing down, strolling, and meandering through my neighbourhood has revealed to me much of what I’ve been missing for many years. Not only have I been able to see beautiful gardens close-up, but I’ve been able to stop and talk with their gardeners. I’ve met more neighbours, their children, and their dogs and cats. I’ve learned more about renovations, financial troubles, family needs, and civic concerns.

I’ve also found short-cuts, trails, paths, and back alleys that I didn’t use or know about previously. I’m travelling in the same area, but I’m seeing things I hadn’t seen before. I’m experiencing the importance of neighbourhood relationships in an urban area, which seems to be essential during a time in our history when many factors act to separate us as neighbours.

Walking also facilitates communication. Almost everyone I walk by expresses some acknowledgement with a “hello,” “how’s it going?” or “lovely day” comment. Eye contact is common. And I even get a chance to learn how others see me. Some people that I say hello to when I’m walking by, return the recognition with, “Hello, sir.” I didn’t realize I had gotten that old yet to have the privilege of being called “sir.” Every now and then a conversation starts that goes beyond mere acknowledgement.

As a cyclist I knew that I was already seeing, smelling, and experiencing things that driving in a car didn’t provide. But I didn’t realize what I was missing. Walking has allowed me to slow down and actually take in much more than I knew was there. I’m seeing things that I’ve always seen, yet I’m seeing them differently.

Walking is probably a good metaphor to use to describe a way to improve our work in coaching, mentoring and peer assistance. The pace of our daily life may not leave much time for reflection, contemplation, meditation, and silence. Too often we don’t slow down enough and we miss what’s really going on. Typically when I return from a walk I feel energized and more connected within the layers of myself. If I can communicate a slow walking pace in my mentoring, coaching and peer work, I think I’m providing a safer and grounded area for deeper exploration, curiosity and adventure. A slower pace signals, “Our time together is a sacred place.”

Destination walking is a useful way to get to a specific location, and using it as a metaphor again, having a destination or goal can be an essential element of progress in coaching, mentoring, and peer assistance. I used to be an avid destination seeker. But sometimes having a goal interferes with exploring a detour and possibly discovering a treasure that is hidden in a less travelled lane.

Destination walking often is associated with taking the shortest, quickest or easiest path. While I still take destination walks, I am no longer consumed by a focus on getting to the end; instead I’m ready for detours or travel down an unfamiliar route. The number of things I’ve discovered, and the satisfaction I’ve experienced during the journey in an unfamiliar neighbourhood have enriched my life. Since a common element of coaching, mentoring, and peer assistance is the focus on the practitioner and client (or partner) working together, walking seems to be a highly suitable way to travel.

When I walk down avenues I have walked along many times before, I often see something new or something I hadn’t noticed before. And the landscape changes with the weather and the seasons, just as our “inner landscape” changes with our moods, or insights and growth. Going over familiar territory in coaching, mentoring or peer assistance sessions may lead to noticing some new aspect, focus, or perspective that did not surface previously.

From what I’ve been reading about brain neurobiology, walking increases cohesion between the left and right hemisphere of the brain so that creativity and cognitive processes can better connect; the brain becomes more integrated and our ideas flow more freely. Walking allows us to stop and “smell the roses,” although in my neighbourhood, it’s more likely to also include “smell the tomatoes.” I hope you will be able to travel the road less travelled.

Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.

~ Steven Wright ~
American humorist

Famous Mentor Pairings: The Music Business Part II

MentorlogoVirtually anyone can benefit from having a mentor. And most well-known, accomplished and successful people can identify people in their lives who acted as mentors. The mentor pairings that are described in this post were identified from a variety of sources including autobiographies, biographies, newspaper articles, personal interviews, and diligent historical research.

An extensive list of additional well-known mentor pairings, including those from TV, motion pictures and fiction, can be found on the Peer Resources website at www.mentors.ca/mentorpairs.html. In addition to the list of mentor pairs from the world of entertainment, business, creative arts, sports, politics, history, and science available in the Peer Resources listings, a few historical facts or humorous references to the term mentor are also included.

Herbie Hancock

Jazz trumpeters Donald Byrd and Miles Davis (1926-1991) were both mentors to jazz pianist and composer Herbie Hancock. Herbie’s first musical experiences, however, started with training in classical music. His talent was recognized as early as age seven, and when he was 11 he played with the Chicago Symphony.

As a teenager he started listening to jazz recordings of Canadian Oscar Peterson, and he began to teach himself jazz composition. Surprisingly, when he entered college he began his studies as a physics major; but eventually switched to music.

When Herbie Hancock met Donald Byrd, he complained to him that he was having difficulty composing his own jazz pieces. He didn’t want to just copy the stylings of those great pianists that he admired like George Shearing , Don Goldberg, McCoy Tyner, and Wynton Kelly.

Donald Byrd suggested that Herbie write about the “black experience” urban life, and city rhythms. He said, “Write about what you know.”

Herbie Hancock recalled the advice: “That’s when I wrote Watermelon Man (view on YouTube). That piece was based on the voice of a local watermelon vendor calling out in our neighbourhood. Became a best selling song. Mongo Santamaria, a conga player who found a way to blend Afro-Cuban and Afro-American music recorded Watermelon Man and made it a big hit all over Latin America in 1962.

“Donald Byrd and I were roomates at the time and we were playing in a group together. One day I got a phone call from Miles Davis, who I didn’t know even knew me. He asked me if I was working with anybody. I was so excited I put my hand over the phone and said to Donald, ‘It’s Miles; he wants to know if I’m working with anybody.’ Donald said to me, ‘I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror if I stood in the way of you working with Miles Davis. Tell him you’re not working with anyone.’ I then said to Miles, ‘no I’m not.’ He then said to me, “Why don’t you come over to my place and we’ll play some.’ I said, ‘OK,’ then he hung up. I was so stunned, thrilled and excited that it wasn’t till about an hour later that I realized I had no idea where Miles lived or how to get in touch with him!”

Herbie adds: “Miles could take bad music composed by a band member and make it great. He did the same for us as young musicians. He believed in our development and gave us the encouragement to grow.

Donald Byrd
Miles Davis
Herbie Hancock 


Shirley Horn

Shirley Horn (1934-2005) was another jazz   pianist and vocalist mentored by Miles Davis.   Ms. Horn began her musical life with the  dream of becoming a classical pianist. But jazz clubs in her hometown of Washington, DC were the only places she could listen to other pianists even though she was underage. Her recognition by Miles Davis catapulted her career, partly because Miles Davis was notorious for hardly ever saying anything positive about anybody.

Eventually she was nominated for nine Grammy Awards, was awarded the Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, and performed at The White House for several U.S. presidents.

During Ms. Horn’s career she became a mentor to many women in the music business because of her ability to raise a family and actively perform. One of the people she mentored was singer Kendra Shank. Ms. Shank (www.kendrashank.com) started as a folk singer during her college years and was influenced by the styles of Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor.

She had studied French at university and also started singing French popular songsAlbum cover of Kendra Shank’s Mosaic in Seattle restaurants. When she moved to New York she met her mentor, pianist Shirley Horn, who introduced her to the Village Vanguard stage in 1992. “I’m going to do for you what my mentor Miles Davis did for me,” Ms. Horn told Kendra Shank. Working with Shirley Horn was, in part, an inspiration for her latest album, “Mosaic,” which is her fifth and most personal recording. On it are songs by Irving Berlin, Cedar Walton and Carole King, as well as some of her own original compositions. (Source: Hugo Kugiya, Seattle Times)

Kendra Shank
Kendra Shank
Shirley Horn

Famous Mentor Pairings: The Music Business

MentorlogoVirtually anyone can benefit from having a mentor. And most well-known, accomplished and successful people can identify people in their lives who acted as mentors. The mentor pairings that are described in this section of the Peer Bulletin were identified from a variety of sources including autobiographies, biographies, newspaper articles, personal interviews, and diligent historical research.

An extensive list of additional well-known mentor pairings, including those from TV, motion pictures and fiction, can be found on the Peer Resources website at www.mentors.ca/mentorpairs.html. In addition to the list of mentor pairs from the world of entertainment, business, creative arts, sports, politics, history, and science available in the Peer Resources listings, a few historical facts or humorous references to the term mentor are also included.

On many occasions we have featured the mentoring relationships of various well-known musicians, singers and songwriters. But behind almost every successful artists there is a producer or music business specialist who have played a significant role in identifying and developing the artist’s musical talent. Even these music business specialists attribute their own success in business to someone who took the time to mentor them.

UK citizen Don Grierson, legendary Vice President of A&R at Epic, Capitol, and EMI, is directly responsible for signing and/or working with some of the world’s most noted artists including Celine Dion, Heart, Iron Maiden, Sheena Easton, Joe Cocker, Wasp, Bad English, Little River Band, George Clinton, J. Geils Band, Kate Bush, Gloria Estefan, The Jacksons, Duran Duran, Tina Turner, Queen, Indigo Girls, Spin Doctors, Alice Cooper, and many, many more. Don attributes much of his success to his mentor Jerry Moss, an American recording executive, best known for being the co-founder of A&M Records (he is the “M” in A&M Records).

Don says that he owes his success, in part, to “Jerry saying to me ‘I believe in you.’ That support led me to work hard, and now I work hard to help others have their dreams. My advice to anyone who wants to be successful in the music business is to believe in yourself, hone your craft, fight for yourself, and educate yourself.”

The Five-Minute Mentor: Demonstrating Mutual Respect

Spock:BonesA frequently voiced, but often not discussed concern of formal mentoring programs, is the issue of “chemistry.” This somewhat intangible concept, typically described as the way a mentor and partner get along with each other, is based on what is almost always an ingredient in informal mentoring relationships. It may in fact be the primary element that attracts people to each other in informal mentoring.

In preparing for formal mentoring relationships the concern is often expressed in a negative direction; that is, both a mentor and partner might independently voice, “What if there is no chemistry between us; what do we do then?”

This assumption (that there must be chemistry) is natural because it is based on observations of or experience with informal mentoring. But while chemistry might be useful for faster relationship development in formal mentoring, it is not a necessary condition for the success of a formal pairing. Instead, what is necessary is a demonstration of mutual respect.

The three key areas that are essential for the success of a formal mentoring relationship are: (1) setting goals; (2) establishing clear expectations; and (3) attending to and assessing the development of the relationship.

Each one of these areas provides both the mentor and partner an opportunity to engage in and model the skills associated with the practice of mutual respect.

The six-step exercise outlined below has been designed to demonstrate how to practice respectful interaction while accomplishing the task of establishing goals. It was also designed to help participants experience (a) how little time it actually takes to be an effective mentor (thus reducing the often expressed concern about the time required); and (b) how a mentor can be effective without being an “expert” (thus reducing the need to view mentors as “all-knowing” in their field).

While this exercise is a role work activity, it is important that the participants select topics (goal statements, for example) that are real and not “hypothetical” or just made up for the purpose of the exercise.

In addition, the language used in the activity is based on phrasing that I typically use and may not match what others might actually say. It’s perfectly okay to change the phrasing to fit individual preference as long as the intention of respectful dialogue can be clearly demonstrated.

For the purpose of the activity, I recommend staying as close as possible to the dialogue as presented. At the end of the activity we can review other ways of being able to demonstrate respect using different phrasing.

Step One – Find a Partner: Decide who will be the mentor and who will be the partner.

Step Two – Develop the Relationship (Build Rapport):

The mentor sends a welcoming message (verbal and non-verbal) such as, “I’m glad we could meet together. I’m really looking forward to working as your mentor.”

The partner sends an appreciation message (verbal and non-verbal) such as, “Thanks for taking the time to meet with me. I think I can learn a lot from our connection.”

Step Three – Set the Agenda (Formulate the Purpose):

The mentor: (Establish an agenda) “How about for this session we focus on what we want to learn as a result of being part of our mentoring relationship.”

The partner: (Add to the agenda) “That’s great; and if we have time, let’s arrange our next meeting time and possible topics.”

Step Four – Engage in Learning Conversation (Share Objectives, Current Reality, Challenges, Methods, and Action Plans):

The mentor: “I’d like to know about your goals for our mentoring relationship. What’s the most important thing you want to gain from your involvement in mentoring”

If the partner has difficulty coming up with any goals or responds with a shrug or an ‘I don’t know’ type of response, then the Mentor can switch to a different approach and ask, “Sometimes it’s easier to to start with what you don’t want to happen, so let’s begin there. What don’t you want to happen during mentoring sessions?”)

Partner: (shares learning goals or what he or she does not want to happen)
Mentor: (demonstrates understanding through paraphrasing, restating or summarizing)
Partner: (acknowledges accuracy of Mentor understanding or clarifies/modifies)

Mentor: “What is it about your learning goal that makes it important or exciting to you?”
Partner: (shares the basis for importance or excitement)

Mentor: “How will you feel when you’ve accomplished your goal?”
Partner: (shares emotions, ideas)

Mentor: “How do you plan to achieve your goal?”
Partner: (shares strategy or plan)

Mentor: “What, if anything, might interfere with your plan?”
Partner: (shares possible blocks)

Mentor: “What methods can you use to prevent block(s) from occurring?”
Partner: (shares methods)

Mentor: “Given what we’ve discussed so far, what actions will you take to put your plan into practice?”
Partner: (shares action(s)

Mentor: “How will you know when you’ve been successful or “outrageously successful”?
Partner: (shares possibilities)

Mentor: “How can I help you to be accountable?”
(Mentor and partner both contribute possible ideas)

Step Five – Close the Session (Assess Progress)

Mentor: (Summarize what you’ve learned, suggest an agenda item for next session, and express appreciation for something you’ve observed.)

Partner: (Summarize what you’ve learned, suggest an agenda item for next session, and express appreciation for something you’ve observed.)

“That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.”

~ Doris Lessing ~
British writer and Nobel Prize in Literature recipient
Mentored by R.D. Laing

Dr. Albert Ellis: A Mentor Who Left a Legacy (1913-2007)

albert ellisProvocative, controversial, and energizing, Dr. Albert Ellis, the creator of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), died of natural causes at 93 years of age in New York City. Dr. Ellis was one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, and his work on cognitive psychology, action orientation, confronting irrational beliefs, the importance of emotional growth, and challenge to the prevailing dominance of psychoanalytic psychotherapy, gave rise to one of the foundations of what is today called cognitive coaching.

As a student in high school Albert Ellis planned on studying accounting, make enough money to retire at age 30, and become the great American novelist. He devoted most of his time to writing short stories, plays, novels, comic poetry, essays and non-fiction books. The Depression that began in 1929 reduced his brief interest in a business career, and he found that non-fiction writing was more to his liking than producing fiction. He started to write about the field of human sexuality, and became a noted expert and informal counselor in this area. His peer counseling led him to discover his calling in this field, and he began to steer towards a career in clinical psychology. When he received his doctorate in clinical psychology from Columbia University in 1947 he was an ardent supporter of psychoanalysis. But his faith in this technique began to wane when he found that clients stayed the same whether he met with them daily or weekly. He started to inject advice into the sessions and discovered that his clients actually improved when he pointed out their “crooked way of thinking.” One of his critics believed this patient improvement was just a way to get Dr. Ellis to stop talking. Dr. Ellis, however, believed that patients had to take immediate action to change their behavior. “Neurosis,” he said, was “just a high-class word for whining.”

In 1965 when I was a graduate student in a clinical-school psychology program, the film
“Three Approaches to Psychotherapy” was the most frequently viewed and widely-discussed movie about therapy. In the film, Albert Ellis (Rational-Emotive), Carl Rogers (Client-Centered) and Fritz Perls (Gestalt) took turns conducting therapy with the same patient: “Gloria.” At the end of the 36-minute film, the producer and director of the film, Everett Shostrom, interviewed Gloria about her experience of therapy with the three greats and rivals. As students we argued late into the night on many occasions about the therapists’ techniques and Gloria’s reactions.

Dr. Ellis always seemed to receive the most criticism because of his abrupt and abrasive manner, but when he was scheduled to be a keynote speaker at the American Psychology Association conference in our city, all the students eagerly got tickets to the event. As part of his talk, he solicited a volunteer from the audience so that he could demonstrate some of the principles of REBT. His interaction with the volunteer was surprisingly humorous…and provocative. As a result of his style he was nicknamed “the Lenny Bruce of psychotherapy.” (For those too young to remember Lenny Bruce, he was probably the first stand-up comedian to focus on politics, civics, and real events in highly caustic rants filled with “forbidden” words.) I remember one of my fellow students saying after the demonstration, “Dr. Ellis has some great ideas and practices for helping people make significant changes. Too bad he’s the one using them.”

Dr. Ellis published over 54 books and 600 articles on REBT, and at the time of his death he was President Emeritus of the Albert Ellis Institute (formerly the Institute of Rational Living) in New York.

Mentor in Memorium: Marshall Rosenberg (1934-2015)

Marshall_RosenbergMarshall Rosenberg, founder of the Center for Nonviolent Communication, was a world renowned peacemaker, psychologist, educator and author. He dedicated his life to the study and practice of the conditions that bring about peace. He taught millions, through his books and talks, the skills of honest expression, empathy, naming feelings, and asking for what we need in order to enrich our lives.

His early experience living in racially divided Detroit while he was training as a psychologist contributed to his developing a way to address conflict that emphasizes listening with empathy. He was also influenced in this direction by his association with the renowned psychologist Carl Rogers (1902-1987) who became his mentor, and asked him questions that were unanswerable at the time about how people can be loving and violent at the same time.

The Greater Good Center at the University of California at Berkeley said, “Dr. Rosenberg’s passing is a great loss to those inspired by his embodied, practical approach to peacemaking. And yet his work lives on as an inheritance, one that we may discover, rediscover and invest in ourselves and in one another, sharing these instruments of harmony that were meant to be shared in a diverse, complex, and complicated world.

One of fans of his work said, “Marshall Rosenberg is the mentor I wish we’d all had growing up. We learned to speak but not communicate and that has led to so much unnecessary personal and social misery.”

I’m interested in learning that’s motivated by reverence for life, that’s motivated by a desire to learn skills, to learn new things that help us to better contribute to our own well-being and the well-being of others. And what fills me with great sadness is any learning that I see motivated by coercion.

~ Marshall Rosenberg ~