A Tale of Two Animals

The Philosophical Swamp is a rare and scary place, frequented by few animals; but they are very experienced animals. A Fellow by the name of Abraham Maslow named this place Self-Actualization, and claimed that the animals therein had successfully survived prior environments.

How does one go about finding a mentor…

By first, foremost, and always, understanding what a mentor is, and what a mentor is not. That is, if you’re hunting for something, you first need to know what the animal looks like. And you need to understand its behaviors, motivation, and habitat.

Then, one goes to work with a selection process. You select and recruit your mentor(s); not the other way around. Just like hunting.

I’m going to throw another term into this discussion. That of “coach,” because of the extant proclivity to confuse coaches with mentors, and mix their roles. They are, in fact, two different animals.

It is my personal view is that you need to hunt both, throughout your career and calling, as I will explain below.

First, Let’s Define Our Terms

Mentor

noun

1. a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.

2. an influential senior sponsor or supporter.

And…

Coach

noun

5. a person who trains an athlete or a team of athletes: a football coach.

6. a private tutor who prepares a student for an examination.

7. a person who instructs an actor or singer.

verb (used with object)

12. to give instruction or advice to in the capacity of a coach; instruct:

(Definitions extracted from Dictionary.com)

Here are the key words associated with mentor: wise, trusted, counselor, teacher. Contrast this with the key words associated with coach: train, instruct, prepares. (Note that “teach” is not the same as “instruct.”)

What does the Mentor Animal Look Like?

The mentor is spiritual by nature, and although an elegant animal, it is found lurking in the Philosophical Swamp, it’s natural habitat. (The place gets its name from animals that do not reside there, suspect all things cerebral, and do not understand what occurs therein.)

The mentor ingests events, situations and circumstances, applies its innate knowledge of Mother Nature (and her animals), and expels wisdom; particularly relationship wisdom.

Further, the mentor is an independent animal, that exhibits all of the community commitment of a cat. It is secretive and somewhat reclusive. It is also genetically predisposed to “play” with its prey.

The reason you recruit a mentor, is that you are seeking his/her wisdom. The mentor works with you on the spiritual side, helping you think better, helping you put events and situations into perspective, and helping you “learn to smile” at the vicissitudes of life.

Your mentor teaches you about making “choices,” and “consequences.” These are philosophically oriented, and very much in the spiritual side of your life. In addition, because of the very sensitive nature of the topics ingested, the mentor is a discrete animal. An effective mentor exercises discretion, sometimes to the point of secrecy.

Your payback from the mentor is the satisfaction you realize from successfully navigating the hazards of life, evaluating consequences, making choices, and “learning to smile.”

Motivation of the Mentor

The Philosophical Swamp is a rare and scary place, frequented by few animals; but they are very experienced animals. A Fellow by the name of Abraham Maslow named this place Self-Actualization, and claimed that the animals therein had successfully survived prior environments.

Effective mentors operate in this environment, because they seek that sense of euphoria brought on by breathing the rarefied air found in the Philosophical Swamp. This is “what’s in it” for the mentor. Self-Actualization is spiritual in nature, rather than material, and this spirituality directly supports wisdom (the thesis being it is the basis of wisdom). Mentors hunt for opportunities to husband others through the careful application of wisdom. Some mentors appear to value husbandry of wisdom itself. As such, mentors may view material performance as irrelevant.

(Note that recent corporate efforts to institutionalize the mentor role, in an effort to improve organization performance, have been less than successful, because of the nature of the role of the mentor is spiritual-based, not material-based, performance being on the material side of things. Essentially, mentors cannot survived when taken out of their habitat.)

What does the Coach Animal Look Like?

The coach is a material animal, found working along the sides of the performance highway (where it occasionally gets run over by high-performance vehicles, should it not be agile and quick enough.)

The coach ingests goals and objectives established within its environment, and expels performance-related advice; specifically, job-related.

Further, the coach is a pack animal, whose genes demand it put community first, like a good Working Dog. It is open and somewhat extroverted. It is also genetically predisposed to “help” its charges, and to value attention and recognition from others.

The reason you recruit a coach, is that you are seeking his/her advice on improving your performance in context. The coach works with you on the maternal side, helping you perform better in a material sense, for material rewards, such as compensation. Your payback from the coach is the satisfaction you receive from a job well done, and commensurate material rewards.

Your coach instructs you on structure and strategies, tactics, methods, and techniques, that help you better perform your role, and better achieve your goals, in context. These are very much on the material side of your life.

Motivation of the Coach

As in the context of sports, the coach has a vested interest in winning the contest along the Performance Highway. He/she gets paid to improve the players’ performance. That performance is all. Fail to help players improve their performance, and the coach is out of work. This is exactly what happens in other workplaces, and this is why one of the key aspects of the manager is that of “coach.”

But to reiterate a key concept, the coach has a vested interest in the success of the organization. He/she is NOT a neutral/objective party. As such, the coach’s primary allegiance is to the organization, not you. The coach will assist you, because by improving your performance, and your contribution, your organization may prosper.

By understanding this relationship, one can and should take advantage of any opportunities to recruit a coach, so that one may become more valuable to the organization. It will be the coach that will be best positioned to communicate how that value can be improved. In addition, the coach is there to work with an individual directly to achieve better performance and improve value.

Why You Need Both

There are two sides to any human being: the material side and the spiritual side. You improve the probability of your success in any context by developing both your material size and your spiritual side, in tandem. One needs spiritual guidance as well as material guidance. Think of them as shoes on your feet: you can go much further with both.

Saying this another way, if we are to progress as human beings, we need to perform better, and we need to think better. Lifelong.

Implementation (Or, Let’s Go Hunting)

Because mentors are inherently secretive and reclusive, live in a cerebral environment, and shun community, one must use stealth and discretion to locate them, and bait to lure them. To be effective, the bait must consider their nature: spiritual; hunting for opportunities to husband others; need to expel wisdom; etc. The bait must be discretely laid, else the noise and activity of other animals that notice the bait will scare off a mentor.

Once the bait is noticed by the mentor, the bait must be presented in such a manner that it triggers the mentor’s natural instinct to play with its prey. That is, the bait must present a spiritual “challenge” to the mentor. Without this challenge, the mentor will have little motivation to pursue the prey, and may very well wander off.

Because coaches are inherently extroverted, seek attention and recognition; and community; coaches need not be baited. Rather, they may be overtly solicited. In fact, it is in the nature of coaches that they want to be solicited. (Some environments along the Performance Highway may actually require that coaches operate overtly, and compensate them for specifically operating overtly.) Like a good Working Dog, the coach will aggressively take up its task, with lots of activity and obvious energy. Like a good Working Dog, the coach relishes achievement.

Finding a coach is as simple as openly soliciting for one, and selecting from one (or more in non-conflicting contexts).

Conclusion

When seeking a mentor, you are looking for your Aristotle, so that you may receive his wisdom, at his knee. Find that philosophical thinker, and you may have your mentor.

When seeking a coach, your looking for your Vince Lombardi, so that you may be motivated and guided in improving your performance on the playing field. Find that performance improver, and you may have your coach.

But Aristotle and Vince Lombardi are not found in the same place; they attend different churches.

Like the shoes on your feet, you can go further with both.

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