Harry Potter and the One Minute Mentor*
Neville Longbottom is the Hogwarts student known for his clumsiness, forgetfulness and general lack of inspiration. He is teased mercilessly by some, and passively overlooked by others. Hogwarts is, of course, the famous School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, so there is lots of magic to trip up Neville.
However, one day Neville is told that Professor Sprout had said he was really good at Herbology. The effect of this feedback on Neville is a surge of pride and a soothing of the failure he had just experienced. No one had ever pointed out that there was indeed one thing that Neville was good at. He was far more familiar with his deficits.
Author J.K. Rowling beautifully depicts what Ken Blanchard taught us years ago in The One Minute Manager: "To help people reach their full potential, catch them doing something right". A synthesis of Rowling on magic, and Blanchard on leadership, illustrates the essence of mentoring. If not literally magical in its effect, mentoring nevertheless wields a powerful wand when it comes to evoking confidence and success. And it doesn't require a formalized, organizational commitment to a mentoring program in order for leaders to assume the wizardry role.
Harry Potter himself is often doubtful of having any real skills. He is not the best student, to say the least: his friend Hermione is. But when Harry is stumped by a challenge he fears he can't overcome, he is advised to play to his strengths. This nudge makes Harry think outside the box and realize his outstanding skill at his favourite sport, Quidditch. (Blanchard: "People who feel good about themselves, produce good results.") He then finds he can problem-solve his way through a risky scenario involving a dragon. And as we all know, there are personal dragons aplenty!
Professor Dumbledore and Hagrid, along with other skilled leaders at Hogwarts, provide mentoring to their students, although they don't name it as such. They use skills that dovetail with, yet aren't requisite in the role of teaching. Taking advantage of mentoring opportunities as they arise, their students develop confidence and emerge to risk their personal best. And when they achieve their personal best, so do the communities in which they live and work: whether their school, their cultural group (witches and wizards) or the larger world around them where the forces of good and evil are played out.
On the other end of the spectrum is Professor Snape - a teacher who misses those moments of mentoring. Long suspected to be a dark force, he earns the suspicion by behaving in ways of questionable integrity. He allows his antagonism for Harry Potter to grow into outright hatred. Manifesting the exact opposite of Ken Blanchard's advice, Snape never passes up a chance to criticize Harry. He penalizes without discrimination, shows favouritism, fails to collaborate, and generally manifests hostility.
In reading these engrossing stories, a few characteristics of mentoring emerge with the ring of common sense:
- Catch people doing something right;
- Support people's use of their strengths;
- Instil pride, never shame.
And yet the obvious can be deceptive: the act of mentoring requires a leader agreeable to the task. What does it take to mentor? Hagrid and Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall all seem to genuinely like Harry, along with his friends Ron and Hermione. Perhaps it's easiest to mentor one who is perceived as talented and personable. But they take a compassionate stance with Neville as well. Do they understand what it's like to be the one without the natural talent, the late bloomer? Or perhaps as experienced teachers they know that the only way to cultivate a talent whether visible or not, is to assume its presence. If it were "Professor" Blanchard of Hogwarts, he might repeat his maxim: "Everyone is a potential winner. Some people are disguised as losers. Don't let their appearances fool you."
The "act" of mentoring as an informal yet integral aspect of leadership, can be adopted by any given leader who believes in its efficacy. Being a good mentor is founded on:
- Emphasizing direction over advice (occasional words of wisdom also allowed!);
- Being worthy of trust;
- Letting people know they have an ally.
The mentor professors of Hogwarts earn the loyalty of their students. By virtue of how they treat them, not just what they teach them, they instil the highest values in their students; for like all wisdom, wizardry can be used to the highest good or it can be misused, abused, and distorted for personal power.
Snape reaps his rewards as well: his followers represent the darker side; they are the ones whose ethics are questionable, whose deeds are self-serving. Not only does Snape not inspire the best of his profession, he himself is caught in dark entanglements that fail to advance him.
Comparing the Snape approach with that of the other professors, it is evident that not only the students benefit from good mentoring, but Hogwarts the school does as well. There is a reciprocal relationship because there is a relationship between the mentor, the one mentored, and the organization within which mentoring happens. It is a relationship of investment.
As one person receives guidance and the wisdom of those who have gone before, they are encouraged in their self-confidence and empowered to maximize their opportunities to succeed. Success for them of course, means success for their organization. Presuming the goals and values of the mentor and the organization are aligned, there are accrued benefits for both:
- Enhanced trust and loyalty of employees;
- Greater productivity and achievement of organizational objectives;
- Growth of the next generation of leaders and creative thinkers.
Mentoring, then, is a much more mutual exchange than the word sometimes implies. While the young Neville Longbottom is in obvious need of bolstering from a mentor, his use of the mentoring experience allows a moral courage to emerge later that saves Harry Potter's life. How great is his potential to succeed, for himself, his friends and the Hogwarts School? We'll have to wait for book seven to see just how far he'll go!
* The title takes liberties with Ken Blanchard's management method as articulated in his many books including The One Minute Manager, co-authored with Spencer Johnson and first published in 1982.
Note: The true Harry Potter aficionado will know that Professor Moody made the mentoring comment to Neville, and yet was not who we thought he was. The Harry Potter series is replete with complex issues of identity and the nature of good and evil, and which are the stuff of another (lengthy) article. Let's not be waylaid from a useful metaphor!