Sunday, April 12, 2015

Not What Ships Are For

Photo credit: Alan Saporta
“A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for.” 
                                       - John A. Shedd

When explaining what mentoring consists of my definition always begins with: "it's a set of conversations between two people who trust each other". I am reminded of one of my most favorite quotes about conversations courtesy of Susan Scott:

"While no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a business, or a life—any conversation can." - Susan Scott

I would posit that mentoring conversations have a far higher chance of impacting a life precisely because a mentor creates a safe "harbor" for the mentee to ideate, question, learn, experiment, vent and validate. In the end however the entire point of these conversations is for the mentee to sail back out into that dangerous sea full of possibility and promise.

Ships do need to dock in a harbor to do business, for repairs and to onboard personnel and provisions. The harbor is a good place to reassess and recalibrate risk but not to the point of inaction. And what is usually the reason for a person's inaction? Quite simply: fear.

Mentoring conversations in a safe space are a good partial antidote. It sets up a foundation for the mentee to conquer their fear. The ultimate cure to fear is to build up the courage and take the risk (what's the worst that can happen?). The way I help my mentees do that is to remind them that their risk-taking will either lead to success or learning - both positive outcomes. By framing "mistakes" as "opportunities to learn" it takes much (though not necessarily all) of the sting out of trying something and getting an undesirable result.

Some may argue that not all "undesirable results" are equal. Some possible results may be quite difficult to contemplate and deal with. And I agree that not all risks are worth blindly taking. When a risk is identified to act on that is both highly impactful and has a high chance of resulting in something very unpleasant I work with the mentee to figure out ways to fail/learn quickly and as cheaply as possible to minimize damage. A little extra thought here goes a long way to saving pain later on. Those types of risks are also ones that benefit from developing a backup plan or two.

So think positively, be courageous, have a back up plan if necessary, take control of the ship and sail it into the ocean to explore new and wondrous shores.