Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24 (NIV)
I have trained thousands of people using the Outcomes Based Education and Training methodology and there are principles that I always impress on all my students. The most important is that you can give someone the knowledge through theoretical training but that will not achieve the desired results.
In the verse above King Solomon, who is considered the wisest and richest man who ever lived, clearly shows us that having only knowledge is useless, you have to implement that knowledge and put it into practice. In other words you have to exercise the skill that is associated with the knowledge and that was taught through the knowledge. There is absolutely no point in having the knowledge and knowing what to do but not putting it into practice and applying what you have learnt.
This sounds obvious – but do you realize how many people in this world have acquired knowledge through various methods and they do nothing with it? Leaders do the same. They spend hours on end reading business books on leadership, devour YouTube videos and even read every single Harvard Business Review (HBR) article published. Then they close the book or shutdown their computer and simply carrying the way they always have. I speak to many leaders and their first reaction usually is ”I know all that…but it’s doesn’t work for me.” Why not? I ask. “Because it just doesn’t.” It’s because they are not applying all the knowledge and content they have absorbed. That’s why it is not working for you.
In the verse in the Gospel of Matthew quoted above, Jesus was telling them that foolish people hear the word, or gain the knowledge, but they do not put it into action…they DO NOT apply the knowledge. This is a fruitless and wasted exercise and you will not get anywhere in life or business this way.
There is a third step to this process which requires patience and time. This is where through applying the knowledge and getting better at what you do leads to experience. This process takes time and does not simply happen overnight. By apply the knowledge over and over you become better and more proficient.
So how does this apply to mentoring?
As a leader, and yes I know you have heard this a trillion times, your main function is to develop other or future leaders. The only way to do that is through mentoring them. How on earth are you going to mentor the next generation of leaders if you don’t even know how to apply the knowledge you have learnt? How will you guide them to become proficient and be successful leaders themselves if you are missing the plot? If you have not applied the knowledge and tested it over time, you will be in no position to guide or mentor your mentees. I cannot teach someone to drive a car if all I have done is read the instruction manual but I have never actually driven a car myself.
Mentoring a new and upcoming leader means you have to have all the characteristic such as passion, humility, knowledge and empathy to name a few, but you also have to have the experience of constantly applying the knowledge. You need to “walk the talk” or “practice what you preach” so to speak.
The Namaqualand Daisy (Dimorphotheca sinuate) or African Daisy is found in South Africa and Namibia. We can take some leadership and mentoring lessons from this simple flower. Here are some facts about the Namaqualand Daisy:
What leadership and mentoring lessons can we take from this simple flower?
As the leader you must protect your mentees. You must nurture them by providing the knowledge they need to grow as leaders but also creating opportunities for them to apply the knowledge. Because you have applied the knowledge, you have the experience to mentor them and guide them through the storms and the wind and your experience protects them from the elements. Your mentees are your seeds and they will represent you as the next generation of leaders. How you mentor them will determine the legacy you leave.
In Luke 8:4-15, Jesus tells of a farmer who sows seed indiscriminately. Some seed falls on the path (wayside) with no soil, some on rocky ground with little soil, some on soil which contains thorns, and some on good soil.
In the first case, the seed is taken away by birds, which is similar to mentees not receiving the proper knowledge and then failing as leaders. In the second and third case, the seed sprouts but fails to produce a crop which is the same as mentees being given all the knowledge but not applying the knowledge. When the seed falls on good soil, it grows and yields thirty-, sixty-, or a hundred-fold. By providing knowledge and allowing the mentees to apply that knowledge consistently, they will develop the necessary experience to multiply and in turn develop other leaders.
You need to be like the Namaqualand Daisy and spread good seed. You need to follow the sun and ensure that you have applied the knowledge you acquired in practice and that you have gained the experience over time. Remember becoming a leader is not an instant quick-fix, instead it is a journey. In the same way that the daisy’s seeds lie dormant for sometimes many years and only sprout when it rains, so also your mentees will take time to develop and you will have to put in the hard yards with them and provide the opportunity for them to eventually also sprout and blossom. You will have to allow them to sometimes fail and make mistakes. This is when you will see the most growth and by being empathetic you will provide an atmosphere for them to grow and gain the necessary experience. None of us got it right the first time, and nor did you, so allow them to mess up every now and then. As the mentor you have the ability to minimize the damage caused by their mistakes but it will allow them to grow and blossom.
Another role that you as leaders are responsible for is “protecting” your mentees. By this I mean that as the leader you have to shield your mentees from following the wrong path as they develop as leaders. Just as the Daisy folds its petals closed to protect the seeds (mentees) so you must shield your mentees while they are in your care. By providing the correct knowledge ad guidance you can protect them and ensure they follow the right path to becoming inspired and empowered leaders themselves. Remember that you as a leader are only as successful as your team or mentees are.
Lastly you need to remember that as the leader you will have to give way to the new leaders that you have developed to take up the baton and run the race further. Just as the daisy has to die to allow the seeds to enter the ground and then eventually germinate and bloom, so you have to let go the reigns and let the next wave of leaders take over.
As I mentioned at the beginning, having knowledge alone will get you nowhere. You have to apply the knowledge over period of time so you can gain the experience and then pass the knowledge on again. This is what mentoring is about.