On Mentoring and Leadership

myraAbout today’s author:
Myra Watts and her husband Gary recently transplanted to Spokane, Washington, to be closer to family. Myra is currently working part-time in Adult Ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Spokane as well as adjunct teaching in the leadership program at Gonzaga University. Prior to their move, Myra was the Director of the Character in Leadership program and assistant professor in the Religion and Philosophy Department at the University of Jamestown in North Dakota. Gary and Myra have three children and four grandchildren.

You can read more about how Kerry knows Myra and why he is celebrating her during International Women’s Month by reading yesterday’s post by clicking on “Seeing God’s Work in Others.

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After being a prisoner in Auschwitz during World War II, the medical doctor/psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote the now famous book Man’s Search for Meaning.  Frankl was a gifted observer of his fellow prisoners, always curious as to the various responses of different individuals as they faced the dire circumstances of life in a concentration camp.  After all of his experience, Frankl concludes that love is the most powerful human force and the only way to truly know another person.  Here is what he says:

“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality.  No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him.  By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized.”

My insight into mentoring—and indeed to leadership more broadly and to life entirely—is based on this same conclusion, that love is the most powerful human force.  It is the encapsulation of any worthy or notable theory regarding becoming a mentor or leader.  Love.  One simple word. And yet it seems to take a lifetime to engage the nuances and difficulties within the meaning of this word. 

In the framework of mentoring, love means seeing the potential of another person in a way that allows that person to call that potential forth into reality.  As I say this, I imagine the description of the creation of Narnia in C. S. Lewis’ book The Magician’s Nephew as Aslan sings the world into being.  Are we able to participate in the transformational process of another person and be part of “singing into being” that which is the other person’s best, though it may still hidden.

On a trip to Florence, Italy, I had the good fortune to visit the Academia Gallery where Michelangelo’s statue of David is housed.  There’s a fairly long and circuitous path one walks to get to the statue of David.  Along the way, there are many beautiful statues – so many, in fact, that they all start to look alike.  But when I arrived at the portico where the statue of David stands, everything changed.  As I stepped into the sunlit room, I came to a complete stop, overwhelmed with emotion.  The statue of David is a true masterpiece.  Fourteen feet of carved marble on a pedestal, it towers over everyone in the room.  The statue of David is a spectacular presence.

It is said of Michelangelo that when he looked at a piece of marble, he envisioned the statue within the block of stone.  Then he carved away everything that was not part of his vision.  In other words, Michelangelo distinguished the form of David within the marble and then “sang it into being” – using his sculpting tools of course.

The challenge of mentoring is to love another individual enough to actually see the “spectacular presence” of what lies within and then to inspire and coax it forth into reality.  

I want to be careful that I do not appear to suggest that I have mastered any of this.  I have not.  I never set out to be a mentor.  But I have experienced what it is to have various mentors in my life, to have others love me enough to see me not only for who I am but who I might become. And I have had the joyful privilege of helping to “sing into being” the hidden potential in others.

Mentoring and leadership are both about the power of love in the lives of other people.  To mentor another person is to desire the best for that person and to be willing to do all within one’s power to see that the person receives it.  That is also the definition of love.  

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March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

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