Mentoring Is About Teaching, Not Preaching!

There is the story of the man who fell asleep in church during a particularly long Sunday sermon. Just as the minister was wrapping up, he went into his best “fire and brimstone” voice and suddenly bellowed, “Any person here who wishes to spend eternity burning in the liquid fires of Hades, stand up now!” The minister’s finale was so loud and spirited that it awoke the sleeping parishioner with a start. The parishioner was so startled that he leaped to his feet. The minister, looking down from his pulpit at the man, said, “Why are you standing?” The man looked around the church, then back up at the minister, and said, “I don’t know. But whatever we are voting on, it appears that only you and I are in favor of it.” But I digress. As companies struggle to meet staffing goals and business commitments, in this talent-starved economy, training has returned to the corporate budget as a worthwhile and necessary expenditure. It is nice to see it back. During the 1980s and early 1990s, it all but disappeared. Companies only wanted to invest in non-human resources. There was a sufficient surplus of “human resources,” so that few companies bothered investing in training employees. But if companies want to meet staffing commitments nowadays, they had better be willing to train. However, as with all professions today, there are not enough seasoned and experienced trainers to meet the demand of this record-setting economic boom. As a result, the average employee is being enlisted into the ranks of supporting the training efforts of new hires in the role of “mentor.” And so begins the long and tedious journey to the point of my little piece this week: understanding the importance of being good mentor from the perspective of teaching, not preaching. (See, that was the point of the opening joke.) Mentoring Is Not A Function Of Preaching, But Teaching The human being is the only life form on earth that starts out with no instincts, no knowledge, absolutely “no clue.” (Surprisingly, many make it thorough life without ever actually coming in contact with a clue, let alone getting one.) If you think about it, we have to be struck on the “fanny” just to get us breathing. Even a fruit fly starts out with less support. Everything we are, we were taught. Everything we are not, we are yet to be taught. Everything we do well, we were taught well. Everything we do wrong, we were taught wrong. We are, in effect, the sum total of each and every mentor we have met in our lives. If we fail, to some extent, each person who tried to teach and influence us shares our failure. I have never found a squeaky wheel that was not improved with a liberal application WD-40. Certainly a more effective approach than “yelling at the wheel.” <*SPONSORMESSAGE*> So, what is the big deal if this person was not mentored properly? (Geez Ken, why waste your time doing an article about this particular issue?) As always, the issue is money. If you allow your desire to “preach” override your desire to “teach” you may end up losing potentially great employees, “billers,” or peers due to your misplaced zeal. They needed training more than you needed to take your “zeal” out for a walk. Here are some rules of life I have developed for myself:

  • Flaws in others need not be reasons to terminate trying to help them grow.
  • Even good people can have misconceptions.
  • The real challenge is helping people become better, not telling them how bad they are.

When someone comes to me for advice, I assume the following:

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  • If they seek advice, they want to be better?so help them achieve that goal.
  • No matter how mad their views make me, they would not have come to someone for help if they were comfortable with those views.
  • I have sufficient flaws in my life to volunteer myself unfit for jury duty on others.
  • The self-righteous have enough to worry about, without worring about everyone else.

I know this article has little to do with resume websites, “How To Close Candidates,” effective interview techniques, or the future of staffing in the “New Millennium.” But every now and then I think we need to remind ourselves that even in this “what’s in it for me” world, we need to find the time to reach back and help each other move forward. We need to forget our need to “judge” other people and just do what we can to assist them in moving to the next level in their lives, because helping them rather than judging them, helps us move forward in out lives. We need to stop making ourselves feel better, by diminishing others. Why? Because we make a living convincing people that we really care about them. Maybe we would do it better if we really did. Be a mentor and teach someone to be a better recruiter. But save the “preaching” for the professionals. The next time a young recruiter comes to you with an offensive or troublesome question, remember, if someone had not tolerated you, you wouldn’t be so smart yourself. Have a great day recruiting!

Ken Gaffey ( is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services ( and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE,, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.


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