We are Called to Make a Difference (In Others)
"Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you!" Exodus 18:19
The word “mentoring” does not appear in the Bible. But examples of wise advice and counsel appears throughout. In Exodus we learn how Jethro gave management guidance on delegation and subsidiarity to his son-in-law Moses.
When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, [Jethro] said,
What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening? … What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone … teach them His decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. (Exodus 18:14-20)
In these modern times, how can an elder Jethro mentor a junior Moses?
Luke Burgis and Joshua Miller give us an overview of mentoring and a fresh look at discipleship in their new book, Unrepeatable: Cultivating the Unique Calling of Every Person.
“They will know we are Christians by our love,” goes the familiar hymn. Burgis and Miller write a practical guide on how to demonstrate this love by understanding each person’s “unique, unrepeatable essence, which bears the fingerprints of God.” This is the understanding of human dignity.
Unrepeatable is for more than just parents who want to nurture their children’s calling. The authors weave a series of short stories that sports managers (coaches) and business coaches (managers) can use right away — without fancy specialized training.
Although Miller is a vocational trainer in The Center for Leadership at Franciscan University of Steubenville, this book has an audience outside the traditional classroom. Burgis founded three startups in Silicon Valley and was named one of the “Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25” by Business Week. He continues his passion for building new companies with students at The Catholic University of America. The authors’ ethos of mentoring is much like that of NFL great and VP candidate Jack Kemp: “People don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Make New Mistakes
Esther Dyson, the technologist and venture capitalist, warned us never to repeat our mistakes — but also to avoid repeating mistakes made by others. Any experienced mentor has been scarred by experience. Jethro says to Moses, Don’t make the mistakes I did; make your own and grow and surpass me.
How can our younger Moses safely have this “growth mindset,” to use the term coined by Carol Dweck at Stanford University?
Burgis and Miller explain that in a “loving relationship, [a person] is free to discover, embrace, and fully live out his personal calling.” The mature mentor creates this genuine safe space.
Love Is The Answer
Unrepeatable provides more than an emotional response. “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me,” St. Paul writes in Philippians, ” put it into practice.”
Burgis and Miller suggest a template for mentoring. It provides support and actionable tasks to encourage individuals to identify their unique, indeed, unrepeatable talents. Both the mentor and mentee should know what the senior can provide for the junior.
Senior mentors perform three functions: contacts, consulting and capital.
The mentor will have a network of contacts and friends to make introductions. The best elder statesmen have a substantial “rolodex” of friends who “got people” with a track record of getting things done.
The mentee should ask advice and, more important, act on the counsel.
This is vital in all relationships especially in a training program. Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, describes in a conversation she once had with a young woman:
I asked what a mentor meant to her. She explained that it would be someone she spoke to for at least an hour every week. I smiled, thinking, That’s not a mentor — that’s a therapist. (Sandberg 2013)
The wise woman or man knows when to be the therapist. The mentee knows to listen and to act.
And finally, the mentor should provide access to capital. That is: time, talent and treasure to assist his charge in launching his career or a business.
A Great Cloud of Witnesses
The book of Hebrews commands, “And let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds. Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have, but let us encourage one another.” (10:24-25a)
Encouragement and accountability are key theme in Unrepeatable. For example, in any dangerous undertaking, like swimming, the cliché is to always have a ‘swim partner’ for safety. But it’s more than a cliché. The US Air Force prescribes a “Wing Man” and the Army a “Ranger Buddy.” In any life adventure, we must never be alone.
Burgis and Miller teach that a young Moseses must learn “the kinds of service to God and neighbor they have been designed to give.” This is where the mentor and mentee understand their duty to their community. This work is not done in isolation.
Proverbs 22:6a says parents should “Start children off on the way they should go …”
Business guru Peter Drucker echoes St. Paul where business becomes family to maximize strengths and minimize weakness.
As Christians, “We are fools for Christ.” (1 Corinthians 4:10a.) And how would this faith in action take form? Urie Bronfenbrenner, the acclaimed developmental psychologist might have suggested mentoring, “Someone’s gotta be crazy about the kid.”
Jack Yoest is an Assistant Professor of Management at The Catholic University of America in The Busch School of Business and Economics, in Washington, DC. He is the author of The Memo: How the Classified Military Document That Helped the U.S. Win WWII Can Help You Succeed in Business.