Mentoring is not Cloning

Photo by lorigami

Photo by lorigami

Years ago I attended an Agile Scrum Immersion class. My mentor was the instructor, and I’d been looking forward to learning how he taught the class; I hoped it might reveal new ways of explaining concepts or leading activities that would make me a better teacher.

He was incredible at creating a safe learning environment, engaging students, and telling stories. His energy was infectious as he dramatically explained how the Agile Manifesto came to be, jovially walked through Scrum in his own poetic yet plainspoken way, and imparted to us signals to be wary of in our agile journeys.

I remember a student asking a question, and I started thinking about how I would answer if I was leading the class. And then listened as my mentor spoke to his experience before agile and after. His answer was quite different from mine—I did not have equivalent pre-agile experience. That was the moment I realized I would never be my mentor. We could both certainly teach and coach, but our approaches would be different. Our own experiences would inform us in our work. To act like his clone or mimic his style would actually be detrimental—I’d be a fraud.

After presenting at the Dallas Agile Leadership Network recently, a friend told me she found herself thinking, “I want to be like Allison” for my ability to engage with an audience so naturally. Flattered, I knew immediately she would not be exactly like me. Another notion came to mind too: she would never be me but could channel her “inner Allison.” There have been times when I’ve sought to be more easygoing, extroverted, or authoritative and found help in thinking of role models of those qualities. I reflected on what they do that I admire and figure out where that may already live within me. I can try it on and practice being more of an external connector, for example. Engaging with strangers and warming up an audience for a talk. It reminds me of years ago when I first attended a swing dance; my best friend walked me up to someone and asked him to dance with me since I was new. I have no idea how red my face might have been in that interaction, but I learned quickly how to approach strangers on my own. Building that capacity has served me well in many areas now.

We learn so much about ourselves in relationship with others, and we can inspire each other to develop aspects of ourselves that might remain dormant otherwise. Borrowing from one another and trying new ways of being without full-on mimicry. Whether we are mentoring someone or being mentored, we must remember that cloning is not the goal. Personal learning and development is.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.