Friday, July 12, 2013

My Failure as a Mentor

Recently, a friend of mine contacted me to let me know that he no longer wanted to have anything to do with me and that "any future emails, messages, or missives [from me] will be deleted without reading." I had known him about two-and-a-half years at that point, and the last time things collapsed that completely with a friend it was with one I had know for more than three decades, so I have obviously gotten more efficient in the way I manage my relationships. 

This unhappy event took place after I contacted my soon-to-be-former friend to express my concerns with the way he had managed a number of projects for my company, to include submitting reports to me under false pretenses. I concluded by expressing my assumption that we were still friends and that I was looking forward to seeing him when I was in his area the following month. His completely ending our relationship once he realized I had discovered his malfeasance, however -- along with things like him heavily poaching my friends list on Facebook and using my company and its projects as stepping stones for his own advancement in our industry-- suggest to me that his motives in befriending me were cynical from the start. 

During the relatively brief period of our friendship, this person regularly referred to me as his "boss" because of the opportunities I had given him in my company, something that made me a little uncomfortable, as I only ever wanted him to be a friend and a colleague. It eventually became apparent to me, however, that he did this for purposes of establishing a nonexistent class difference between us so as to help justify taking advantage of me. 

My friend also periodically indicated that he considered me to be a "mentor." That is very flattering but, sadly, in retrospect I don't believe it was ever really true. Not only do I not think he learned anything from me that I would have thought worthy of teaching, there was nothing in his demeanor over the last several months of our relationship, or in the way he ended our friendship, that would suggest he ever actually wanted to. 

I wish, however, that I could have been a true mentor and taught him something. It would be easy to say that those things might include not lying to friends, not using people, and the like, but those are a function of moral compass and ethics, and I don't think I ever could have effectively taught them to anyone but a child. But there are actually a few things I wish he would have learned from me and the way I try to conduct myself, and which would have made him a happier, better adjusted person and probably led to things turning out better between the two of us: 

* Be Good at Something

There is research that suggests it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master a vocation and, if you want to be good at something, you need to be willing to commit that level of effort to it. My friend, unfortunately, thought that talking about the things other people had accomplished, trying to associate with those people, or pretending to be one of them, was on par with actually being good at something himself. Suffice it to say, it's not. 

* Be a Leader
I believe that the best leaders know how to follow when necessary, and that the best followers know how to lead; someone who can do only one of those things if only half as useful at either. My friend was never so proud of being my colleague as he was to become a self-proclaimed "minion" -- i.e., an underling -- with another company, something that made me very ashamed for him. When I put him in charge of things, however, he actually used his leadership position as a device for abandoning his post; to him, being the "boss" meant nothing more than a short-sighted chance to goof off. 

* Toughen Up
Never have I had a friend who was so inclined to give up on things, to suffer sickness or injury that prevented him from working but not from playing, or to otherwise succumb to mental and physical ailments rather than simply work through obstacles and complete the things required of him. A little more physical, mental, and emotional resilience would have served him well. 

* Don't Worry So Much About Having Fun
In the month before he unfriended me, my former buddy completely stopped contributing to a number of projects he had asked to be part of, even as several of his companions continued laboring away on them. Over the course of that same month -- and the week before it, during which he abandoned the afore-mentioned position of responsibility -- he made one post after another to Facebook about all the "fun" things he was doing in lieu the things he had obligated himself to do. That desire to have "fun" to the exclusion of all else is actually pretty common, but it does not ultimately fill whatever hole the person in question has within them. 

All those things are interconnected, of course. Being good at something and being recognized for it, stepping up to lead the way when it is necessary, and having the fortitude to follow through, can give one a sense of well being and help put them on the path to fulfillment, and there is a reason why people with those characteristics tend to need less contrived "fun" in their lives. In the best of all possible worlds, I would have taught my friend these things, and today he would be a bit better adjusted and we would still be friends. It brings me no pleasure to know those are things I failed to help make happen and that my own example was insufficient in this regard. 


Diane said...

Perhaps the best thing you can take away from this experience is the knowledge that you can't force a person to learn something they don't want to learn any more than you can make them develop character.

Diane said...

Given recent correspondence from one individual, it appears that in spite of the fact that no name or context was identified, at least one person recognizes their own shortcomings. Too bad they choose to attack rather than looking in the mirror.