Lost Art

More Mentor Less 

Have you noticed that we have become a much more mentorless society?   And this just didn’t happen last week.  Trouble has been brewing in paradise for quite some time now. The realization emerges with striking clarity.  Increasingly and in parallel, we observe that employee development has become a more selectively applied notion.  In a time and place, not all that far removed from the present, managers took pride in mentoring and developing those in their charge.  These days, not so much.  Let’s take a closer look as to why workplace mentoring has become a lost art.

Winter: Dawn by Betina Fink

Winter: Dawn by Betina Fink

Steve Demming’s Forbes article “Jack Welch, GE, and the Corporate Practice of Public Hangings” stirs an unsettledness of thought that elements of corporate culture may at least play a part in the lost art of workplace mentoring.

“At GE, the only things that move the culture are ones that show up in our income statement. It’s just the way we were raised.” – Jeff Immelt

As a backdrop for the canvas of corporate life, there should be little doubt that the subtle hues and broader color palettes of yesterday have taken a back seat to today’s harsh and simple brush strokes.  Who has time to look out for the organizational well-being of others when self-preservation has become a full-time job?  An organization’s culture influences behavior.  Immelt’s statement above speaks volumes, and he’s not alone in his thinking.

Where have all the mentors gone?

Mentors come from different walks of life.  They hardly ever derive from cookie-cutter formulaic prototypes.  It’s not that kind of thing at all. As lyricist Robert Hunter penned, “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”  What this says is that the mentoring could have come from anywhere, but if it happened, it came from somewhere. No matter how unlikely the source.

Tucson Mountain Park

Tucson Mountain Park by Betina FInk

Once upon a time, guitar lessons brought me a healthy dose of weekly mentoring.  For now, we will just succinctly say that this education supplemented the more traditional lessons I was getting at home, at church, and in school.   The local rock and roll dudes of the day taught me how to play guitar but were unquestionably mentors – in their own way.   These guys definitely were not corporate types. Without question, their influence was foundational and lasting.  They were passionate about their art, and passed it on down the line.  That’s what mentors do.

It’s a Choice

As time kept on ticking, ticking, ticking (into the future), my mentors had shorter hair and more conservative lifestyles.  Many people refer these types of people as accountants.  For sure, their delivery was entirely different. However, the influence was similarly foundational and lasting.  Once again, these folks were passionate about their art, and passed it on down the line.  That’s what mentors do.

It eventually even happened to me.  I began to feel a responsibility to mentor others.  I believe that it is a responsibility that we all have in this world.  If we have an art – a professional competency or way of doing things that works – then we should try to make sure it has a life that extends beyond the next quarterly report cycle or project deadline.  Passing it on preserves the art.  That’s how people and organizations get better.  Culture that promotes individual and group retrenchment is bad culture.

Rancho Linda Vista by Betina FInk

Rancho Linda Vista by Betina FInk

Big Picture

While those who choose to mentor have foundational and lasting impact, the same is true of those who choose not to pass it on.  Newbies entering the workforce are not likely to see that a problem exists, as often it is only the absence of something that allows us to see.   In other words, if you had good mentors, you know what that looks like.  If you have never seen it, then you may not notice what is missing.  This is probably what has the most long-term impact.

The cycle goes like this, and its collective impact is big.  Everyone is in self-survival mode.  Less people are doing more work.  No one takes the time to help anyone else.  Survival of the fittest rules the roost. Forced rankings conjure images of dark clouds.  Taking their cultural cues from this set of behaviors, newbies quickly fall in line and become part of the problem.  The cycle replicates itself forward with a silent suboptimizing momentum.  Round and round it goes, but where it stops, nobody knows.  Do you?

About the Art & Artist:

Betina Fink is a very talented artist who lives and works in Tuscon, Arizona.  Betina’s work conveys imagery in an imaginative way.  She is also a fellow University of Delaware Blue Hen.  More information about Betina and her work can be found on her website (link).

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