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.”

Accidental Education

I apologize in advance for the next six lines.

“What is all the fuss?”
“Teachers help all of us.”

“No more rhymes, and I mean it!”
“Does anybody want a peanut?”

“Are there struggles ahead?”
“Well without our teachers, we all be dead.”

educationMary Wax Goldsborough (or Miss Wax as I knew her back in the day) deserves my unending appreciation if for no other reason than because she introduced me to the Princess Bride. So thank you!

Mary taught me a lot about music as well.  She was the music teacher at my school when I was growing up.  I learned about motif, repeating themes, and much more that has made Star Wars, Les Miserables, and life as a whole more interesting and meaningful.  She taught me an appreciation for Mozart as well as jazz.  Because of her relentless passion and her ability to throw things at my head while directing, I learned correct posture while playing saxophone.  Seriously, because of her passion I made it into college choir and band, and singing and playing saxophone is a joy still for me today.

But like so many great teachers in my life, the greatest educational lessons with Mary were not moments of intentional instruction but rather moments of accidental education.

Mary lived in a small house near the school, but she would invite the entire band to her house for an annual party.  Now granted, my graduating class from Zeeland Public High School was 12, so the band didn’t have 100 students in it, but she invited all of us.  We ate in the garage because it was the only room big enough for us all (but we spread out throughout her house).  She also invited me to her house for a meal when she found out I was stuck in town between school and a basketball game later that evening.  She made me a hamburger, gave me a Coke, and introduced me to the Princess Bride — I’m pretty sure I laughed so hard I had Coke come out of my nose.

Mary taught me a lot in the classroom.  More importantly, however, in moments of accidental education, Mary taught me that teaching others isn’t just about what happens between a lectern and a seat, but also about what happens around a table — especially if it’s the teacher’s table.

In other moments of accidental education, Mary also taught me that the most important lessons a teacher can teach are seldom about the subject matter but about life.

I was a bit of an awkward junior high student.  Had we been wealthy, I could have been eccentric; however, because our family was not wealthy, I was basically “weird.”  I suppose every junior high or middle school student feels this way, and I probably wasn’t as uniquely weird as a felt; nevertheless, I didn’t feel like I fit in.  I dealt with this by messing around and trying to be funny — key word “trying.”

On one particular day — I think during music appreciation, a class that in my experience failed to help most students appreciate anything other than AC/DC or Guns-N-Roses — I was messing around quite a bit in the band room.  Mary grabbed my attention, looked sternly at me, and said, “You could be great at something if you just focused!”

I still remember where I was standing when she said that — mostly because I didn’t think she was on the same side of our split classroom when I was messing around.  Her words didn’t launch me into a successful music career or, for that matter, bring me great success in the eyes of the world in any particular career.  What it did do, however, was let me know that someone believed that I was capable of doing anything of substance.  It was a word of encouragement to a student who felt ill equipped to do anything but mess around and try to be a clown.

There were probably a lot of factors that played into it (like my mom telling me I could watch Bonanza reruns at 10:30PM if I got on the “A” honor roll), but I went from being a mediocre junior high student to excelling academically in high school, college, and beyond.  Part of that transformation was due to a moment of accidental education thanks to Mary Wax Goldsborough.

Mary is far from the only teacher who did this for me.  Through the years, I have been fortunate to have some pretty amazing teachers in elementary school all the way through graduate school.  Many of them, like Mary, taught me as much out of the classroom as they did in the classroom — as much about life as they did about their particular subject matter.  I hope that each of them, in reading this, hears echoes of my deep appreciation for them as well.

I also hope that each of us will take time to be teachers for others — recognizing that sometimes the most important lessons are taught accidentally.  Accidentally does need to mean unintentionally.

Be intentional about creating space for life’s most important lessons to be taught accidentally to a new generation.

I’ve asked Mary to write tomorrow’s post about being a teacher.  I hope that you will learn from her as I have.

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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.”

My Barnabas Was a Woman

“…Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”  -Acts 4:36-37

Barnabas was an amazing individual in the Bible.  He stood out not because of his preaching, or miracles, or even because of the numbers whom he converted — Barnabas stood out because he encouraged others.

Encouragement is a neglected spiritual gift!

Barnabas was the apostle who took Paul under his wing and encouraged him — and encouraged a frightened Church to welcome Paul, who was a recent and previously violent convert. Who knows, without Barnabas there may have not been a “Paul.”  In addition, though Barnabas was Paul’s encourager, he wasn’t afraid to stand up to Paul when another young man of God, John Mark, needed an encourager whom Paul had “written off” because of a previous “transgression.”  Paul would later recognize John Mark as vital to his ministry and would request his presence.  Without Barnabas as an encourager, Paul and John Mark may have remained estranged, and they would have been the worse for it — and so would have the Church.

We all need a Barnabas in our lives!  We need an encourager — someone who encourages us but isn’t afraid to stand up to us and for someone else that needs to be encouraged as well.  I have been blessed with several encouragers through the years, but there has been one that comes to mind as my Barnabas — a woman, one of my heroes, my mother-in-law, Von Schreier.

Von would have been 67 yesterday, March 9th.  I say “would have” because she died at 53.  It is one of the most tragic losses in my life because she was one of the greatest blessings.

Von was amazing!  She encouraged individuals that many would have ignored.  And she wasn’t afraid to stand up to others to remind them of their own responsibility to be an encourager.

When I think of Von, Barnabas isn’t the only image that comes to my mind — the other image I have is of a cheerleader.  I mean no offense to cheerleaders, but I’ve never really been a fan.

The unbridled enthusiasm.

The optimism in the face of unspeakable odds.

The unconditional devotion and admiration.

But that’s who Von was for me, and I loved every minute of it.

When she came to Boston, MA, to visit us while I attended Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, she came to classes with me.

It was fantastic.

Yes, I took my mother-in-law to school with me.  She loved it.  She and Rick, my father-in-law (a man who deserves his own blog post, but my wife wrote that one already), supported us, loved us, and encouraged us through courtship, going to school, and having our children.

And amazingly, they expected nothing in return.

Von continues to encourage me beyond the grave.

NO! She doesn’t talk to me, but her legacy is a legacy of encouragement.  Without her, there is no doubt that I would not be the man, the husband, or the person that I am.

Tomorrow, I’ve asked my wife, Stacy to write a blog on behalf of Von.  I know you will be blessed by my wife’s words and the lesson that she and I both learned from her mother, my mother-in-law, my Barnabas.

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.”