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Mentoring (according to the Benjamins)

What makes a good mentor?  I am sure we all have different perspectives and definitions.  Some may say a good mentor is only as good as an attentive and willing to learn mentee.

Mentoring (according to the Benjamins)
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  • Contributed by Wayne Debernardi​
  • March 13, 2020
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Benjamin Franklin, born 1706, was a polymath, a leading writer, printer, political philosopher, politician, Freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humourist, civic activist, abolitionist, statesman, and diplomat.  He was also the only one of the Founding Fathers of the United States to sign all three documents that freed America from Britain; the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris and the United States Constitution.  He also did a great trick with a kite and a metal key.

As a polymath, I would think Ben Franklin would have made a great mentor.  He had the knowledge and the communication skills to carry it. On the subject of mentoring, he has been quoted as saying, ‘tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will learn’.

I recently caught up with one of my mentors, John Shrives, probably the most prominent of mentors in my career to date.  He is retired and is in his late 70s. I touch base with him a couple of times a year or I may see him at a networking gathering that takes place twice a year.

Some mentoring relationships just happen as if a course of nature.  Other times a mentor may approach a prospective mentee with the knowledge the person may need guidance and the mentor is more experienced and can add value by imparting his or her knowledge.  

In the case of John, I made the first move as I was at one of those crossroads that inevitably appear from time to time in one’s career.  I needed a mentor and John was someone I had worked for and then with and I had the comfort level of knowing I could confide in him and that he would listen.

John is of Benjamin Franklin’s ilk.  He took up the gauntlet that I threw his way but made it clear he was not going to make decisions that I needed to derive for myself.

Instead the mentor-mentee relationship which has now spanned almost 25 years, has been one of open discussion, challenges and validation.  I am very grateful for the learning over the years and for the few I have mentored along the way; my approach has been very much the same as John’s, perhaps with some variations depending on the mentee; whether they be individuals in a personal development phase or a small business looking to grow.

I am sure that many others have different approaches which may be as effective but for me the Shrives and Franklin methodology works.  I have been able to grow by having the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them and at other times I have been challenged further before coming to a final decision.  I have been empowered through the mentoring process.

Fourteen years after Benjamin Franklin died at the age of 84, another Benjamin was born and was to share similar views on mentoring. Benjamin Disraeli (born 1804) twice served as the prime minister of the United Kingdom and is cited with this: ‘The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own’.

Wayne Debernardi​, general manager media and strategic communications at the IPA 

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