Mentoring for One-Degree Change
May 20, 2009 by Don Payne | 0 Comments
Regardless of my commitment to mentoring and my interest in mentoring, I still often find it stressful. What stresses me about mentoring is the fear of misguiding people or of having nothing helpful and substantive to offer. My counselor friends would probably attribute this to some sort of messiah complex. Perhaps. Admittedly, as a first-born I have a hyper-developed sense of responsibility. Yet, I refuse to believe this syndrome is entirely pathological. Mentors have influence and I want to steward that influence well. However, the stress can easily drain much of the life and joy from the process.
This morning my own mentor, Wes Roberts, reminded me of the power of one-degree change. He commented on this in a passing reference to something else, but it stuck with me in regard to this stress I so often feel as a mentor. As I probed this metaphor I began to feel the stress dissipate and the joy of mentoring return.
When mentoring is focused on fostering one-degree change (and we all know the exponential impact of one-degree shifts), it is liberated qualitatively, not merely quantitatively. That is to say, it is not merely that mentors don't bear the burden to do as much (pardon the double negative), but that the responsibility lies elsewhere. It's directional.
As a mentor, there is much more that I don't know about another person's life and problems and needs than there is to what I do know. There is much more that I cannot do for a person than there is that I can do. Those are the quantitative aspects of mentoring and they can be crushing. Qualitatively, however, I can come alongside a person to help them ask better questions of their journey and lend them some courage to face those questions. This alleviates enormous pressure from what I have to provide as a mentor!
The metaphor of one-degree change creates a free space where answers and solutions may come, but cease to be the primary burden of mentoring. The directional character of one-degree mentoring implies that mentors open possibilities for people. We believe in them. We confirm or massage their hunches (in either case, providing a safe place for those hunches to be explored). We help them name fears and overcome those fears. Those acts of mentoring are lifegiving, whereas providing solutions and answers can actually be crippling both a mentor and a mentee if that is seen as the primary responsibility of a mentor.
So, here's to the modest work of mentoring; mentoring that aspires to little more than one-degree change and, thus ends up being WAY more influential than mentoring that struggles under the weight of grandiose vision.