Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mentorship Moments

Madeleine Albright is famous for saying that there is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women. I'm guessing she's referring to women helping other women in the business world - and that if a woman "makes it" she has an obligation to help other women achieve success. That makes sense. I agree with her since historically it has been so hard for a woman to compete. It's gradually becoming easier, but there are still some very real boundaries in the business world.

I think Madeleine was on the right track, and she spoke from her heart and probably from experience. However, I think she got derailed. I believe that if you have achieved any measure of success, or can impart some knowledge to someone who needs it,  you have an obligation to help - not just to someone with whom you share the same sex.

This lesson was brought home to me most recently by a chef at a Buffalo country club. He was chosen to speak at our 2nd annual TEDx talks.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with TED, please take the time to visit TED  and browse through the topics. TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design) started out as a conference where experts were brought in to do chats of 18 minutes that were designed to change people's way of thinking. Its mission was to spread ideas. Now that conference has morphed into mini sessions at  local levels. Recently, Buffalo hosted its own conference and James Roberts, the aforementioned chef was chosen to speak about mentorship. When we first met James, Bill and I were struck by his passion for food and his general affability. He was more than happy to share kitchen tricks and recipe ingredients even with amateurs like us. Check out a short video about his work here.

I know that some people are born to be teachers. But mentorship is so much more; not only do you have to have the knowledge and be able to impart it, you have to be a role model and you have to be able to recognize the give and take in mentorship - for, as in any relationship, a mentor will inevitably gain something from the mentee.

One of the perqs of being married to Bill is that his love of teaching has helped me to grow. He is happiest when he is in front of students (whether formally at UB, informally with pals, or just with his family). He can expound on WWII military aircraft, the ingredients of garam masala, what happened at Stalingrad, whether Brian Mormon was the most valuable player for the Buffalo Bills, the changes in Giant Steps, the flying buttresses of Notre Dame... you get the point.  His eidetic memory allows him to converse on a host of subjects and this ability has allowed him to have a series of mini-mentorships with many people - for he has figured out that you can learn from others ALL THE TIME.  He, in fact, had manufactured his very own personal TEDx before it was even invented. 

Once, when I picked Bill up from the airport, he was so excited to tell me what he learned from his seat mate that the usual 'how are the kids' dialogue was forgotten.  He immediately launched into the composition and virtues of concrete because he had spent that last 90 minutes with an expert.

And, even though he will list out those that provided valuable mentorship to him, he would strenuously object to being called a mentor himself.  I would have to disagree - for he has been a true mentor to me. We have a wonderful relationship that is based on love, but it is also rooted in a give and take of learning and growing. Bill has shown by example that you can learn things from everyone that you encounter, that you should never stop inquiring and that you have the ability to create your own personal TEDx experiences every day. That's a lesson that I will never forget and that I feel an obligation to pass on. 

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