Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mentoring Around the Diamond  

Education: The path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.
-- Mark Twain

To continue the series on mentoring, I'm going to following the MBB Model of the four bases in sequence and retain their individual meaning. In this case, however, it's going to be focused on mentoring and coaching, in Baseball and on why you should follow Baseball's lead in your own management.

First base in the Management by Baseball model is mechanics, Second is emotional intelligence, Third is self-awareness, and Home is Change. In Baseball management and in whatever non-Baseball line of work you follow, you have to master those in sequence, just as in the game, you have to safely capture 1st before you can move on to 2nd. But in mentoring and coaching, you can start anywhere -- the skill sets are the same as in management as a whole, but starting from any one can make a serious contribution. As we'll get to eventually, probably the most successful place to start from is 3rd base.

If you've been reading this blog for a long time, I'm going to bring up a few issues I have before in writing about mentoring; if you are new to this small neighborhood, it'll set the grounds rules for the information I'll be giving in this series.

Baseball's #1 Lesson about Mentoring - Coaching is Additive
Observers of the game rake and praise coaches and managers as though they operated in a vacuum, inheriting a toy drawing pad, erasing everything that was on there before by pulling it up to erase the prior art and then drawing imposed instructions on it. It's very rare outside of a sheltered workshop situation that a manager or mentor would be starting from scratch. People have training, lessons-learned, habits examined and unexamined, past protocols enforced and un-enforced. 

I'm about to make an assertion that many will choose to misinterpret as support for the idea that I'm not trying to deny that there is such a thing as "good" coaches and "bad". Nothing could be farther away from truth than that - not even the distance of an artificially-inflated All-Star Home Run Derby shot by Josh Hamilton. Coaches can be good or bad, but almost every coach, no matter how bad, has something to add to the tool kit of a learner, and every coach will fail with with a few students, the better with fewer, as a rule.

This is because as learners and as coaches/teachers/mentors we each have a portfolio of aptitudes, things we do well, things we can't do well but know well in concept, things we haven't mastered and things we are blind/tone-deaf to. A person can be a great coach for making the turn at second base on a first-to-third base running skill, but be slow herself. A natural breaking-ball hitter like Ken Phelps can know how to do it but not be able to put it into words and slow-mo for a student. When the needs and abilities line up well between coach and trainee, both make big leaps.

But what happens when what a coach has to teach is something the student:

  • Can't learn no matter what? or
  • Already knows well enough she doesn't want to change? or
  • Doesn't think is important? or
  • Needs but can't absorb through the learning channels the coach is able to transmit on?

Right, Swing and miss strike.

Students progress over time, picking up techniques and practices from each coach they work with, sometimes intentionally, sometimes by osmosis. And unless a technique is exclusive of all others (say, the fielding stance a pitcher is supposed to arrive at on follow through...it's either this way or that) the trainee will add the method to her portfolio. New methods may supercede, or may get lost or temporarily forgotten, but they are still there. A good student will keep the library stocked and not purge not-currently in use practices.

The magic-appearing moments happen when the limiting factor preventing a student from achieving a ton is something fairly small but unnoticed - like when then-New York Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson  made over Oliver Perez' wind-up and delivery pace in 2006 (he had devolved to moving very slowly, almost tai-chi style, and all it took to unblock what he already knew so he could move towards working effectively again was to pick up the pace -- without the pace change, nothing else Perez needed to do was going to get him to effective).  But even a top practitioner like Peterson, I believe, will find practices that don't work for some people, and perhaps some people for whom he can do little overall.

Which brings us to the second important lesson...

Baseball's #2 Lesson about Mentoring - Each Protege is Unique (No Size Fits All)
No matter how good you are (and within limits, no matter how bad you are) you are going to be able to help some trainees and be useless for others. Every coach is going to have some failures and most are going to have some success.

Keep these rules in mind in your own management practice. Everyone (well, maybe not Anthony Young) can get better with the right mentoring approach.

If there's someone you're not reaching, try methods different from what you normally use. If you can't reach someone with anything in your toolkit, try enlisting someone else to mentor, someone who uses different methods. Everyone is different.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

free website counter