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  • Writer's pictureTerry Dockery


“Aarrgh,”Little Johnny croaked hesitantly. “Shoot,” he said, “I’ve never wanted to be anything but a pirate, and I’m just no good at it. I don’t know how to talk or what to do or even how to dress. Heck, not only do I not know the proper way to make someone walk the plank, I’ve never even seen a plank! I guess if I’m going to be a real swashbuckler, I’m going to have to learn to buckle a swash somehow. What am I going to do?”

Well, Little Johnny, you need a mentor. It’s the fastest way to learn a new skill. Why reinvent the wheel (can’t you just see him with a book on pirates in one hand and an eye patch in the other)? Instead, find someone who’s good at it and have that person teach you the ropes. You’ll improve your learning curve tenfold.

Here are my top ten techniques for masterful mentoring:

  • Mentoring helps mentors. Mentoring is a class win-win situation. If you really want to know your stuff hands down, teach someone else. In addition you’ll create a sense of belongingness and contribution for yourself which you’ll love. Example: “I’ve done my part to people the world with quality pirates” (eyes mist up here).

  • To motivate someone, persuade “the kid.” “The kid,” or “the inner child” is the emotional part of all of us. Think of it as the native us, all our basic feelings and needs. All good salespeople know that most folks buy from those they like, so if you haven’t persuaded your mentees’ “kids” that mentoring will be fun and fulfilling, they won’t be motivated. Example: “Becoming a pirate is going to be a blast; you’re not going to believe how fun it is to plunder!”

  • Mentoring is leading is parenting is nurturing. Mentoring, leading, and parenting all share one thing: the mentor, leader, or parent all have more power in the relationship than the mentee, follower, or child. This power comes with the responsibility to care for and nurture the less powerful member. Who wants to be a pirate if there’s no fun in it? Example: “Little Johnny, I’m going to help you be the best pirate that ever sported a gold tooth!”

  • Establish clear values, priorities, roles, and boundaries. Mentees (like the rest of us) like security and predictability in our lives. Setting clear expectations in the beginning of the relationship will save potential misunderstandings and conflict later. Examples: “There’s no such thing as a dumb question; no, there is no ‘swash’ to buckle” (clear values). “It’s more important for you to be ruthless than friendly” (clear priorities). “I will serve as your teacher but not necessarily as your ‘pal’” (clear roles). “You may call me anytime during normal pirate business hours, 10am until 2am” (clear boundaries).

  • Establish shared goals, methods, and measurement. Ditto on security, predictability and prevented misunderstanding, and furthermore people support what they help create. Examples: “You’ll learn to board a burning ship safely in the next three months” (clear goals and measurement). “I’ll provide you with face-to-face training as well as written materials for you to read at night in your cabin” (clear methods).

  • Mentor by example; behavior speaks louder than words. Example: “I can’t hear what you’re saying because your behavior speaks so loudly. You said never to wear the pink feather with the red hat, and yet here you are!”

  • Inspire and instruct; this is a “no yelling” zone. A mentor’s two main roles are to inspire (“you can do it”) and instruct (“here’s how you do it”). Criticizing your mentees’ self worth will de motivate them. Example of poor mentoring: That’s the worst swordplay I’ve ever seen; you’ll never be a proper pirate.”

  • Feedback is golden; celebrate early and often. Frequent and timely feedback keeps your mentees on track and motivated to succeed. The positive to negative feedback ratio needs to be at least 10 to 1. If the only time your mentees hear from you is when they’ve done something wrong, they’ll become de motivated and start avoiding you altogether. Example: Little Johnny, that’s the best darn job of hanging someone from the yardarm that I’ve ever seen!”

  • Learning often takes more than once. Learning often takes…Some learning theorists say it takes us up to six times hearing something to truly incorporate it. Create realistic mentoring expectations which will lead to an appropriate level of patience for you and feelings of success for your mentees. Example: “Yes, that’s right. As we’ve discussed before, it’s okay to trick another ship by flying a fake flag until we get very close.”

  • Know when to say “no”; avoid becoming an “enabler.” “Enabling” is supporting someone in self destructive behavior. There are two main situations that require saying “no” as a mentor: 1) When you know your mentees are ready to try something on their own so they can have a confidence-building success experience, but they are overestimating the risk and continuing to lean on you for support. Example: “I know you’re nervous about burying your first treasure alone, but you’ve done very well in practice and I know you can do it, so just go ahead and pick a spot. Just remember that the key to success is a good map.”2) When you believe that the mentorship is doomed to failure from the beginning. Examples: a) “Little Johnny, I’m happy to accept you as my pirate mentee, but your friend Frank seems less than enthusiastic about the travel involved, so I’m going to have to say ‘no’ to him.” b) I know you want to be a real pirate, but your dad the mortician has said that he wants you to go into the family business, so I don’t want to come between you and him.”

Copyright Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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