Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Teacher Must Always Remain a Student: When a person you mentor goes off the rails

I would not be where I am today had it not been for several very important mentors at different points in my life. Having benefited from the tutelage of these key figures, I have earned the privilege to teach and mentor scores of people over the years. Regardless of the industry or position, I am always on the hunt for the next “me”.  My heart accelerates when I find a fresh new prospect or trainee with fire in their chest and a passion for success. My heart sank when I recently learned that one of my most promising young mentees was in hot water resulting from some serious lapses in judgment.
The course of my life was irreversibly changed by my first mentor, JW, a man of enormous physical stature with the business savvy to match. He drilled into me the key fundamentals of punctuality, consistency, relentless determination and maintaining an impeccable storefront. Lisa C. brought out the swagger in me, encouraging me to always be true to my personal brand and never (and I mean NEVER) discount my fee. A common thread with these and other important figures in my life has been the personal investment they each made in me. Their coaching encompassed a broad range of subjects that extended well beyond the specifics of the job or the company for which we worked.
I recognized the value of the special attention I garnered from these mentors; they were all at the top of their game and at the height of their field. I was honored that they recognized something in me worth developing and I was keen to seize upon this. One of my mentors was fond of saying "Well Mike, not everyone is a Mike". They saw in me the potential to duplicate their success where no one else had. It was my goal to take what they would teach me and take it a step further.
On those rare occasions when I've met a person who is already motivated and feels a genuine drive to excel,  I feel a swell of energy rise within me. I experience, again, that same wonder and excitement that I felt as a young man when I was hungry to learn from an expert who I could convince to peel back the curtain and reveal their secrets. For my woo-woo friends, mentoring someone provides a sense that you are repaying the universe for the kind generosity shared by your mentors with you. For others, it is a chance to live vicariously through your pupil that experience of discovery in order to expand your understanding with the hope that both of you will build upon what you've learned and collectively take that experience to a whole new level.
It is not at all common to find someone in whom you can light a spark. And, still less common, is someone with whom you can trust the full width and breadth of your experience. Before I will fully invest my time and energy (much less the entirety of my understanding of a subject), I must be confident that my recipient has a well-calibrated moral compass and will use this knowledge for good works. A bond built upon trust will take time to develop and nurture. As you build this relationship, you become closer with this person and develop a personal stake in their success.
One of my mentees was recently discovered to have violated some pretty serious rules of conduct. The findings of an exhaustive investigation called into question his honesty and integrity. I was reminded in that moment that our relationship is not unlike that which I have with my son. After the initial disappointment subsided, I realized this was a golden opportunity. Part of the mentoring process is to be a guide throughout the entire journey. It is not enough to point somebody in a direction, kick them in the ass and then hope that they get to their destination. A true mentor will be there to assist their trainee as they navigate for themselves the new terrain. 
This experience has been a true awakening for me and brings me full-circle back to something JW once said to me long, long ago: "The teacher must always remain a student".