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Your story through the lens of mentoring

Your story through the lens of mentoring

In several of Leadership Education’s programs, we ask participating leaders to think back across their lives and chart their personal and vocational trajectory through the lens of critical junctures, decisions and moments (what I have called elsewhere “inflection points”). I have never facilitated the experience without someone in the room having a surprising and profound discovery about the journey into and in leadership. Those “ah-ha” moments make the exercise worthwhile.

Recently, a colleague and I were talking about ways that the exercise could be modified to invite different learning on best practices of leadership. One of the ideas that I most appreciated was that a participant would chart his life through the lens of mentoring, naming the people along the way who have served as the kind of nurturing, challenging and supportive mentors that they have needed to become who they are.

Would you do that right now?

Take a sheet of paper and quickly chart your life through a series of mentors. Who has encouraged your growth and development? Who has made the longest lasting impact on the way you perceive your work and ministry? Name three to five.

Then, think back on what they taught you. What have they helped you to understand about your gifts, limits, habits and struggles? What have they helped you to understand about the nature of leadership or the nature of institutions? Write down your answers.

Now think about who you have been mentoring in those same seasons of your life. For example, when Jane was your mentor, was John your mentee? Take a few moments and record who you were mentoring in each season of your life and vocation. Call to mind each person in his or her complexity.

When and why did you agree to be a mentor, or did it happen organically and informally? What did the mentee’s journey and development remind you of in your own? What did their gifts and challenges teach you about leadership and institutions? What did their struggles and successes teach you about how institutions and roles had changed since you were in those institutions and roles yourself?

Now, look at the whole -- at your mentors and your mentees. What do you observe?

One of my favorite poems by the late poet William Stafford is “The Gift.” In the last stanza, he writes:

It's a balance, the taking and passing along,
the composting of where you've been and how people
and weather treated you. It's a country where
you already are, bringing where you have been.

As you look at your chronologies of mentors and mentees, what balance do you observe?

How have you taken and passed along? It’s a question every leader needs to ask. This exercise is one way to see.

Courtesy Photo courtesy The opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the Florida Conference.