Dream Keepers Needed

s2020137.jpgProtecting our dreams has become one of the most difficult tasks in our contemporary world. Almost every dream I’ve had has been accompanied by external assaults and self-sabotage. Many of my dreams have simply become compromises. Keeping focused on what matters most, as coach Bruce Elkin has called our dream quest, requires a moral and ethical courage of significant proportion.

Media remind us continuously about the horrors, terrors, and crimes which touch on almost everyone’s day to day life. “Our senses are bombarded with aggression,” warns Margaret Wheatley, acclaimed speaker and author of “Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time.” Violence, moral challenges, political shenanigans, and the unprecedented examples of leaders engaging in deceit, lying and cheating appear to be eradicating the positive stories and role models we have for engaging in the activities necessary to achieve our dreams.

Accountability Can Block Dream Fulfillment
Are we also noticing a significant increase in aggressive demands for retribution, punishment, or vengeance when another person or official makes a mistake and strays from his or her own dream path? Has the use of derogatory, demeaning, and disrespectful terms increased when describing someone who does not share our values and dreams? Has righteousness replaced forgiveness and compassion? Are those who have let their dream falter to be despised? Are their mistakes, errors in judgment, and immoral acts so large that retribution rather than justice is the only alternative? Has Western society exaggerated the meaning of accountability so that someone always has to pay? Has assigning blame outstripped identifying and fixing problems as a full-time pursuit?

Recent business news provides two strikingly different examples of blame and accountability. Millions of dollars have been spent identifying, prosecuting, and convicting executives associated with the Enron disaster in the United States. Thousands of employees lost their jobs and pensions; thousands of investors were bilked out of their savings. One of the executives associated with this mess received a 24-year prison sentence; another died from the stress, and still others received assorted prison sentences and punishments. “Heads must roll,” was the catch phrase of former employees, government officials, and the general public.

Contrast this with the actions taken by the Sony Corporation when it was discovered their laptop batteries, which are used by almost every major computer maker, had the potential to overheat and catch fire. Sony recalled the batteries and initiated a global replacement system. Such a defect clearly tarnished the Sony brand reputation, and the recall program alone cost Sony more than $430-million (U.S.). When Sony announced they had discovered the technical reasons for the defect, they issued an apology to the public and did not fire a single employee. “Take responsibility;  identify and fix the problem,” was the catch phrase that went through Sony.

Character Lapses Can Obscure the Dream Path
While assigning blame appears to have become an obsession in western culture, it has also been accompanied an unprecedented number of challenges to moral character. Television, newspapers, magazines, and the Internet are crammed with stories about people who were pillars of the community one day, and felons, predators, killers, or untrustworthy the next. In most cases these reports are about normal, everyday people who started off with a dream, but wound-up getting severely side-tracked.

Unfortunately, such detours are not just a case of increased reporting. Instead, there is evidence that many people are engaged in detours from their dreams. A recent study of 36,000 U.S. teens by the Josephson Institute of Ethics sadly revealed that 82% of the teens polled admitted they lied to a parent in the last 12 months about something significant; 57% said they lied two or more times; 62% admitted they lied to a teacher in the last 12 months about something significant; 60% cheated on a test at school within the last 12 months, including 27% who said they lied of the survey itself; and 28% stole something from a store in the past 12 months.

The Josephson study also found that 59% of the students agreed that “in the real world, successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating;” and 42% believed that “A person has to lie or cheat sometimes in order to succeed.”

Michael Josephson, the founder of the Josephson Institute, describes this disturbing set of statistics about American youth as a “hole in the moral ozone.” The results of the Institute’s study are consistent with other surveys conducted previously by the Institute. “It is clear,” Mr. Josephson concludes, “that dishonest habits and values have become deeply entrenched in the next generation of corporate executives, cops, politicians, journalists, generals, and parents.”

Dreams Are Always Present and Can Be Reborn
But there is hope. There is an opportunity to turn this situation around. The Josephson study also found that:

• 98% of all students polled said, “It’s important for me to be a person with good character.”
• 98% reported that “honesty and trust are essential in personal relationships.”
• 97% of the 36,000 young people polled said: “It’s important to me that people trust me.”
• 83% said: “It’s not worth it to lie or cheat because it hurts your character.”
• 94% said: “In business and the workplace, trust and honesty are essential.”
• 90% said: “Most adults in my life consistently set a good example of ethics and character.”

This discrepancy between the real world behavior (actions and cynical attitudes) of the young people polled in this survey, and their desire or “dream” about what is truly important in life, is one of the key reasons why coaches, mentors, and peer assistants are essential in today’s society. It is just too easy today for young people to become sidetracked from pursuing their dreams. There are no short cuts for the hard work and character building activities necessary for a dream to become a reality.

Coaches, mentors, and peer assistants are in the best position to help people to articulate their dreams, to recognize the detours that interfere with dream progress, and to learn from their detours. Young people particularly need opportunities to learn how to make better choices to stay true to their path. Our willingness to listen, to express curiosity, and to encourage the expression of passion enables us to join with others to reconnect with their true path.

No one is completely immune from lapses in moral fibre or character. We all have events or actions in our lives that carry forward regret, shame, or guilt. But having a peer coach or mentor in our lives enables us to accept and use a lapse as a way to illuminate more clearly where we desire to be and how we can move toward that destination.

Coaches, mentors, and peer assistants are more often than not role models as well as skilled practitioners. This doesn’t mean they haven’t experienced their share of troubles, difficulties, and detours. What it does mean is that coaches, mentors, and peer assistants are more likely to have turned such life experiences into growth opportunities. Their ability to share their lives and connect in a supportive, non-judgmental, appreciative manner with their clients, partners, networks and communities contributes greatly to helping others reduce the gap between their current reality and the dreams they hope to achieve.

Everyone deserves to have their dreams protected. Everyone deserves to have someone in their life to help them rekindle the flame that powers their dream. I’m glad to be part of that dream protection team and grateful that so many others have had that impact on me.

References
de Zulueta, F. (2007). From pain to violence: The traumatic roots of destructiveness. New York: Wiley.

Elkin, B. (April 11, 2006). Coaching for creating what matters MOST. Simplicity and Success: A Life Coaching Newsletter about Creating What Matters Most, 4, 5. (Retrieved June 25, 2006 from http://www.bruceelkin.com/newsletter/news_vol4_06.html )

Gray, A., Stephens, S., and Van Diest, J. (2006). Simple living for the worn out woman (Lists to live by). Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers.

Josephson Institute of Ethics (October 15, 2006). The biennial report card – 2006: The ethics of American youth. Los Angeles, California: Author. (Retrieved October 15, 2006 from http://www.josephsoninstitute.org/reportcard/ )

Merrill, R.R., Covey, S.R. (2006). The SPEED of trust: The one thing that changes everything. New York: Free Press.

Renard, G. (2004). The disappearance of the universe: Straight talk about illusions, past lives, religion, sex, politics, and the miracles of forgiveness. Carlsbad, California: Hay House.

Roehlkepartain, E.C., Ebstyne King, P., Wagener, L., and Benson, P.L. (Eds.) (2006). The handbook of spiritual development in childhood and adolescence. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.

Tolle, E. (2004). The power of now: A guide to spiritual enlightenment. Novato, California: New World Library.

Wheatley, M. (2004). Solving, not attacking complex problems. A five-state approach based on ancient practice. (Retrieved October 10, 2006 from http://www.margaretwheatley.com/articles/solvingnotattacking.html )

Wheatley, M. (2005). Finding our way: Leadership for an uncertain time. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Wolfe, D.A., Jaffe, P.G., and Crooks, C.V. (2006). Adolescent risk behaviors: Why teens experiment and strategies to keep them safe. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.

Walter Cronkite (1916-2009): Remembering His Legacy

179_walter-cronkitenewsWalter Cronkite was one of the most recognizable and trusted journalists of the last 60 years. No other figure prompted as many young people to pursue journalism as a profession. And very few journalists provided as much mentoring to others as Mr. Cronkite. “Like many other aspiring journalists,” said Gordon Joseloff, “I grew up watching Walter and idolizing him. I was watching when he told us John Kennedy had died, when he said the conflict in Vietnam could no longer be won, and when man walked on the moon.”

When millions of Americans heard: “Direct from our newsroom in New York, this is the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite,” hundreds started to dream of launching a career in broadcasting.

Bob Schieffer, who anchored the Saturday edition of the CBS Evening News from 1973 to 1996 said, “Walter used to talk to the reporters, he’d call you out on the beat – ‘what’s going on, why did they say this, why did they do 179_bob-schiefferthat.’ But, on those days when Walter would call you after the broadcast and say, ‘good job on that tonight,’ you really felt good about it because that was the highest compliment you could get.”

179_danratherDan Rather, who succeeded his mentor as the anchor of the CBS Evening News (1981-2005), said of his mentor in a report to NewsBusters: “Walter’s instructions to us in the field were always, you know, ‘Tell it straight without fear or favoritism. Pull no punches. Say it like it is, insofar as is humanly possible. Keep your own prejudices and biases and feelings and emotions out of it.’” Mr. Rather described his mentor as a person “who took the news seriously, but he didn’t take himself all that seriously.”

179_katie-couricKatie Couric, a journalist who moved from NBC to CBS and became the first solo female anchor of a major US-TV network, also recalls Walter Cronkite as her mentor. Ms. Couric saw him as a standard setter, who could balance objectivity with compassion and emotion. “I admired his honor, integrity and decency, and his spirit lives on in a very palpable way in the hallways of CBS.”

“His legacy is extraordinary,” she recently said in an interview show. “I get so inspired when I re-read something he wrote. When I got the job at CBS he took me out to dinner and told me about some of his greatest thrills as a journalist. And in every story he emphasized how important it was to be fair and objective. When he talked about President Kennedy’s funeral he got teary and I started to cry. But he also beamed with joy when he talked about the first space capsule. His voice was full of the enthusiasm of a child. I took to heart one of his most important perspectives on the news: ‘Get it first, but get it right.’”

The American public knew Mr. Cronkite for his objectivity, seriousness, and fact-based reporting, but less known was his playful nature outside of the newsroom. As reported in The New York Observer, Don Hewitt, the creator of 60 Minutes, told an anecdote about Mr. Cronkite’s sense of humor. “A new reporter had arrived while we were at Cape Canaveral,” said Mr. Hewitt, “and Walter said to him, ‘If you just keep looking at that rocket there on that green patch at the end of the runway there, you’ll see it blast off. Just don’t take your eyes off it.’ The guy sat there for six hours waiting for it to go off. It was a lighthouse.”

Mr. Cronkite also demonstrated that being a journalist did not mean withholding opinions. He believed, for example, that “America’s health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.” He also noted the limits of a mentoring relationship when he said about Dan Rather: “He and I just aren’t especially chummy.” He also was concerned about leading a balanced life and said “I think somebody ought to do a survey as to how many great, important men have quit to spend time with their families who spent any more time with their family.”

Mr. Cronkite had a passion for sailing and New Orleans jazz. The New York Times reported that Mr. Cronkite liked to exchange off-color jokes with Ronald Reagan and “whimsically competed with his friend Johnny Carson to see who could take the most vacation time without getting fired.” (Source: New York Observer)

Partly because of his significant influence as a mentor, Arizona State University (ASU) established The Walter Cronkite Mentorship Program at the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This program pairs students in the graduate program with experienced journalists.

Mr. Cronkite was clearly the most trusted journalist of all time. While I didn’t know him personally he taught me a valuable lesson that I have never forgotten and that I use continuously, and for which I owe him a debt of gratitude.

179_reyatsfstateDuring my graduate student days at San Francisco State University (then called San Francisco State College), I was, like students all across the US, actively involved in protesting the American war in Vietnam. My generation of anti-Vietnam war protestors owes him a significant debt. The efforts to end the US involvement in Vietnam through the mobilization of the largest anti-war movement in the history of the United States met with limited success.

But on February 27, 1968, US President Lyndon Johnson watched Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News comment that the Vietnam war was not winnable and an end must be negotiated, “not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.” President Johnson is reported to have responded by saying, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” Several weeks later President Johnson stunned a nation-wide TV audience when he announced he would not seek reelection.

The mentoring lesson I learned from Mr. Cronkite was that significant and lasting change can only come about from trust. It is seldom achieved through protest or aggression. I have carried that learning on in my work as a peer assistant, coach, mentor, employee, and CEO, as well as in my personal life with my family and friends.

“And that’s the way it is.”

HOW MENTORING DIFFERS FROM COACHING: THE FOUR PILLARS

4_pillarsOver the years we’ve received hundreds of enquiries about the differences between mentoring and coaching (as well as therapy, consultation and supervision). Having engaged in all five roles (actually six, if I include the role of client, partner, consultee or supervisee), I can attest to the value of clarification. Role clarity decreases boundary problems, sharpens focus, and pinpoints expectations. Such clarity also leads to a deeper sense of purpose and commitment. But highlighting differences can lead to missing the similarities. All five areas, for example, represent ways to help people learn, change, and manage adversity. All five require a relationship of trust, understanding, and authenticity. And all five base their success on the ability to listen.

In 1999 I prepared a chart that lists differences between coaching, mentoring, and therapy based on ten criteria, and I held the naive view that this would be the definitive list. Other experts believe the differences are simpler as in the distinction that Margo Murray, a leading expert in mentoring, stated by saying that “mentoring is a process and coaching is a verb.” Some contributors to the Peer Resources’ Twitter feed support this view: “Coaching is a skill good mentors use and mentoring is a process,” according to one contributor.

Probably the most popular distinction made by our Twitter contributors is the voluntary nature of mentoring as compared to the paid or fee-based aspect of coaching and therapy. One would- be poet chimed: “When it’s free, I can be me; when I pay, show me the way.”

Other contributors recognized the importance of relationship in both coaching and mentoring, but distinguished the two by saying that mentoring was more personal and coaching was more impersonal. While most agreed that a mentor is seldom responsible for the resulting actions of the partner, there was less agreement about the degree to which the coach is responsible for the client’s success. The mentor may point a person in a certain direction and provide support, but takes no responsibility for the outcome.

Coaching is seen as a more professional relationship where the coach may believe he or she has some responsibility to help the client make the necessary changes. For example, one contributor wrote: “A coach helps somebody do what they already know is the right thing to do. A mentor helps a person to determine the right thing to do.” Another web visitor said: “Mentoring gives a personal touch. It’s like the advice of a best friend, but coaching is just for the sake of the job.” And finally, a web visitor quipped: “A coach can keep you from getting into trouble, whereas a mentor may lead you to the trouble.”

Not everyone is worried about these distinctions, and many practitioners are content to leave such details to academics. A website contributor summarized this viewpoint by saying, “In the future, making distinctions between terms such as these two (coaching and mentoring) will prove futile and unproductive. Fewer people will be interested in definitions and roles and more people will be interested in results and practicalities.”

A recent enquiry about the differences between mentoring and coaching, as well as a question presented to a LinkedIn discussion group on this same topic, led us to conduct a search on Google. To our surprise and amazement the search produced more than three million hits. But really, three million different takes? (If anyone wants to take on a study summarizing a random selection of these viewpoints, we’d be glad to publish your results.)

Without repeating in entirety what we have been emphasizing over the years about the differences, the gist of our response is that there are far more similarities between the two ways of helping others than there are differences. We’ve also said that the search for the definitive answer to the question is unproductive and may even lead to considerable misinformation based on stereotypes and lack of experience.

Blurring the Boundaries of Mentoring

Recently the imaginary line that separates mentoring and coaching has become less precise as coaches, for example, more frequently offer what they call “mentor coach” services, and business entrepreneurs in a variety of niche areas offer mentoring for a fee, thus eliminating what used to be one of main distinctions between the two areas: one is paid (coach) and the other is a volunteer (mentor). The International Coach Federation (ICF) recently provided an “approved definition of ICF mentor coaching” stating that mentor coaching is “coaching on coaching-competency development of the applicant-coach as opposed to coaching for personal development or coaching for business development, although those aspects may happen very incidentally in the coaching for competency development” (Marum, 2011). In most coaching communities and organizations in Europe this role would be considered supervision, not mentoring. Not coincidentally the way a person qualifies to be an ICF-approved mentor coach typically involves paying a fee for such a service.

In addition, I recently attended a mentoring conference where a well-known expert gave a keynote that was advertised as being about mentoring, during which one of the international mentoring experts at my table turned to me and said, “Isn’t the speaker referring to coaching and not mentoring?”

An increasing number of individuals are calling themselves mentors and offering their services to “mentor” others for a fee. This could be a reasonable commercial or entrepreneurial venture but it could also be an exploitation of individuals who are desperate to find a mentor because of the highly publicized outcomes associated with having a mentor. The irony here is that traditionally only the person who experiences someone else as a mentor can assign that term to the other person. Typically in informal mentoring a considerable period of time can transpire before the person receiving mentoring may realize that the person who had an influence on them could actually be called a mentor.

Some of the published documents purporting to distinguish between mentoring, coaching and therapy often use models of each that seem outdated, stereotyped, uninformed or exaggerated just to strengthen their own perspective. To make matters more confusing a few well-known coaching sources have chimed in on the answer to this question, and, surprisingly, have in many cases actually reversed the characteristics associated with each.

Mentor and Miracle Are Not the Same

The coaching industry is not the only area forging new ground or transcending the boundaries associated with traditional mentoring. Michael Garringer (2011), advisor to the National Mentoring Center (NMC), noted that the effectiveness of formal mentoring with some youth populations has led to the application of mentoring with “higher-risk youth” such as children of incarcerated parents, gang-involved youth, homeless youth, youth who have suffered abuse and trauma, teenagers in juvenile detention, children and adolescents with disabilities, and most recently, youth who have been victims of sex trafficking. In some cases the expectation is that mentors would be able to bring about behavioural changes usually associated with the intervention of therapists, supervisors, probation officers, case workers, teachers, and child care workers.

Similar high expectations have been expressed by adult visitors to our website who complete our Find a Mentor form. Many of the requests for mentors are accompanied by goals that typically include a desire for immediate results. In many cases we refer the Find a Mentor applicants to coaching services such as The Coach Connection or individual coaches who are members of the Peer Resources Network in order to help them sort out their goals, increase their own creativity in their search for results, make the changes they want to make, and achieve the results they desire.

The Four Pillars of Informal Mentoring

Many of the confusions associated with the distinctions between mentoring and coaching have arisen because more and more mentor leaders adopt and transfer the principals associated with informal mentoring. Informal mentoring has had such a powerful and memorable way of being with another person that it seems like a “slam dunk” to apply these principles to formal mentoring schemes. This transfer from informal to formal has been made to appear easier as experts have attempted to distill the elements associated with successful informal mentoring and adapted, adjusted or just plain “plunked them down” on formal mentoring program requirements.

In many cases this transfer has been highly successful, yet there are certain elements that contribute to the effectiveness of informal mentoring that are yet to be fully captured by formal mentoring schemes. They can occur, and leaders of formal mentoring programs may do their best to facilitate them, but they are often more subject to factors beyond the control of the program design.

The details of the Four Pillars that follow and examples (available as a PDF download) from my own experience about particular outcomes that I believe are primarily associated with mentoring, are not exclusive to mentoring; and I’m sure that many, if not all, my coaching colleagues would hope that their work as coaches would result in similar outcomes.

As an introduction to the real life examples (available to Mentor News subscribers), I thought I’d identify the four elements that I believe distinguish mentoring from coaching. These four characteristics are derived primarily from my personal and professional experience as a mentor and as a recipient of mentoring, and they reflect an evolution of my learning since I proposed the original list of 10 distinctions back in 1999.

Mentoring is About Lessons for Life

Simply put, I believe that mentoring has to do with learning something that you might not have learned on your own or possibly might have taken you much longer to learn on your own. While some mentoring connections are initiated today to achieve short-term performance or behaviour changes (or there is an expectation that such changes will be the primary outcome), the historical and predominant element associated with mentoring is the influence it has on spiritual growth and development. I’m not referring to religion here, but instead to higher consciousness, character values, and a way of being in the world.

I’m also not referring to specific life skills or tasks to accomplish as soon as possible, but instead I’m referring to spiritual input that enables a person to discover, practice, and master his or her own way of integrating the mentor’s lesson into action (Zukav, 2010). And there may be times when such action might take place years after the contact with the mentor has been completed or ended. It’s almost as if the life lesson lay dormant in consciousness until a particular circumstance or opportunity appears.

This delayed response is why so many people can vividly recall certain individuals from their past and recite almost word for word a particularly influential dialogue. A common thread associated with this delayed response is that most people did not recognize or call the person a ‘mentor’ at the time of the actual interaction. Yet, years may have gone by before they realize they were, at the time, in the presence of a mentor that had an influence on their spiritual being.

Mentoring is About Relationships

The essence of any mentoring relationship is the relationship itself. It is the relationship that determines whether anything of value is transferred between the mentor and the partner. Whether the mentor acts as a teacher, guide, catalyst, role model or any of the other dozen roles that have been enumerated, the key factor as to whether there is a transmission of knowledge or wisdom depends on the quality of the relationship.

And while the quality of the relationship may need time to develop, there are innumerable examples where such a relationship develops instantly. In addition, there are many times when the mentoring relationship can occur without ever having physically met or had a conversation with the other person. This is why so many people can have a mentoring impact, that is, provide lessons for others that last a lifetime, without actually knowing each other.

Certainly, factors such as trust, rapport, and caring (and a sense of humour) are important in any helping relationship, particularly to ensure effectiveness in today’s formal mentoring programs, but such factors are not relevant in many informal mentoring relationships because the quality of the mentoring connection is based on a spiritual relationship. I’m not referring to a cognitive or intellectual connection, but instead to something beyond cognition, often something that is beyond memory, and resides more in a higher level of consciousness—a spiritual memory.

Mentoring is About Paying It Forward

Almost every person who has been involved in an effective mentoring relationship perceives mentoring as a gift, and they often demonstrate their appreciation and gratitude by passing on some aspect of their mentoring experience to others. Whether it is the life lesson, a particular piece of wisdom, a way of being, or the desire to act as a mentor to others, the gift is more often than not passed on to others.

This experience of paying it forward, and particularly the willingness to act as a mentor to others, is one of the most powerful reasons that mentoring has continued to grow exponentially throughout society. William Gray, founder and president of Corporate Mentoring Solutions, a British Columbia-based mentoring consulting firm, was among the first to recognize that the “The proteges of today are the mentors of tomorrow.”

While the following anecdote about the gift of mentoring and paying it forward may be unusual, it demonstrates the unexpected outcomes and influence of mentoring.

A high school math teacher in Seattle, Washington was gathering his materials at the end of the school day as he prepared to leave for home. Appearing at his classroom door was a former student who had since become one of the most highly successful dot-com entrepreneurs in the computer software industry. They both recognized each other immediately, and embraced while expressing great appreciation for seeing each other again.

The dot-com entrepreneur stated that he recalled during his days in that high school math class that his mentor had talked about how much he wanted to have a real sports car, but couldn’t really afford one on his teacher’s salary.

The former student handed his mentor a set of keys and said, “Look out the window.”

There, sitting in the parking lot, was a brand new Porche sports car with a ribbon on top. “Your encouragement and unwillingness to give up on me had such a powerful impact on my life that I wanted to find a way to make your dreams come true as well. I hope you like it,” said the entrepreneur to his mentor.

The mentor was stunned. The generosity and thoughtfulness of the gift was extraordinary, but he also was stunned to learn that the impact of his mentoring, which seemed so much a part of his way of being, had played such a significant role in the life of his former student.

Then, he remembered that back in the days when the entrepreneur was a student in his class the math teacher had also talked about how he and his wife wanted to have a baby. He looked at his former student and said, “Should I be calling my wife and finding out what you’ve left at my house?”

The pay it forward pillar is also one of the primary reasons that more formal mentoring programs have been initiated in so many communities around the world. Initially fueled by successful adults recalling an individual from the past that had a significant positive impact on their life direction and choices, these formal programs have been initiated to re-create or provide similar experiences for children, teens and young adults. Whether these formal programs will act as a catalyst for participants who will be just as eager to pay it forward is not clear at this time.

Mentoring is About Mutuality

Most effective mentoring relationships grow and develop in a way that maximizes the exchange of value between both parties. Typically, the relationship begins with the mentor taking the lead and the partner responding to the mentor’s questions or comments. As the relationship develops it is characterized by a relatively equal exchange of questions and comments; and, as it grows further, an effective mentoring relationship evolves with the partner taking the lead and acting as a mentor to his or her mentor. Eventually, an observer would be unable to determine which person was the partner and which person was the mentor.

This mutual exchange is neither unique to or exclusive to mentoring. Such exchanges are often at the core of other forms of helping such as Re-evaluation Counseling, Peer Mentoring Groups, mutual aid or self-help groups, Mutual Aid Counselling (developed by one of my mentors R. Vance Peavy) and various training activities where practitioners take turns acting in the practitioner and client roles. This pillar of mutuality is also commonly found to exist in many kinds of relationships and has been called The Law of Reciprocity which has been described by many authors including my favourite, Robert Cialdini (1993). It is also known as the Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

Emphasizing the Four Pillars as a way to highlight the features of mentoring is not meant to imply that mentoring and coaching can be easily distinguished. In reality mentoring, whether formal or informal, often involves considerable coaching. However, whether coaching involves mentoring requires that the person receiving the coaching perceives the coach as a mentor. Such a perception may only occur some time later in the course of the relationship. The value of the Four Pillars is primarily for persons who are seeking mentors or seeking to be mentors. Understanding how mentoring stands out from other ways of assisting people will help to clarify expectations, deepen skills, and enhance growth and development.

References

Carr, R.A. (1991). Dancing with roles: Differences between a coach, a mentor and a therapist. Compass: A Magazine for Peer Assistance Mentorship and Coaching, 15, 1, 5-7. (Available as PDF download for Peer Resources Network members at: http://www.peer.ca/Projects/compassprn1.html)

Carr, R.A. (2004). Pinpointing the differences between mentoring and coaching. Peer Bulletin 123 (Retrieved February 22, 2012 from the Peer Resources’ members only area.)

Carr, R.A. (2004). Mentor as coach. (Retrieved February 22, 2012 from the Peer Resources’ members only area.)

Cialdini, R. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: Harper Business.

Garringer, M. (2011). “It may be the missing piece” – Exploring the mentoring of youth in systems of care. Reflections from the 2011 Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring. Portland, Oregon: Portland State University. (Retrieved February 18, 2012 from http://pdx.edu/youth- mentoring/publications)

Gray, W.A. (2011). Mentoring relationships that work. (E-book published by and available through Smashwords)

Kaplan, J. (2007). Coaching versus therapy. Available directly from the author, who is a member of the Peer Resources Network by sending an email to Jeff Kaplan.

Marum, P. (April 2011). Board approves improved definition of ICF Mentor Coaching. Coaching World. (Retrieved February 22, 2012 from the ICF website here.)

Murray, M. (2001). Beyond the myths and magic of mentoring: How to facilitate an effective mentoring process. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pelan, V. (February 17, 2012). The difference between mentoring and coaching. Talent Management.

Spinelli, E. (December 2007). Coaching and therapy: Similarities and divergences. Paper presented at the 3rd Annual BPS SGCP National Counselling Psychology Conference, December 18, 2007. (Retrieved February 22, 2012 from the Peer Resources’ members only area.)

Zukav, G. (2010). Spiritual partnership: The journey to authentic power. New York: HarperOne.

Best Practices: Barrier or Boost for Mentoring

CoachingleadersjpgA frequent request to Peer Resources from community leaders, business personnel, researchers and others interested in starting a mentoring program is for a list of “best practices” in the field.

This is a sensible request. After all, as long ago as 1999 the leading mentoring experts in the USA such as Peer Resources Network member Larry Ambrose, Margo Murray, Rita Boags, Betty Farmer, David James, Kathleen Wright, Linda Stromei, and dozens of others equally engaged in mentoring were all featured presenters at the Best Practices in Mentoring Conference at The Bolger Center in Potomac, Maryland. For several years coaching associations and organizations have been struggling to create a set of standards that reflect ‘best practices;’ and The Library of Professional Coaching includes a whole section on “Best Practices.

Multiple organizations in Canada, the U.K., and the U.S.A., including the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), the Evidence Exchange Network for Mental Health and Addictions (EENet), Peers for Progress (PFP), U.S. Government’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Practices (SAMHSA), the National Association of Peer Program Professionals (NAPPP), Peer Resources, Peer 2 Peer (P2P), and the April 12, 2014 conference in California titled Towards Best Practices in Mental Health Peer Programming (website), are just a few of the groups striving to provide a set of best practices.

Enquiries that we receive, participants attending best practices conferences, and visitors to the hundreds of websites focusing on best practices, expect to learn about those foundation practices that identify successful mentoring that will enable them to make a difference in the lives of those touched by such practices, and to learn about how to apply those practices in their own organizations. This is the common goal of almost every quest for ‘best practices.’

What if compiling a set of mentoring best practices, for example, actually leads you down the wrong path? CEO coach Mike Myatt describes best practices as ‘evangelical’ statements that “rarely warrant being deemed as universal truths. It is nothing short of over exuberant thinking to assume that any single solution can be applied anywhere and everywhere…Just because company A had success with a certain initiative doesn’t mean that company B can seamlessly plug-and-play the same process and expect the same outcome.”

Eugene Bardich (2011) believes that the work involved to actually engage consistently in a best practice is rarely accomplished. Most of the time, one will find ‘good’ practices or ‘smart’ practices that offer insight into solutions that may or may not work for a given situation.

Internationally recognized management consultant and author Ron Ashkenas (2010) in his HBR Blog article acknowledged that many organizations are exceptionally good at “stealing shamelessly” from other companies. But while some companies thrive with their borrowed ideas others soon abandon the idea. He noted that such best practice borrowing often fails because of two reasons: failure to adapt or tailor to the new environment; and failure to adopt which is what happens when leadership fails to fully support the “borrowed” process.

Former International Mentoring Association (IMA) president and former Peer Resources Network member, the late Dr. Joe Pascarelli, had a slightly different perspective on best practices. In his email that appeared on the IMA group discussion site Dr. Pascarelli, who believes that best practices is a synonym for ‘evidence-based practice”, said:

“Best practice came out of a national context that identified those practices that were soundly based in research (and development) and were acknowledged as such. Originally there were specific criteria and standards that certain programs met and, as a result, these practices were disseminated (via federal funding) so others could learn about and consider ‘adopting.’ Herein, lies the catch. We know from decades of research that no program can be ‘adopted’ and installed in a ‘foreign context’ without being ‘adapted.’ I am not hairsplitting but pointing to the difference. In these days, we are using ‘Best Practice’ very loosely and, in some cases, based on self-nomination. So, if there is a publication based on Best Practices in Mentoring (and there is not), it would still be limited in terms of the contextual dimension that needs to be addressed.”

The late Barry Sweeny, a long-time mentoring expert and the former editor of the newsletter of the International Mentoring Association as well as their web master, agreed with his colleague, Dr. Pascarelli. According to Dr. Sweeny, “The basic question in examining and considering ‘best practices’ is best for what? What is best for one program may not be best for others.”

Dr. Sweeny suggested that a way to manage best practice enquiry is to first examine the goal of the mentoring program. He believes that the goal determines what might be best for that program. “Anyone who asserts a set of best practices must be asked,” Dr. Sweeny told me, “best for what goals, before we would consider adopting an approach, model, or solutions. That makes the process of program development more complex. There are many choices, forks in the ‘development road,’ and dead ends.”

One way to manage this complexity according to Dr. Sweeny is “to work with a program development mentor—someone who is experienced in the process and settings where many diverse goals have been addressed by different approaches and models.” He recognized that this could be “a more financially costly way to go, but then heading off on your own without such experienced guidance can cost considerable time, waste energy, and even result in the loss of good will from managers and participants if there are issues and problems along with way.” (Some of the world’s best mentor program development specialists are listed on the International Mentoring Association website.)

I agree with Dr. Sweeny and Dr. Pascarelli, both of whom I have known for years through our membership in the International Mentoring Association. Given the experience I’ve had with Peer Resources fielding questions about how to establish a mentoring program, I can add three additional perspectives.

Recognize that the Pursuit of a Quick-Fix is Innate
I’ve often found that the search for best practices is often a way of avoiding coming to grips with what is really necessary to develop an effective mentoring initiative in the enquiring organization or service. When I’ve practiced Barry Sweeny’s advice regarding asking about goals, I’ve been amazed at how few best practice searchers can actually articulate any goals. They often haven’t thought about this very deeply. There’s a common sense understanding that finding a set of best practices will enable all other elements required for effective mentoring to fall in place. At the same time, searching for best practices seems easier than dealing with some of the harder questions that require insight, reflection, internal research. Discovering a short cut seems deeply rooted in our brain functioning.

Develop a Set of Best Questions
Relying on best practices is a way to avoid engaging in thinking deeply about the issues and reflecting on the answers, and their potential uncertainty unavoidably involves some discomfort and pain. It’s natural to avoid going through this process, which is often negatively characterized as ‘reinventing the wheel.’ As an alternative, instead of working on establishing a set of best practices derived from the ideas of others, practitioners need to propose a set of best questions to ask themselves and their team members. Here are some examples of ‘best’ questions as applied to mentoring, for example:

  • What do you hope to achieve with a mentoring program?
  • What results do you expect?
  • Why are these things important?
  • What needs do the people in your organization have that can be better met through mentoring?

Assign a Risk-Level to Program Options
While a best practices guide can inspire you to think of, reflect on, or be inspired by what others have done, it can also be a barrier to creating your own path that is more likely to fit your organizational culture, values and mission. Just because others have developed a particular practice that works for them, doesn’t mean their success will transfer to your organization.

But it also means that they could work and benefit your mentoring initiative. When using best practices, take a “risk-based” approach. That is, with every ‘best practice’ reflect on the pluses and minuses of implementing that best practice in your organization. Ask yourself “How will this help or hinder the results we want? What might be an unintended or unexpected positive or negative outcome if we implement this best practice?”

The complexity of the human endeavour to live healthy and fulfilling lives is too important to leave to a set of best practices in any health and human services field whether it be mentoring, medicine, peer assistance, coaching, or other health practice. Best practices tell us about what worked in the past. If we want to live in the past, imitate them. If we want to build for the future, create practices that come from our hearts.

References

Ambler, S. (2011). Questioning “best practices” for software development: Practices are contextual, never best. (Retrieved from here.)

Ashkenas, R. (November 10, 2010). Why best practices are hard to practice. HBR Blog Network. (Retrieved from here.)

Bardach, E. (2011). A practical guide for policy analysis: The eightfold path to more effective problem solving, 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. This book can be purchased through Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, or Amazon.co.uk.

Body, A. (2006). Principles of best practice: Construction procurement in New Zealand. New Zealand: Construction Industry Council. (Retrieved March 17, 2014 from here.)

Daniels, A.S., Cate, R., Bergeson, S., Forquer, S., Niewenhous, G., & Epps, B. (2013). Best practices: Level-of-care criteria for peer support services: A best-practice guide. Psychiatric Services, 10, 1176. (Retrieved March 17, 2014 from here.)

Greene, J.P. (2012). Best practices are the worst: Picking the anecdotes you want to believe. Educationnext. (Retrieved March 17, 2014 from here.)

Marston, G., & Watts, R. (2003). Tampering with the evidence: A critical appraisal of evidence-based policy-making. The Drawing Board: An Australian Review of Public Affairs, 3, 3, 143-163, (Retrieved March 18, 2014 from here.)

Sunderland, K., & Mishkin, W., (2013). Guidelines for the practice and training of peer support. Calgary, AB: Peer Leadership Group, Mental Health Commission of Canada. (Retrieved March 17, 2014 from here.

Williams, D.D.R., & Garner, J. (2002). The case against ‘the evidence’: A different perspective on evidence-based medicine. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 180, 8-12.

 


 

Best practices’ lacks scientific credibility, but it has been a proven path to fame and fortune for pop-management gurus like Tom Peters, with In Search of Excellence, and Jim Collins, with Good to Great. The fact that many of the ‘best’ companies they featured subsequently went belly-up—like Atari and Wang Computers, lauded by Peters, and Circuit City and Fannie Mae, by Collins—has done nothing to impede their high-fee lecture tours. Sometimes people just want to hear a confident person with shiny teeth tell them appealing stories about the secrets to success.

~ Jay P. Greene
Professor of Education Reform
University of Arkansas


 

Best practice is defined as the policy, systems, processes and procedures that, at any given point in time, are generally regarded by peers as the practice that delivers the optimal outcome, such that they are worth of adoption.

~ Andrew Body
Managing Director
MOUCHEL Middle East