A Mentor Dies And His Influence Continues

Screen Shot 2018-04-25 at 3.28.32 PMI am saddened by the death of my friend and mentor. Our souls were intertwined from the start, but events in recent years broke our capacity to express what we meant to each other. We both longed for what we had been to each other, yet neither of us could find the path for a return.

Many others who were the glue between us, knew of the public reasons for our estrangement, but only he and I knew what really happened. Knowing the private reason or tolerating the public perception does not diminish my love for him. Nor does it reduce the impact he had on my life.

We could exchange ideas, thoughts, and feelings of a personal and professional nature all in the same sentence. Our life work shared the same DNA. When we worked on projects together, we both achieved greater heights than either of us could have ascended to alone.

We yearned for the same things. We held hands, we locked arms, and we laughed uproariously when we encountered common obstacles. Once when we discovered a memo that called us “a pair of axxholes,” we were more delighted than offended.

Our friendship, companionship, and ability to learn from each other was probably deeper and more intimate than most men are able to attain in their lifetime. I am grateful for what we had and I will always treasure everything that we were to each other.

The smile and twinkle are gone. The greeting and enthusiasm that set aglow the inner fire are now memories. A twist of fate allowed us to have time together before death claimed his body. Our conversation brought joy to both our spirits and the healing path emerged.

Death, we both discerned long ago, turns us all into philosophers. Tragedy requires us to reassess our relationship with the temporal world and the expanse of the universe. My mentor said, “Why wait for such trauma to occur? Why not help people know themselves in the world without having to gain such knowledge through tragic circumstance?”

He called this help “socio-dynamic” counselling. With a few simple principles, he launched a system that has influenced helping professionals around the world and has left a legacy of practitioners, researchers, and teachers.

His death, like his life, touches our most inner world. Despite our grief, our tears and our longing for him, we carry forward the larger question that was most dear to his being: “What is my place in the cosmos?” And within that question, we struggle with a more immediate enquiry: “What can I do to help?”

I cannot say what I will miss most. The suspenders? The unique clothing? The Moroccan chicken? The unwillingness to engage in chit-chat? The fine wines? The insights? The stories of ranch life? The garden oasis? The gatherings? The walks? The battles with the dragons? The challenge to engage? Doing your best? Living authentically? Inspiring writing? Emotional intelligence? Road trip snoring?

What we meant to each other, what we did for each other, and how we were to each other has left me with exceptional solace. I wish, however, that I could have said “I love you,” before only his soul could hear me. Oh, brother, where art thou? Are you yet again paving the way for my travels?

(This mentoring story is an excerpt from my book on mentoring, “Shaping the Future: 150+ Canadian Mentoring Relationships That Make Canada Great, Creative, Innovative, Productive, Successful and Welcoming.”  The book was written to coincide with the celebration Canada’s 150th Anniversary. It includes more than 150 examples of mentoring relationships from all walks of life in Canada including sports, history, leadership, the arts, entertainment, acting, Broadway, music, politics, and business. It also includes ideas about the key principles associated with mentoring; how mentoring and coaching are the same and different; illustrations of mentoring relationships from my own life (such as the story above) and what I learned from them; and examples of mentoring relationships experienced by well-known and lesser-known Canadians. To make it easier to find particular people and who mentored whom, I’ve included a name index. The book is available from Amazon.)

 

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Shaping the Future: 150+ Canadian Mentoring Relationships

I’ve created a new e-book on Mentors and Mentoring in Canada. The book coincides with the celebration Canada’s 150th Anniversary. It includes more than 150 examples of mentoring relationships from all walks of life in Canada including sports, history, leadership, the arts, politics, entertainment, music, and business. I’ve also included ideas about the key principles associated with mentoring; how mentoring and coaching are the same and different; illustrations of mentoring relationships from my own life and what I learned from them; and examples of mentoring relationships experienced by well-known and lesser-known Canadians. To make it easier to find particular people and who mentored whom, I’ve included a name index. The e-book can be downloaded at no cost from http://goo.gl/IsJvWr 

   Feedback is welcomed and testimonials will be treasured.

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Evolutionary Peer Mentoring: A Growth Group for Seniors

BreakfastOnce a week for the past eight years a group of us meet for breakfast and discuss a variety of topics. What started as a one-time breakfast meeting with former workplace colleagues to catch up on retirement progress, has evolved into a continuing peer mentoring activity that relies on an unusual structure to manage engagement.

In her article, Group Mentoring: Strategies for Success, Lois Zachary (2011) identified peer group mentoring as one of the three most commonly employed models for achieving learning goals. Our group meets all of the criteria that she identified as associated with peer mentoring, including (1) having similar interests or needs; (2) setting our own agenda; (3) engaging in self-management and self-direction; (4) managing the focus of the discussion to make sure all members’ needs are met; and (5) ensuring that each group member benefits from the knowledge, expertise, and experience of the other group members.

What’s surprising or unusual, however, about our peer mentoring group is that we have yet to discuss, consciously review, or deliberately implement any of the five criteria Dr. Zachary identified. In other words, we didn’t review options and select one that we preferred. Instead, our structure and process have evolved over time. They may continue to change, but both seem to have been achieved by what can best be called a ‘happy accident.’

Using the happy accident approach for developing a peer group meeting structure may not be suitable for everyone. It can severely test the patience of those who prefer a certain degree of structure, a set agenda, or an urge to ‘get things done.’

As an experienced group leader in other contexts, I’m (happily) surprised that this peer mentoring group has been so successful, despite violating some of the standard principles associated with effective group management. For example, a lower level of structure in most groups typically leads to low levels of participation or inconsistent engagement by various members of the group. In our group, participation is equally distributed. Each member introduces topics; some members bring materials or resources to the group to share with the others, and everyone in the group contributes to every discussion (whether they know anything about it or not).

A low structure can also make it easier for some group members to dominate discussion or process in a way the meets their needs only. While the specific interests of a particular group member may serve as a topic discussion starter, the person who initiated the topic typically asks each of the other group members for their reactions or ideas about that topic. Group members also respond with their own viewpoint, whether they are specifically asked or not. Responsibility for leadership is distributed evenly among all group members.

Another problem that can lead to difficulties in groups is the degree to which the group has established a verbalized consensus on the group’s purpose. Many groups have no way of determining the degree to which they are achieving their purpose or desired results without an overall objective. This lack of clarity typically leads to low engagement, inconsistent attendance, or dropping out completely.

Although we’ve never spoken directly about our purpose, the fact that we have been meeting consistently for eight years (with time out during certain months for holidays), indicates that the model we have developed is satisfying, effective, and successful.

The Mindfulness Process

Our current way of interacting with each other has been repeated enough times that it is possible to describe some of the elements that have contributed to the success of our peer mentoring group. If I had to come up with one term or phrase that would characterize our meetings, I would use the term ‘mindfulness.’ Our interactions seem to (1) show conscious awareness or willingness to explore our current thoughts, feelings, and opinions; (2) seek alternative views or be open and curious about the views of others; and (3) resist any tendency toward judgment and instead focus on acceptance; and (4) be willing to include a sense of presence and authenticity.

Jon Kabat-Zinn (2009) has written extensively about mindfulness and the impact it has on stress reduction, and Peer Resources Network member Doug Silsbee (2010) has centered mindfulness as a key to successful coaching interactions. While we did not purposely establish a mindfulness perspective or process in our group, it has evolved in a way to be our most consistent way of interacting with each other.

 

“Age does not diminish the extreme disappointment of having a scoop of ice cream fall from the cone.”

~ Jimmy Carter ~

 

Bring it Up

While variations occur in any meeting, here are the most consistent mindfulness elements of our peer group dialogue.

Many of our discussions have to do with the circumstances associated with aging, health, exercise, mood, and medical or alternative treatments. These topics probably have more to do with the fact that all the group members are over 65. But many discussions are initiated around ideas that come from books we’re reading, current events, things we’ve discovered online, or past experiences.

Regardless of the topic, the initiator typically takes some time to share, explain or expand on the topic, and, if appropriate, bring up any inner dialogue and feelings about it. Sometimes this can lead to catastrophizing, making it seem like disaster is imminent or immense. Typically when this happens it is also followed by what might be considered a creative awareness, where the current topic seems related to some past experience, fear or action.

Whatever path the initiator takes the topic, there is a pause where that person asks the other group members for their reaction, assessment, or comment.

Catch and Release

At this point, various group members express their understanding of or experience with the topic. This may include seeking clarity, sharing a similar experience, or drawing upon their own wisdom or learning.

The intention is to acknowledge the content, feelings, and perspective of the initiator, while at the same time releasing the initiator from having to hold on to negative or stressful feelings, particularly those that facilitate catastrophizing or feeling alone.

Not all topics feature emotional content. Some are more idea- or intellectually- centered. These are often discussed with the intention of focusing on meaning-making questions or comments such as ‘What do you make of that?’ or ‘This is what I gained from it when it happened to me.’

Sometimes group members share what action they have taken when faced with a similar circumstance. However, we are not what I would consider a ‘result/ action’ oriented group. That is, there doesn’t appear to be a drive on any group member’s part to figure out what to do about something. This doesn’t prevent members from asking for advice or ideas, and this often becomes a way to draw upon the wisdom and experience of group members.

Bring it In

More than 60 years ago I had a high school coach who at the end of each practice would say, “Okay fellas, bring it in.” That was the signal that the physical practice was over and we were to gather in a group around the coach. The coach would then provide feedback or comments to the players on what he observed that day, and he would encourage us to express our gratitude to other players for what we were experiencing that day.

This wasn’t always easy as some of the conflicts between us led to some nasty, snarky or sarcastic ways of doing what the coach asked us to do. At the same time, when another player authentically expressed gratitude or appreciation, it had a powerful and lasting impact.

That early experience had such a profound impact on me that I’ve carried the experience through into my personal and professional life. Using it as part of the peer mentoring group seemed like a natural and useful thing to do. Fortunately, it’s contagious. I only tried it a few times before it became a fairly common aspect of the interactions for all of us within our group. We often nish our meetings or topic discussions with a type of ‘bring it in’ activity. It’s not so much a formal procedure as it is a way to help each other replace negative thoughts or feelings with things we appreciate or are grateful for. These more personal comments to each other also allow us to express our compassion and support for each other.

Not all our group meetings follow the pattern of mindfulness, nor does each meeting always include the three elements described above. Sometimes our focus is on recalling a past event or experience, sharing stories about family adventures, agreeing that our former workplace was a better organization when we worked there or telling jokes or humourous anecdotes. I’m convinced that the flexibility in both agenda-setting and how we manage the discussion as well as the personal meaning, knowledge, and support we gain from and give to each other is the glue that has attracted us to continue to meet with each other on a regular basis.

The size and consistency of our group also matter. For the most part, there are four of us, sometimes five; and from time-to-time one of the members brings a guest. While we might be able to accomplish mindfulness with more members, a larger group might lead to inconsistent attendance and less opportunity for follow- up, and less likelihood or willingness to tune-in to our way of being with each other.

Peer mentoring, particularly for small groups of older members of a society, go far back in history. The Knights of the Roundtable, Tribal Councils, Elder Chiefs, and other forms of ancient governing practices were all examples of peer mentoring.

Peer mentoring for seniors can be a powerful way to stimulate brain functioning and learning, meet social connection needs, and enable seniors to continue to grow and develop. Could others use our system? Possibly, but the key would be how to develop a mindfulness approach that would work for that particular group. From our experience, we stumbled into it by happy accident. There are many paths to a mindful or fulfillling way to participate in peer mentoring. We’re grateful we found ours.

References

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2009). Letting everything become your teacher: 100 lessons in mindfulness. New York: Dell Publishing.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2006). Coming to our senses: Healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness. New York: Hyperion.

Silsbee, D. (2010). The mindful coach. Seven roles for facilitating leader development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Zachary, L. (2011). Group mentoring: Strategies for success. Peer Bulletin, 205, 12-14.

 

FN-Group“Conversation was never begun at once, nor in a hurried manner. No one was quick with a question, no matter how important, and no one was pressed for an answer. A pause giving time for thought was the truly courteous way of beginning and conducting a conversation. Silence was meaningful with the Lakota, and his granting a space of silence to the speech-maker and his own moment of silence before talking was done in the practice of true politeness and regard for the rule that, “thought comes before speech.”

~ Luther Standing Bear (1868-1939) ~

Ogala Sioux Chief

Bringing Out Our Inner Life

Peer Counsellor Workbook CoverWhen the first edition of Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul was published in 1997, I was delighted that an excerpt from one of Peer Resources’ books (The Peer Helper’s Workbook) as well as contact details for our organization were included in this soon-to-be a best-selling book.

But the inclusion of our toll-free number as part of our contact details had unexpected consequences. Perhaps because Peer Resources had the only telephone number listed in that edition, we received many calls and letters from young people wanting to know how they could submit a story for the Chicken Soup series. Some of the callers and writers, however, just wanted someone to talk to about a life circumstance that was unbearable or troubling.

phone_listeningOne of these calls, from a 14-year old youth, started out as a request for information about how to deal with peer pressure. Within a few minutes, the story shifted dramatically from a focus on peers to a deep sense of helplessness and depression about communicating his worries and anxieties to his parents. Both parents, according to the caller, believed he should be able to handle his peers in an effective way and he should be able to stand up for himself. To do any less meant that he was incompetent and worthless.

Whether his parents actually held these views is less important than his perception that they did. He believed his parents did not understand him. He had given up seeing them as a resource to help him, and he was lost as to what do about his situation.

What he had tried was getting him into trouble at school, reducing his attention to school work, and contributing to rage toward his peers. He felt angry, hurt, and abandoned.

How many young people can tell a similar story? Feeling cut-off with no one who understands. Not knowing who to turn to for help. Giving up and burying their feelings. Turning fears into rage.

How often has this experience led a young person to suicide or violence toward others? How many times in the aftermath of a tragedy do we hear phrases such as “he was just a quiet person,” or “I would have never thought he/she could do this,” or “we thought he/she was just weird.”

How many young people are torn between their secret inner life and what they show on the outside?

The teen who called us was developing a secret inner life. A life that would not only be hidden from his parents and his peers, but might eventually become hidden from his own awareness.

We all have an inner life. The danger is when we become cut off from our inner world and do not have the tools or support to restore this connection. This disconnection severely hampers our emotional intelligence and reduces our ability to learn from life experiences. The bad news is that adults who have experienced such disconnection when they were young not only have difficulty recognizing or accepting such circumstances in their children, but their own arrested development prevents them from knowing how to help their children overcome these circumstances.

The good news is these situations can be identified, remedied, and prevented. Unfortunately, society in general, and the media and professionals in particular, often contribute to this disconnection. When a tragedy happens, a common cycle is initiated. Virtually everyone will respond with horror, shock, disbelief, and anguish.

Then there will be a search for blame. This search will focus on the superficial: the Internet, social media, movies, television, guns, bad parents or bad kids. The private and personal grief of friends and family will be made public. An emphasis will be placed on photographs, videos, and outward appearances. Experts will talk about a violent society or trends occurring in society that precipitate or predict such violence.

When the perpetrators are identified or put on trial, the focus will shift toward demonizing their motives and at the same time rationalizing their actions as victims of some syndrome or category of disease. The legal system will emphasize determining guilt and punishment. The cycle will include additional public funding directed towards violence prevention in the form of a better connection between police and schools; more anti-violence lectures; games and curriculum for youth; longer prison sentences for offenders; restrictions on weapons; better monitoring of or restrictions on Internet use, movies, television, or music.

When tragic events occur, the search for blame seems like the correct thing to do.

After all, we don’t want those events to be repeated. But what if such a search actually contributes to the problem rather than reduces its future likelihood? What if the assignment of blame is a substitute for looking inside ourselves to determine how we have contributed to the situation? What if blame is just another way of passing judgment and not really listening and understanding? Does the assignment of blame increase or decrease that area within ourselves that is hidden from view?

The most important question to ask is whether young people in our communities will actually find others in their lives who are willing to listen and understand.

What can we do to help young people access their inner selves? What can we do to demonstrate respect to all young people regardless of their appearance, background, or circumstances?

Answers to these questions are readily available. Here are some samples. Be a mentor. Be a coach. Make sure your schools have peer support programs.

When talking to a young person, listen more than you talk. Don’t interrupt. Practice

patience. Suspend judgment. Show respect by summarizing what has been said. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Share your life story. Talk about what has meaning for you and how that came about. Ask about dreams, hopes, and goals. Be curious. Ask whether suggestions might help. Be clear about expectations. Know your own hot buttons. Leave the impression your door is open for further conversation. And again: listen more than you talk.

I wish I could share the outcome of my discussion with the 14-year old described above. After we had discussed possible options that were available in his community, he had to hang up the phone abruptly because one of his parents just came home.

References

Canfield, J., Hanson, M.V., Kirberger, K. & Claspy, M. (1997). Chicken soup for the teenage soul. Deerfield Beach, Florida: HCI Teens.

Roberts, G. (1994). The peer helper’s workbook. Victoria, BC: Peer Systems Consulting Group, Inc. (Available from Peer Resources)

We must teach our children to dream with their eyes open.

~ Harry Edwards (1893-1976) ~ British spiritual healer

Mentoring Domains Seek New Homes

computer-cat

As part of our business downsizing at Peer Resources, we have a number of domain names that we no longer need. Here is the list:

The first six domain names presently are pointed to our primary business website. Why not buy one, arrange to have it point to your existing website or create a new one and use it to let others know what you have to offer.

We are selling each of these domains for $500. However, if you decide you want to purchase them before November 19, 2016, we will sell them for $350 each.

Contact: rey.carr@gmail.com

Advice-Giving: The Forbidden Fruit of Mentoring, Coaching, and Peer Assistance

Four-Way-Split_2Advice-giving in a coaching, mentoring, or peer assistance relationship appears to be a controversial topic. Yet, access to such advice is often the most frequent reason why clients seek the help of coaches, mentors, and peers. How can there be such a disconnect between the anti-advice-giving training that these practitioners receive and the desire on the part of clients and partners to obtain such advice? This article identifies the origin of the no-advice principle and provides a concrete alternative that enables clients to maximize their needs and coaches, mentors, and peer leaders to maximize their skill.

Prohibitions Against Advice-Giving

Lesley Matile, the Managing Director of The Coach Academy and a 25-year veteran coach exemplifies the standard view of advice-giving. She believes that “in the purest form of coaching, which I believe is the most beneficial to clients, there is no room for advice-giving.” She equates “purest form” with a “non-directive” approach to coaching. She has merged the counselling technique originally developed and perfected by psychologist Carl Rogers with coaching. She thinks that giving advice hinders client motivation, ownership, commitment to change, and reduces life-long learning. She does provide two benchmarks to use to determine whether advice given by a coach has value for the client. She instructs coaches to keep track of the number of times a client will say “Yes, but” as a reaction to a coach giving advice; and (2) to track the action taken by the client as a result of coach suggestions versus ideas the client has generated as a result of asking the client a “wisdom-accessing” question.

Management expert Chris Argyris (1999) supports Lesley’s position. Mr. Argyris argues that a preponderance of advice from the “masters” is full of mixed messages and often yields a range of unintended and counterproductive consequences. Often people send these mixed messages without any awareness of doing so. And in many cases, the sender may also send a subtle message that says this advice is not for discussion or full examination. Not all advice will lead to disaster, and Argyris tempers his view by providing a basis for determining how to sort the good from the bad.

Rosamunde Bott (2007), a career and writing coach, believes that making suggestions to clients can actually have a catalytic impact and often helps a “stuck” client or session get back on track. She supports the necessity for a coach to be flexible and not become paralyzed by a coach training instruction such as “coaches should not give advice.”

Parent_Book-coverIt’s likely that the prohibition of advice-giving in a helping relationship was made popular almost 50 years ago when Tom Gordon, a student of Carl Rogers, created the revolutionary approach to raising children known as “Parent Effectiveness Training.” Gordon characterized the typical ways we respond to others into 12 categories called “Roadblocks to Communication.” Such messages interfered with effective communication and typically made the person on the receiving end of such messages feel defensive, blamed, angry, accused, patronized, or admonished; not the necessary ingredients for improving a relationship. Probably the most controversial “roadblock” he identified and the one that appeared to be the most difficult to stop was “giving advice.”

Tom Gordon based his practical ideas on the work of psychotherapists Carl Rogers and Alan Carr, both of whom had no place for advice in their therapy. Most of the thousands of lay practitioners who became advocates for Gordon’s communication effectiveness approach described giving advice as a “no-no.” Literally hundreds of books and articles on communication skills published after his pioneering work echoed or duplicated his twelve roadblocks approach (many without accurate attribution). Parents, teachers, and thousands of others learning the Tom Gordon system were stymied by this end to advice- giving and struggled to prevent it from creeping back into their repertoire.

The best contemporary media example of the prohibition of advice-giving in a helping relationship is depicted weekly in the award-winning TV-show In Treatment. This North American cable-TV show is about a psychologist, Dr. Paul Weston (superbly played by Golden Globe winner Gabriel Byrne), who provides weekly one-on-one psychotherapy to a series of four different clients. The show also includes a weekly session where the psychologist sees his own therapist, Dr. Gina Toll (brilliantly played by Oscar- and Emmy- winner Dianne Wiest).

The show is adapted from a popular Israeli television series and recast for a North American audience. Each week, at some point during the patient’s half-hour session, the patient will ask the therapist for advice. The psychologist always responds by asking the patient a probing question, and never gives the requested advice.

While the show is intense, moving, and very realistic, it also has some lighter moments– one of which highlighted the advice-giving dilemma. At one point when Dr. Weston is in session with his own therapist, he asks her for advice. The therapist responds with a question; to which the psychologist has a short tantrum and says, “Now I understand why my patients get so frustrated when I don’t answer their questions. Just tell me what you think!”

The Alternative for Effective Advice-Giving

But is advice-giving really a “no-no?” Isn’t getting advice often the primary reason people seek out coaches, peers, and mentors? And how many times have coaches and mentors had to “sit on” an idea they thought would truly help the seeker merely because the “no-no” approach taught by all the disciples of “effective” communication admonished them against it.

There is an alternative. Years ago when I was one of Tom Gordon’s students, I created a simple, five-point method for dealing with advice-giving. I modified my mentor’s system so that the powerful human urge to give advice and the strong motivation to get advice from a peer assistant, mentor or coach could occur without being a roadblock to effective communication.

Albert Einstein
Physicist and mentor, Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

In my system, the first step for dealing with advice-giving is to determine the degree of risk associated with giving advice. For example, start by assessing the emotional state and the visionary capacity of the person asking for advice. Is the seeker overwhelmed, calm, agitated, enraged? The more activated (at one end of the emotional continuum) or the more depressed (at the other end of the continuum), the higher the risk that the advice will be meaningless, not heard, or completely rejected. Even worse (and often a stated reason for withholding advice), the advice seeker may act on the advice and when it doesn’t work or leads to even more severe circumstances, the seeker blames the advice giver for the muck he or she is now mired in.

At the same time, a lack of vision, a low ability to forecast, or an inability to state goals, places the advice seeker in a poor position to understand advice and often leads to arguing with, disputing, or demeaning the advice giver. Persons who have a better idea of where they want to go and can articulate their goals are often able to hear advice not as a command, but as a possible option or suggestion.

Before doling out advice, then, the advice giver can reduce the risk of advice-giving contributing to poor communication by assessing both the emotional state and visionary ability of the seeker. When the assessment results in a low-risk conclusion, then advice- giving is more likely going to contribute to an improved and fulfilling relationship. (When the assessment reveals a high-risk situation, then continued deep listening and asking powerful questions are better options than advice-giving.)

When the advice giver determines that the seeker is in an appropriate low-risk state to receive advice, he or she can then extend what I call step two or “the invitation.” In many cases, the seeker has already specifically asked me for advice. But if this hasn’t happened or is implied, I will ask seekers whether they think my sharing a similar experience and what I did about it might be helpful to their situation. In other words, I want the seeker to invite my contribution. I recommend an invitation such as “Would it be useful to you for me to let you know what I did about a similar situation and how it turned out for me?” This step can help the seeker feel supported and that he or she is not alone.

In step three, which I call “the disclosure step” the advice-giver draws upon his or her own life experience and frames the advice within that experience. Rather than saying, “Here’s what you should do…” the advice-giver constructs his or her advice as a personal statement: “When I was experiencing (the advice-giver describes his or her similar situation), here’s what I did or thought…” (The amount of description of the experience may vary depending on the circumstances.) The two key elements to this step are the advice giver’s ability to “own” the advice (“here’s what I did” and not “you should do this…”) and “frame” the advice within his or her own life experience.

The fourth step in effective advice-giving is called “the open dialogue step” and is simply the next sentence that follows the disclosure step. I recommend adding a question to the end of the disclosure statement such as: “In what way, if at all, does my advice fit for your situation?” or “Having heard my description and what I did or told myself, how close does that come for your situation, challenge, or circumstance?” The purpose here is to encourage the advice-seeker to honestly react, respond, reject, or modify the advice giver’s statement without disrupting the relationship.

Finally, in step five the advice giver listens deeply to the reaction of the seeker and through asking powerful questions helps the seeker modify, revise, or create the advice as to what to do or think. I call this final step “switching gears,” (a term borrowed from Tom Gordon). The purpose of this step is for the advice giver to “let go” of the need to give advice, and let go of the need to ensure that the seeker complies with the advice. Instead the advice giver tunes in even more deeply to the seeker’s circumstances and life experience.

Advice-giving is neither good or bad in a coaching relationship. Instead, it’s more useful to think of giving advice as having risks. As coaches, mentors and peer assistants we can reduce the risk and ensure that giving advice contributes to an empowering relationship. Since giving advice and seeking advice are so strongly ingrained in our being, it’s probably more useful to figure out how to do it effectively rather than relying on the more outdated communication skills models that prohibit giving advice.

References

Argyris, C. (1999). Flawed advice and the management trap: How managers can know when they’re getting good advice and when they’re not. London: Oxford University Press.

Bott, R. (2007). To advise or not. Personal Success Magazine. (Retrieved April 30, 2009 from http://tinyurl.com/cjjfx6)

Underhill, B. (2015). To give or not give advice. Peer Bulletin 214, 21-24. (Retrieved August 22, 2016 from http://www.peer.ca/Projects/Peer_Resources_Network.html)

“Share your success and help others succeed. Give everyone a chance to have a piece of the pie. If the pie’s not big enough, make a bigger pie.”

~ Dave Thomas (1932-2002) ~

The Olympic Challenge for Mentoring Olympic Athletes

Virtually all athletes who participate at the Olympic level have mentors or will become mentors. The most difficult task for the mentoring relationship is helping the athlete deal with the feelings and thoughts associated with outcomes from the Olympic games. Whether the athlete was a medalist or did not medal doesn’t matter when it comes to learning how to gain spiritual and psychological benefits from the experience. Dealing with success and adulation can be just as difficult as dealing with failure, disappointment, and obscurity.

Sometimes the challenge to the mentoring relationship comes from the fact that the mentor is also an Olympic-level athlete. This can aid in understanding, knowledge and sharing wisdom, but it can also interfere with the athlete being mentored being able to find his or her own path through adversity or the vestiges of success. Recovering from feelings of humiliation, letting down parents, friends, and country in front of millions of people, or not living up to expectations cannot be successfully managed with a “cheer-up, it happens to us all; we can learn from failure” advice from a mentor. Instead, the crucial skill for the mentor is being able to dwell in authenticity, stillness, acceptance and a mindfulness that enables the mentored athlete to fully explore his or her own range of feelings and reactions. Uncovering the story the athlete has been telling him or herself about his/her Olympic performance is an essential element of mentoring that is meant to be transformational and spiritually relevant to the developing athlete.

Byron Katie put it this way: “I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment. That joy is in everyone, always.”The mentor can help the mentored athlete turn around his or her story of limiting beliefs by integrating Byron Katies’ four questions into the mentoring conversation:  “Is it true?” “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?” “How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?” and “Who would you be without the thought?”

The mentor can help the mentored athlete turn around his or her story of limiting beliefs by integrating Byron Katie’s four questions into the mentoring conversation:  “Is it true?” “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?” “How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?” and “Who would you be without the thought?”

Here are some examples of Olympic athletes and their mentors taken from the Mentor Hall of Fame at http://www.mentors.ca/mentorpairs.html

Snowsill-Sweetland

Bailey-Haynes

Nordhagen-Wiebe

Elder-Ashton

Solving a Multi-Billion Dollar Problem with Mentoring

In 1995 Peer Resources conducted a national study of the 2000 most productive corporations in Canada to determine the extent to which they were involved in mentoring (Carr, 1999). Almost 1700 of these companies participated in and completed our interviews. Our findings revealed that the two primary reasons for establishing a mentoring program in these highest producing Canadian corporations were (1) to provide opportunities for the career development of employees, and (2) to identify and nurture leadership potential in employees.

We also found one other result. Unfortunately, we did not pay sufficient attention to this additional finding because at the time we were too focused on how to bring mentoring youth in the community and corporate mentoring experience together. Today, however, this finding could be considered a multi-billion dollar oversight. What we found was that less than five percent of the sampled corporations reported that mentoring served either the purpose of (1) attracting and retaining employees, or (2) establishing systematic leadership succession planning.

Ironically, these two infrequently noted mentoring strategies can be more easily examined in terms of cost implications or return on investment (ROI) than either of two reasons that led most companies to initiate mentoring programs. Today, for example, more and more companies are recognizing the cost of losing an employee. Turnover or employee loss can be as high as 50 percent in some industries. Previously all the costs associated with recruiting, interviewing, selecting, and training a replacement employee remained obscure. Now, however, business analysts have consistently calculated that for every employee that leaves a company the cost to the company will be about 1.5 times the employee’s salary to hire a replacement.

I don’t shop at Wal-Mart very often, but I’m always impressed by the range of products and friendly service. Yet I noticed something that seemed at odds with the friendly service: I hardly ever encountered the same employee when I returned to scout out another product. My observation was verified by a stunning figure that appeared in a recent business newspaper. Wal-Mart has to hire between 500,000 and 600,000 employees a year to replace employees who leave. While the article I read was focusing on the progress unions were making in organizing workers (not much), the turnover figure left me wondering about Wal-Mart and how much this turnover is costing them.

Wal-Mart employs close to 1.6 million associates worldwide. The average salary of a Wal-Mart employee is estimated to be between $US13,000-15,000. Managers average between $80,000 and $106,000. Using the cost-of-turnover formula, this means that Wal-Mart spends approximately $1 billion dollars annually just to replace employees!

Replacement cost also includes the costs associated with (1) a staff managing the existing workload when an employee leaves, and (2) the time staff must take to orient a new employee and bring him or her up to speed. If turnover is extensive, it can severely disrupt the workplace and have a dramatic impact on productivity. These factors, which previously were not considered part of turnover cost calculations, are now more likely to be estimated when assessing how turnover impacts the dollar value of productivity.

Recognition of this cost has prompted many companies to search for better ways to reduce turnover and increase an employee’s commitment to and connection with the organization. Some of these companies rely exclusively on strategies that improve pay, bonuses, perks, or other financial incentives. But a rapidly increasing number of corporations are relying on mentoring strategies to prevent or reduce turnover. The primary reason for choosing mentoring is because study after study of new employees,questioned about what attracts and keeps them associated with their employers, has shown three consistent needs: (1) opportunities available for learning; (2) associations with people who care about the work they do; and (3) ability to engage in meaningful work. No other workplace strategy can fit more snugly with these needs than mentoring.

Employees are not the only ones who leave a corporation. One of the results described in a recent study by Booz Allen Hamilton (2004) of the world’s 2,500 largest companies has shown a dramatic rise in the number of CEO’s (14 percent) leaving their corporate position. European and Asian countries have even higher percentages of revolving door CEOs.

A recent study (Bloomberg.com) showed that the average CEO pay in 70 of the 100 largest companies in the US is $14.1 million. Yet too few of these corporations have in place any type of leadership succession plan. The number of companies that hire an external CEO far outnumbers those that hire from within. Yet data from the Booz Allen Hamilton study shows that external hires are more likely to result in an unsuccessful tenure often resulting in the newly-hired CEO leaving before term, lowered overall productivity, and an endless string of bad hires. The situation has become so rampant at the top executive level, the authors of the Booz Allen Hamilton study called CEOs “the new ‘temps’ of the working world.”

The cost to replace a CEO is staggering. Yet the cost to create a leadership succession plan where top executives mentor less senior executives is minimal. Corporations must establish a way to groom future candidates for the chief executive position. The creation of an executive-level mentoring system is essential to continue the productivity of the corporation and the accountability to shareholders. McDonalds (as reported in the Booz Allen Hamilton study) lost two CEO’s to untimely deaths during one year. Yet they were able to continue on despite these tragedies because of their well-established executive mentoring program.

Mentoring today is necessary at all levels of corporate life. While ROI isn’t the only reason to initiate and maintain a mentoring program in business, the tools available now to measure such returns add considerable weight to the value of mentoring and its impact on benefits to corporate life.

For further information about the studies cited in this article:

Carr, R. (Winter, 1999). The status of corporate mentoring in Canada: A survey of the 2,000 most productive businesses. Compass: A Magazine for Peer Assistance, Mentorship, and Coaching, 15, 1, 13-19. (Retrieved from http://www.peer.ca/Compassinfo.html).

Lucier, C., Schuyt, R., and Tse, E. (Summer, 2005). CEO succession 2004: The world’s most prominent temp workers. strategy+business. (Retrieved from http://www.strategy-business.com/article/05204?gko=47020-1876-9227977).

Riggs, P. (2005). Executive remuneration: thriving under observation? Mercer Human Resource Consulting. (Retrieved from http://www.ceoforum.com.au/200412_remuneration.cfm).

“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”

~ Warren Buffett ~

Three Questions to Jumpstart a Peer Group Meeting

A common thread that ties peer assistance work to mentoring and coaching is the increasing use of group models (peer coaching and peer mentoring along with peer helping) to provide services or supervision, and assist participants to accomplish their goals more effectively and more quickly.

In both peer mentoring and peer coaching, group members typically distribute leadership within the group and take turns initiating activities to act as a catalyst for all members. Peer assistance differs somewhat because there is typically an assigned leader or supervisor, but the leader still works toward increasing the empowerment of each member to act as a leader for all other members.

Participants in all three types of groups, when given the opportunity to act as the group leader for any session, often wonder about how to start the group. Typically, this start-up is called a warm-up, transition or check-in activity. Most leaders want to get off to a good start and energize, focus, or center the members with an activity that will act as a lead-in to the group’s agenda or purpose for being together. And while often a leader’s desire is to use a “fun” activity, all too often the activity chosen is only marginally related to the group’s purpose or more formal agenda.

Peer Resources has devised a group beginning activity that is highly effective in helping a group get started with an enjoyable “ritual”, deepen the connection of the group members to each other, provide a strong foundation for the group’s upcoming agenda, and provide an opportunity for participants to help, support, and encourage one another. The activity is called “trinity,” and while it has a strong spiritual element, it is spelled with a lower case “t” so that it won’t be confused with the more religious meaning of Trinity.

Trinity consists of three questions. Any member of the group can start and provide an answer to the first question and from there each group member, one after another, provides their own unique answer to the first question. The first question is: “What am I grateful for today?” The range of answers to this question can be far-ranging, and it is purposely asked as a “what” question instead of a “who” question, although it is perfectly acceptable to identify a person. No discussion of responses needs to occur; the idea is to quickly create an atmosphere of “gifts” we each have in our lives and a mood of heartfelt connection.

When everyone in the group has volunteered their response to the first question, another group member can ask and be the first to respond to the second question: “What are my intentions for today?” Responses to this question can focus on outcomes, feelings, accomplishments, or even how a participant wants to respond if things don’t go as planned.

The third question that concludes this opening ritual is started by a group member asking, “What’s most important today?” In peer assistance groups a variation of this question is: “Considering what you are going to engage in over the next week as a peer helper, what’s the most important thing you want to accomplish today?”

Sometimes a fourth question is included after participants have identified what’s important: “What can I do today to integrate my gratitude, my intentions, and what I think is important?”

While it might be possible to spend an entire session on the answers participants give to just these questions, the questions are really meant to create a start-up climate or mood that will help every participant to be present and focused. Various responses can be noted or placed in a “parking lot” for further exploration at a later date, if appropriate.

If SpiritMentor readers try out these questions, I’d appreciate hearing about how they worked. I’m grateful to communications specialist and writer Laura Lallone for providing the reminder of the power of these questions and giving permission to adapt them here.

Become a Member of the Peer Resources Network

Peer Resources, the non-profit corporation I started with two partners back in 1980, is coming to an end. Our focus on mentoring, coaching, and peer assistance will continue through this Spirit Mentor blog, occasional posts on LinkedIn, social media, and our members-only Facebook page.

I’ve reviewed a number ways to conclude and celebrate the 36 years we’ve been in operation. What I’ve come up with is a way for current members of the Peer Resources Network to have access to all resources as well as some bonus offers we’ve negotiated with other organizations. Readers of Spirit Mentor can also take advantage of these resources and bonus offers.

Here’s a list of the what members will gain when Peer Resources transforms its business model.:

  1. Members pay a one-time fee of $99.00 and become members “emeritus.” This means that all services and resources will be available without any future fee being necessary.
  2. Resources will include all current and future e-books produced and published by Peer Resources.
  3. Resources will include all documents currently only available in Peer Resources’ password-protected area.
  4. Resources will include access to the members-only private Facebook page.
  5. Bonuses will include: A full one-year print and digital subscription to choice: the magazine of professional coaching at no cost (value = $US41.94); a full one-year membership in the International Mentoring Association and subscriptions to their quarterly magazine, Connect, and their monthly newsletter, The Link (value = $US95);the U.K.‘s Coaching at Work magazine has agreed to provide: a two-month, free digital trial, and then if [paid-up Peer Resources Network subscribers] take a paid subscription, Coaching at Work magazine will offer a 20% discount off either a print or digital subscription; and Ton deGraaf, the publisher of Worldwide Coaching Magazine, has offered Peer Resources Network members who take a paid subscription to his magazine (via ApplePay or GooglePay), a free e-book.

To take advantage of this offer, persons must sign up to become members by July 6, 2016. The signup offer is available at http://www.peer.ca/PRN.html

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