Have you ever taken time to watch a potter as he sits patiently at the potter’s wheel and carefully molds a square piece of clay into a stunning masterpiece? The longer you watch, the more you realize this skill takes time and a careful plan. You’ll also realize that the process often can be messy. Many times, it is met with success; but a great deal of success depends upon the pliability of the clay and the skill of the master. Could this remind you of something else?

As an educator, administrator, and businesswoman, I see the similarity between a potter and the calculated steps needed to mentor others because I had the benefit of being molded and modeled by those who gave their time to show me the ropes. Mentoring others is a way that we can give back, but it is also a way that we can train the next set of leaders who will take over our job positions as we move along in our own personal journey. Through the years, I’ve had the blessing of mentoring many people. Some have been students, others have been new employees in the division where I was Dean of Education, and I’ve also mentored other administrators who were new to the college. In every case, I was able to share knowledge, advice, and resources with these wonderful people that helped them along the way.  Would you like to know the role of a mentor? 

A mentor should take time to know the mentee and develop a plan that will guide and mold the mentee toward goals the mentee hopes to reach. This involves an intentional relationship where each person values the other and develops a mutual respect built on trust. Good communication skills are needed and involves time to listen carefully. Some mentoring programs are structured, but others are more informal.  In either case, the mentor and mentee should agree on set-times for meetings and should establish expectations of what they both hope to accomplish through the relationship.

A mentor/mentee plan is not a one-size-fits-all and will vary according to the individuals involved. Mentors share information about their own career path but will also need to patiently ask questions and listen carefully to discover where the mentee will need help exploring careers, setting goals, and creating a pathway for the future. 

Just as it is with the potter’s work, mentoring is often messy.  Efforts are sometimes met with success, but a great deal of the success depends upon the skill of the mentor and the “want to” of the mentee. In my experience, I’ve learned that the best mentor/mentee relationships occur when the mentor provides ample resources to help the mentee solve his own problems. Sure, it is easier to give the answer, but that defeats the purpose. Use skills learned from the potter and move slowly, methodically, patiently, and skillfully so that you focus on the outcome instead of the messy project that seems to be at hand. Be visionary and let the final-result be your guide. 

The masterpiece comes clearly into view later as you stand back and watch your mentee tackle a goal that once seemed unattainable. That is what we call…the Mark of the Potter

Here’s to mentoring masterpieces,

Penny Joyner Waddell, EdD