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Article Two: Deeper Ways to Develop a Workforce PDF Print E-mail
Article Two: Deeper Ways to Develop an Indispensable Workforce 

Bryan D. Maughan, Ph.D.

 © Copyright, SentireMentor, LLC, 2010

To build an indispensable workforce is to first develop an enduring learning community where teachers, mentors, and leaders are aware of, and active in, their understanding of the interplay of technical, tribal, and tacit knowhow. This article addresses particularly the deeper tacit knowhow. Invitations to learn are extended through character, intelligence, and caring attitudes. Invitations to learn are influenced most by tacit knowledge. Tacitly, mentors communicate in ways that undermine strategies to improve leadership development and knowledge management. A unique and revolutionary training can help develop a space where tacit knowhow can be better understood and adopted. Getting at these deeper issues allows people to achieve the results mentoring promises. This study indicates an optimistic future for the  workforce if organizations take into account the deeper implications of interpersonal relationships and the developmental process in which those relationships produce the most beneficial outcomes for the protégé. Effective mentoring has been repeatedly shown to enrich the process of leadership development, knowledge management, and succession planning, but to be effective it requires an operational definition. But, it will only work if people acknowledge the deeper areas of mentoring.



          Erwin was a university student who studied computer systems engineering and during the summer of 2005 he participated as an intern at a national research and development laboratory. He was assigned to a mentor who was expected to give him a learning experience commensurate with his university training. At the conclusion of his internship Erwin reported having an “excellent experience.” While generalizing the influence of his mentor, he exclaimed:

If they [mentors] could all be like Ben [Erwin’s mentor], and people could realize that—the people who are in college, or not yet in college, or they’re debating to go—if they knew that possibility was out there I guarantee it would change a lot of people’s minds” (Erwin, a protégé participant in this study).

Given the anticipated exodus of the baby-boomer generation in the next five to ten years (Wall & Aijala, 2004) and the worrisome conditions facing the future of this nation’s science, engineering, and technical workforce we might wonder what it was about Ben that so profoundly influenced Erwin. What would mentors have to “be like” to “change a lot of people’s minds?”

Worrisome Conditions

In 2003, the National Science Board (NSB) declared, “Science and technology have been and will continue to be engines of U.S. economic growth and national security.” Later in their report, the NSB predicted that the “… [number of] science and engineering [S&E] graduates entering the workforce is likely to decline…” (p. 1).

In 2004, technical and industrial researchers, Wall and Aijala, indicated that “in the United States, colleges will graduate only 198,000 students to fill the shoes of 2 million Baby Boomers scheduled to retire between 1998 and 2008” (p. 3). They claim that “despite millions of unemployed workers, there is an acute shortage of talent: science educators to teach the next generation of chemists, health care professionals of all stripes, design engineers with deep technical and interpersonal skills…” (p. 1).

A 2004 report produced by Building Engineering and Science Talent (BEST) indicated that the current number of U.S. scientists make up only five percent of the American workforce of 132 million (p. 11). Their findings support earlier predictions from NSB that out of the five percent of scientists:

…half of the technical workforce is over 40 [years old] and almost one-third of technical workers are over 50. …A successor generation has shown declining interest in key fields—including mathematics, computer science, physical sciences and engineering—upon which future technological progress depends. (p. 7)

In 2005, Langford, Professor of Biological Science at Dartmouth College, stood before the Congressional House Science Committee and posed this important question regarding these trends:What will it take for the U.S. to maintain global leadership in discovery and innovation in a time of rising international competition in a global science and technology enterprise?” [italics in original text] (p.1). Langford indicated that while the crisis is not immediate, “the long-term trends affecting the science and engineering workforce demand our attention” (p. 7).

In 2006, the National Academy Press published a report from the Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy (CPGE)—consisting of members from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and The Institute of Medicine—entitled Rising above the gathering storm: Energizing and employing America for a brighter economic future. This 500+ page report validates the NSB’s prediction. The CPGE expressed deep concern “that the scientific and technological building blocks critical to our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength” (p. 1).

The above mentioned reports, along with many others not cited in this paper, present compelling empirical data that detail the precarious future of the U.S. S&E workforce and the impending outcomes if trends continue. After defining workforce challenges and impending outcomes, the NSB, CPGE, and BEST each recommend solutions that revolve around the need for education, both for children and adults. Among their recommendations is the strategy of mentoring.

Educational Initiative of Mentoring as a Possible Solution

The U.S. Congress has presented an edict for national laboratories to implement or improve their educational programs. On August 8, 2005, President George Bush signed into law the Energy Policy Act (EPAct). This comprehensive energy legislation is intended to ensure an adequate supply of energy through “Research, development, demonstration, and commercial application programs of the Department [of Energy] concerning energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear energy, fossil energy, and electricity transmission and distribution” (Sec. 900; Sec. 901, Subtitle A). In order to draw new talent into careers in math, science, and technology and accomplish these objectives the EPAct contains provisions recommending the strategy of mentoring:

The Secretary shall conduct a graduate and undergraduate fellowship program to attract new and talented students, which may include fellowships for students to spend time at National Laboratories in the areas of nuclear science, engineering, and health physics with a member of the National Laboratory staff acting as mentor [italics added]. (Energy Policy Act, Section 949, p. 454, line 7)

The EPAct requires that “mentoring activities [be] conducted at a National Laboratory or science facility” (sec. 3167, 16). One purpose for mentoring mentioned in the act was to “…encourage students from underrepresented groups to pursue scientific and technical careers” (Energy Policy Act, Sec. 1102, p. 10, line 16).

After examining ongoing mentoring education, CPGE researchers demonstrated that ongoing mentoring is a strategy that works (p. 5-20) and recommends its implementation among other recruitment programs. They explain the benefits to college and university students:

During the undergraduate years, involvement in research projects and the guidance of experienced mentors are powerful means of retaining students [italics added] in S&E. Mentors can provide advice, encouragement, and information about people and issues in a particular field. An early exposure to research can demonstrate to students the kinds of opportunities they will encounter if they pursue research careers (p. TS-2).

At the end of their report, the CPGE suggests that in order for the U.S. to maintain its leadership in S&E research, they must be able to…

Recruit the most talented people worldwide for positions in academe, industry, and government. The United States therefore must work to attract the best international talent while seeking to improve the mentoring, education, and training [italics added] of its own S&E students, including women and members of underrepresented minority groups. (p. IS-7)

Authors of the NSB report recommend mentoring as a way to promote growth in science and engineering fields. They suggest that Federal Government and universities take more responsibility for the future of science and engineering by “increase[ing] time available for mentoring and other educational and service activities that enrich the learning environment” (p. 27).

BEST (2004) suggests that “Extending research opportunities beyond the classroom…by way of internships, connects students’ experiences to the world of work, establishes mentors and presents career options” (p. 7). Regarding issues of recruiting, retaining, and career advancement for under-represented groups, BEST declares “Mentoring…makes a difference” (p. 9). They cite evidence of successful outcomes from Procter & Gamble, Motorola, and the National Science Foundation. For the benefit of K-12 schools, BEST suggests that “…public and private sector partnerships must build teacher capacity through mentoring…” (p. 6).

Each of these reports, along with the EPAct, offers evidence of the need for mentoring for the purpose of recruiting and retaining highly productive, creative, and cooperative talent. However, in each of these documents mentoring is mentioned without contextual guidelines that define and operationalize it for the improvement of teaching and learning. This leaves S&E organizations to discern for themselves the best path forward for developing and implementing an effective program that will help improve recruiting, retention, and the flow of knowledge to a new generation of scientists and engineers.

Mentoring, what is it?

The history of mentoring has ancient origins but did not attract scholarly research on the subject until the mid 1970s (Wanberg, Welsh, & Hazlet, 2003). The activity of mentoring has been known under different terms such as guild, artisanship, and apprenticeship. The actual term mentor is said to have emerged from Homer’s epic, The Odyssey (Carr, 1999). In The Odyssey, the leading character, Odysseus, leaves his son, Telemachus, in the hands of a trusted friend while he goes off to war. Odysseus’s friend, Athena, disguises herself as the character Mentor. Mentor acts as a teacher, counselor, guide, and friend to Telemachus as he searches for his father who has become lost in battle.

From Homer’s example emerged some common characteristics associated with mentoring, such as teaching, guiding, counseling, encouraging, and coaching for the purpose of helping a younger or less experienced person develop skills, knowledge, competence, and abilities in a chosen occupational or personal pursuit. Given this widely accepted interpretation of mentorship, it may be assumed that so many reports and contemporary writers have limited their view of mentoring to teaching, guiding, counseling, and coaching less experienced scientists and engineers. Findings in this study show that although each of these activities is important, there is something deeper that determines their effectiveness.

Mentoring Types and Training

What exactly is meant by the term “mentoring”? Is it a process, procedure, an act, enculturation, succession planning, knowledge management, a way of doing some particular thing, or maybe all of the above? What does an organization do to increase the quality and quantity of mentoring opportunities? What are the implications of implementing and improving mentoring programs for scientists and engineers? Indeed, while attempting to address these issues one may wonder, can mentoring really be an effective strategy to help alleviate the worrisome workforce conditions of the current U.S. math, science, and technology industry?

In light of these rising workforce challenges, S&E organizations as well as corporate and medical establishments have sought to implement formal mentoring programs. The necessity of developing new leadership, recruiting highly trained and productive people, retaining them once they are hired, and maintaining a viable work force has been demonstrated, and mentoring has been recommended as a contributing solution.

Traditionally, there are two types of mentoring programs—formal and informal. Researchers clarify the two approaches and present some outcomes from each:

Informal Mentoring

Formal Mentoring

An unmanaged spontaneous relationship that occurs without external involvement from the organization (Chao, Waltz, & Gardner, 1992, p. 619-636).


A structured mentoring relationship…with the primary purpose of systematically developing the skills and leadership abilities of less-experienced members of an organization (Murray & Owen, 1991, p. 5).

Chao, Waltz, and Gardner (1992) assert that informal mentoring has been more effective than formal. They explain that one reason informal mentoring is more effective is because it allows the mentors to “select protégés with whom they can identify and with whom they are willing to develop and devote attention.” They provide some benefits, for example, “Informal protégés are expected to receive more career-related support than formal protégés. [They experience]…faster promotion rates and more overall promotions for informal protégés than for formal protégés, and thus, higher salaries for the informal protégés” (Chao, et al., 1992, p. 620, 635).

The success of informal mentoring has drawn much attention. Attempts to replicate its success with recruiting, retaining, training, succession planning, knowledge management, and leadership development have been the primary cause of developing formal mentoring programs (Eddy, et al., 2006). However, formal mentoring programs have met with some measure of challenges. The process of formalizing otherwise naturally occurring relationships and confining them to systems of policies, procedures, protocols, and techniques has not been as successful as desired (Armstrong, Allison, & Hayes, 2002; Chao, Waltz, Gardner, 1992).

Conrad (1985) expressed a fundamental problem with attempts to legislate mentor-protégé relationships, “At least in our culture, where choice is a strong valued part of relationships, formal arrangements have had only limited success” (p. 300). Eby, Butts, Lockwood, and Simon (2004) found that negative experiences were more likely to occur in formal mentoring relationships compared to informal relationships. With this in mind one can appreciate why Armstrong (2001) concluded his study with a suggestion for future research to seek understanding about how “formal mentoring systems should be designed to overcome differences in interpersonal relationships [which are]…the root cause of so many problems” (p. 26).

Research from Ragins, Cotton, & Miller (2000) encourages organizations that are resolute in developing formal mentoring programs. They suggest that if mentors and protégé develop a satisfying working relationship, formal mentoring may be as effective as informal mentoring. Zachary (2000) argues, “Creating a supportive learning climate ultimately rests on building and maintaining relationships [italics added].” She continues, “Without building and maintaining a learning relationship, effective mentoring is impossible” (p. 123). Zachary’s assertion is affirmed repeatedly in the literature by researchers who believe that healthy working relationships are essential in the pursuit of educational initiatives (Daloz, 1999; Palmer, 1998; Scandura, 1998). Mullen, Van Ast, and Grant (1999) assert that “…the better we understand [mentor-protégé] relationships, the more likely we are to be able to maximize the positive outcomes” (p. 726).

In order to enhance formal mentoring programs based on healthy interpersonal relationships, Scandura (1998) recommends training for mentors. She believes that in order to deal with potentially difficult situations between the mentor and protégé, the mentor should participate in interpersonal relationship training. Ehrich, Hanford, and Tennent (2004) concur, “a lack of mentor training was viewed by mentors and [protégé] as detrimental to the well-being of the program” (p. 530). These assertions imply that interpersonal relationship training may serve as a means to help mentors effectively mentor their younger or less experienced colleagues.

The Problem this Study Addresses

The superfluity of information on mentoring ranges from slick promotional campaigns to a vast assortment of academic research. A keyword search on any major search engine such as Google, Yahoo, AltaVista, MSN, or AOL will reveal millions of websites with a smorgasbord of expositions on the topic. Similarly, a keyword search within academic databases such as Academic Search Premier (EBSCO), Education Resource Information Center (ERIC), ProQuest, SIRS, and Business Periodical Index reveals hundreds of articles that contribute new insights on the subject.

It would appear that substantial empirical research has been conducted to affirm the effectiveness of mentoring. However, Chao (1998) asserts that, “Empirical studies claiming to examine mentoring have often not specified what mentoring is…. Such studies should be seen with severe doubts; they may not examine mentoring at all” (p. 633). Definitional vagueness has become a substantial challenge to overcome—perhaps a contributor to unsuccessful mentoring programs (Jacobi, 1991; Wanberg, Welsh, & Hazlet, 2003).

Even with the abundance of publications, Wanberg, Welsh, and Hazlet (2003) declare that “there is a striking dearth of literature on formal mentoring” (p. 84). Since this assertion by Wanberg, et al., more research on formal mentoring has emerged (Bouquillon, 2004; Gardiner & Enomoto, 2006; Rosser, 2004). Although this literature addresses formal mentoring within business or educational settings, it does not directly address formal mentoring among scientists and engineers, nor does it explore the implications of mentor training and outcomes.

Research that describes or examines the influence interpersonal relationships can have on mentors and protégé within S&E organizations appears to be sorely limited (Allen, Eby, & Lentz, 2006; Wanberg, Welsh, & Hazlet, 2003). The lack of literature may be due to difficulty in accessing scientists and engineers in government organizations because of security clearance issues and various organizational regulations imposed by the Institutional Review Board. I was fortunate to be granted approval to work among scientists and engineers within a U.S. national research and development laboratory during the summer of 2005. I was invited to study the effectiveness of the laboratory’s formal mentoring program. The findings of the 2005 project warranted continued investigation, and so the research continued through the summer of 2006.

Chao, Waltz, and Gardner (1992) assert, “Future research should examine mentorships within a larger context of interpersonal support offered in an organizational setting” (p. 635). This assertion serves as an invitation. I intend to contribute literature that addresses the need for research on formal mentoring programs that offer interpersonal relationship support by way of interpersonal relationship training. The purpose of this study is to explore how interpersonal relationship training influenced mentoring characteristics associated with important outcomes for the protégé.

Significance of the Study

This study has deepened my understanding of mentoring and its potential effects in creating a climate that inspires self-directed and lifelong learning. I have grown to appreciate how a mentor can either encourage or discourage learning and the development of leadership. This study may be significant if it can increase understanding of how to effectively perpetuate and direct the flow of vital knowledge through the teaching and learning strategy of mentoring. By addressing these issues, this study may provide information to guide policy development to help scientific organizations design a model of mentoring to attract and encourage university and other students to pursue careers in science and technology.

As shown earlier, the numbers of students entering the workforce are significantly fewer than the numbers slated to leave the workforce in the next five to ten years (Wall & Aijala, 2004). Mentoring cannot change the numbers regarding attrition and growth, but it may help improve interest in S&E careers and promote a loyalty for S&E organizations in a way that builds a strong and enduring workforce. It can also help perpetuate and increase vital knowledge critical to maintain U.S. economic leadership in science and technology (CPGE, 2006).

Research Methodology

To develop a clearer definition of mentoring and better understand the perspectives of the scientists and engineers, I employed a qualitative research design. While quantitative research objectively attempts to answer the why of a phenomenon, qualitative research subjectively attempts to address the how and what. Sherman and Webb (1988) stated, “[qualitative research] implies a direct concern with experience as it is ‘lived’ or ‘felt’ or ‘undergone’” (p. 39). To investigate the how and what of a particular phenomenon associated with mentoring, I attempted to get “close enough to the people and situation being studied to personally understand in depth the details of what goes on” (Patton, 2002, p. 27).

Qualitative methodology may cause concern among scientists who are more familiar with controlled hypothesis-testing research. However, the qualitative research paradigm provides a heuristic platform from which can spring understanding of a phenomenon that may be measurable in many ways other than numerically, as this passage attributed to Albert Einstein suggests: “Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Within the qualitative paradigm I employed the case study tradition. The homogeneous group of scientists and engineers and their respective protégé were considered a case. Employing the method of purposeful and criterion sampling (Creswell, 2003), I selected a group of six mentors who had attended the interpersonal relationship training and the protégés who worked with them. To avoid losing any relevant statements I audio taped and transcribed each interview. To protect the identity of each participant they either chose or were assigned a pseudonym.

During the interviews I asked the protégés about their mentoring experiences. I was particularly interested in how the mentors’ attitudes and ways of relating with the protégés might have influenced their experience at the laboratory, their learning, and their career intentions. With mentors I discussed their perceptions of the interpersonal relationship training and how the training influenced their effectiveness or ineffectiveness as mentors. We spoke about their working relationship with their protégé and how they felt they may have made a difference in the protégé’s experience at the laboratory.

Each mentor was interviewed twice, once after they received the training but before the protégé arrived for the summer, and again after the protégé concluded the internship. I conducted interviews with each protégé within the final two weeks of their formal internship.

The criteria for participant selection also reveal how the study was delimited. Participant selection criteria included the following:

·      Full-time scientists and engineers who were presently involved in the laboratory’s formal mentoring program administered by the laboratory’s educational training and research programs (ETRP) department.

·      Protégé who were presently involved in the laboratory’s summer intern program: This includes protégé whose mentors did and did not attend the relationship training.

·      Mentors must have attended training to improve interpersonal relationships.

In the process of interviewing and analyzing, particular characteristics of the mentors were assessed and correlated with protégé statements. This was to describe the outcomes of the mentoring relationships from the perspective of the protégé. This type of data provides more conclusive information to help understand particular mentor characteristics that are associated with important outcomes for the protégé.

As the primary instrument for data collection, I attempted to identify with the perspective of the participants as much as possible. This process is called bracketing, epoche, or etic by qualitative theorists (Creswell, 1998; Husserl, in Moustakas, 1994; Lincoln and Guba, 1985; Merriam, 1998). These terms in various degrees describe the process of understanding one’s own biases, beliefs, values, and prejudgments and then being able to set them aside during conversations. Although biases cannot be fully extinguished, this reflective process increases a researcher’s ability to become an unbiased, receptive presence.

Theoretical background of interpersonal relationship training

During the process of learning the national laboratory’s culture and getting a general sense of the perceptions of mentoring from students and staff, I discovered that several mentors had attended interpersonal relationship training provided by an in-house facilitator for The Arbinger Institute—a management-consulting firm that focuses on the phenomenon of self-deception in relationships. They claim that self-deception is at the heart of all interpersonal problems (Arbinger, 2000, p. 3). Because the Arbinger training is a significant part of this study, I will delineate some of the philosophical underpinnings from which they developed their training materials and then show how these ideas relate to particular aspects of mentoring theory and adult education.

Arbinger’s philosophical work is extensive and is the result of historical discussions among philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists (Arbinger, 1999) on the topic of self-deception. Some notable authors who addressed the subject of self-deception explicitly or implicitly include Buber, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Levinas, Sartre, Freud, Hegel, Descartes, Plato, and Jacques Lusseyran. The concept of self-deception and the debate over its meaning seems to have reached back to the Greeks who called it akrasia. Socrates called it an “illogical concept,” whereas Aristotle “intuitively believed in it.” C. Terry Warner, Ph.D., founder of the Arbinger Institute gave himself to thirty years of researching this topic at Oxford and Yale universities. After this extensive research Dr. Warner, along with a group of philosophers and educators, have developed training that offers a definition of self-deception, how individuals become entrapped in it, and then how one can become free from it.

Relying on anecdotal feedback from individuals at government organizations, corporations, and people within the human services industry, Arbinger (2000) describes the benefits of their training:

Our experience in teaching about self-deception and its solution is that people find this knowledge liberating. It sharpens vision, reduces feelings of conflict, enlivens the desire for teamwork, redoubles accountability, magnifies the capacity to achieve results, and deepens satisfaction and happiness. (p. x)

Connecting Mentoring with Arbinger Training

Arbinger (2006) defines the phenomenon of self-deception as “the problem of not knowing and resisting the possibility that one has a problem (p. 229). When George Berkeley (1998) said, “We first raise the dust and then complain we cannot see” (p. 38), he was, in his way, describing the mechanics of self-deception.

An Arbinger professional facilitator describes the implications of self-deception in this way:

Think for a moment of a person who has really been a problem at work. Now ask yourself this question: Did they think they were a problem? Chances are, no they didn’t. In fact, in all likelihood, everyone else could see they were a problem, but they couldn’t see it.

Very interesting, the very people who are a problem can’t see they are a problem. This phenomenon is self-deception. As you can imagine, such self-deception has immense implication for personal and organizational life. For how is improvement possible when those who are in most in need of improvement don’t feel the need to improve.

It should not be surprising that this problem, self-deception, is the root cause of many problems that afflict organizations: problems relating to leadership, teamwork, communication, accountability, trust, commitment, motivation, mentoring, and so on. Far from being separate problems each of these is merely a symptom of something deeper: self-deception.” (in personal conversation with Boyce, Arbinger Professional Facilitator, March, 2007)

Arbinger suggests that an organization can become infected with self-deception, as if by a virus, because when individuals become blind to their responsibility or complicity in problems with others they will blame others for the problems they create. Hence, their blaming, self-accusing attitudes are like germs infecting others around them. Arbinger claims that when we are self-deceived, we are typically resistant to the suggestion that we may be responsible for and contributing to the interpersonal problems in our lives. By resisting these suggestions, we resist the possibility that we are, in part, responsible for these problems—we resist treatment to rid ourselves of the virus. To diagnose the problem Arbinger suggests, “Try telling someone he or she has a problem” and by doing so “…the depth of the problem of self-deception becomes clear” (p. 229). Arbinger’s materials are designed to “educate people on the problem of self-deception and… [present] methodologies [to] help people to overcome it” (p. 229).

Corollaries between mentoring theory and Arbinger’s theoretical assumptions include the need for virtues which are imperatives for successful relationships such as trust, respect, care, and good communication. Mentoring theorist, Laurent Daloz advances an idea that corresponds directly to one of Arbinger’s foundational concepts: It is the way a mentor sees his or her student, or protégé.

This way of seeing was another articulated by Daloz (1999) as he asserts:

A sense of concern and caring… matters if a mentor-student relationship is to work at its best. It is important…because it allows the teacher [mentor] to see [italics added] the student as a total human being rather than simply a mind to be trained (p. xxiii, 165).

The concept of seeing another as a “total human being rather than simply a mind to be trained” was also explained by philosopher Martin Buber (1958), using a different lexicon. Buber taught that people are inseparably and unavoidably in relationship with others. The question is: What kind of relationship will it be? Buber explained that relationships can exist in either of two ways: as I-Thou or I-It (pp. 22-24).

No matter how it is expressed, the message is the same: there are two ways to respond to others within our relationships. The first way coincides with Buber’s (1958) I toward an It relationship. Within the I-It view, and in the context of mentoring, Daloz (1999) describes this relationship as seeing another—a protégé—as a mind to be trained. Arbinger (2000) similarly describes this type of relationship as seeing another as a mere object. In the alternative way of being in relationship Daloz suggests that we see others as total human beings, which Buber describes as an I toward a Thou. Arbinger (2006) describes this kind of relationship as seeing others as people “…with needs, cares, worries, and fears that matter” equally to one’s own (p. 97).

Arbinger (2000) explains the resultant state of someone for seeing another in either of these two ways—as a person or an object. They use the term way of being to explain this result. One may recognize the term way of being from philosophical literature that refers to the study of ontology. This term was chosen by Arbinger to explain the phenomenon that how we see another person is deterministic of the kind of relationship we will have with them.

Often relationships are defined and described by various behaviors exhibited between people, such as good communication, eye contact, happy countenance, good posture, etc. Arbinger (2000) teaches that our way of being in the world with others lies “…deeper and is more important than behaviors” (p. 9). Way of being determines how one learns and applies any skill or strategy. Way of being determines one’s level of influence when applying a skill or strategy or exhibiting any behavior. Way of being elicits or provokes different responses in others because, as Arbinger (1998) states, “whatever I ‘do’ on the surface, people respond to who I am being when I am doing it” (p. 10).

Implicit in this theory is that the ways we think and feel toward another in our minds and hearts—as a person or an object—are communicated in spite of our behaviors, no matter how practiced and honed our skills may be—we are transparent beings despite our performances. Kosslyn and Sussman (1995) put it this way: “There is no such thing as immaculate perception. What we see depends on what we thought before we looked” (p. 1038). Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche affirmed this concept when he wrote, “The mouth may lie, all right, but the face it makes nonetheless tells the truth.”

Elujio, a mentor from this study, captured this principle and expressed his understanding in these words:

If you view people as an instrument [object or mind to be trained] they are going to see right through it and they are going to feel used…. So, I wouldn’t want to do something like that to anybody. In fact it’s counterproductive because you can fool them for a day, but the next day they know what you’re doing and you’re not going to get back any investment you put into it—time, effort, or money.


So, how did these teachings influence the mentor-protégé relationship within a formal mentoring program? Did this training influence the career intentions of the protégé? If so, how?

The Affects of Relationship Training

By learning you will teach,

By learning you will inspire learning,

Inspire learning and you will mentor.


In these preliminary findings, the protégé whose mentors received the interpersonal relationship training as outlined by Arbinger unanimously reported positive experiences. During exit interviews and surveys with the protégés whose mentors did not receive this particular training, I learned that the majority of protégé also had positive experiences. For the latter group, the reasons for good experiences varied based on the original intentions of the protégé, not necessarily because of particular mentoring functions.

One member of the laboratory’s educational programs staff reported that in of all her years of doing exit interviews, “the majority of the students have had positive experiences, but there are some very bad experiences also.” The positive experiences, she noted, were because “the students had a good time at the lab with other protégé …enjoyed the natural resources of the area, because they were paid more, and because they were able to apply what they learned from school.” During one of my exit interviews, a protégé expressed a positive experience because he was exposed to “the cool things” around the laboratory.

The positive experiences reported by both the protégés of mentors who had the training and those who had not seem to negate the need for interpersonal relationship training for mentors. Mentors who received the relationship training either stated or implied that, given their current situations, they probably would have done the same caring things and had the same attitudes as they would without the training. With such successful mentoring experiences, it is reasonable to question why an organization would invest time and money into mentor training intended to help mentors build, strengthen, and maintain healthy working relationships.

However, regarding their attitudes before and after the training, mentors expressed comments similar to Bens,’ a computer systems engineer: “I hoped I would have responded the same without the training, but the training definitely helped keep me focused on [my protégé].” Gander, a nuclear reactor scientist said, “I think I would have responded the same, but it was good to remember to stay out of the box.” Marie, a manager over mechanical engineering in robotics and human systems said, “I think I would have done the same things even though I had the training.” However, she described the training as influential on the success of her mentoring relationship:

Even though I might have offered the same things, I was more keen to his [my protégé’s] human nature than to his degree…. Arbinger impacted things one hundred percent for the better. I saw him as a human being—as a kid that was doing wonderful things, that wanted to improve his life, that wanted to contribute. Aside from the benefit it may have done for [my protégé] is the improvement it has done for me. I like me better because I am doing it for the right reason. It was sort of a permission statement that said, Marie, be human; it’s okay to be human first and then be a project driver.

Although some mentors explicitly stated that they hoped they would have been as kind and caring without the training, they were clear that the training helped them strengthen their abilities and competencies as well as resolve conflicts. The training appeared to have made significant differences for these mentors and protégés.

Protégé, Lucky or Not

It is interesting to note the consistent theme of luck that ran among the protégés whose mentors attended the training. Attributing his successful experience to luck, Hacker, an undergraduate engineering student, said, “I can’t imagine how lucky I am to have [my mentor]. He was awesome, I mean, perfect. I’d go in there and say, ‘I need to talk,’ and he’d drop everything.” Most of the protégés I interviewed reported a similar theme, which was emphasized by the juxtaposition of other laboratory interns’ comments that they “hardly saw their mentors,” or their mentors “were just too busy,” “did not have time for them,” or “gave [them] things to do and didn’t have much to do with [them] after that.” One protégé whose mentor had the training reported his experience in comparison with some fellow protégés:

My office was in a room with ten different interns, and I remember there were weeks when some of those interns had absolutely nothing to do. Their mentors would leave on vacation and leave them with nothing to do. I don’t know, to me I am so grateful that I had good mentors who would give me projects…not just easy fun projects, but hard projects that would help me grow and learn and challenge me and things like that. I was always busy and I think, I don’t know, I just compare my experience with what some of these other people went through and even talking with my dad he said, ‘I don’t know how you got put on with such amazing people.’

Another protégé, Erwin, whose mentor had the Arbinger relationship training, compared his experience with his colleagues: “There are mentors right now that I would definitely not have rather have than [my mentor].” When asked why, he stated, “They expect you to do intern things, like requirements gathering, you know, and they’ll turn you loose when the money runs out. To them, you’re ‘the intern.’ I’ve heard that term quite a bit around here.” Erwin also attributed his experience to luck. Erwin’s report about his “lucky” mentoring experiences could have a positive influence on others who may have never considered a career in the science and engineering industry:

He gave me tasks that were not menial and that gave me a little more worth by doing that, and that’s what made me respect him more, too. It’s been good under him. If they [mentors] could all be like [my mentor], and people could realize that—the people who are in college, or not yet in college, or they’re debating to go—if they knew that possibility was out there I guarantee it would change a lot of people’s minds.

Erwin was hired toward the end of his 2006 internship in a software development organization at the laboratory. His story may help those who lack confidence in their schooling or are not sure what career to pursue. Erwin was originally reluctant to pursue a computer engineering degree:

I, myself, was intimidated by the whole idea of going to school …because… I was non-traditional. I worked construction building cabins, bartended for a while, did these other blue-collar things and didn’t really give it a second thought because I guess I didn’t give myself enough credit to think I could accomplish the education.

Now Erwin is a full-time employee at one of the nation’s premier research and development laboratories. He attributed his success to a very positive interpersonal relationship with his mentor:

He [my mentor] stuck his neck out, you know, not to go out and try to find somebody that was already working in the field. He picked me…. For six years of making an intern’s wage, or minimum wage, that was pretty important to me at that point. For him to give me the opportunity was confidence building. …It’s confidence and a little more change in your pocket. …Walking down the hall, I walk a little bit taller, so to speak.

Erwin’s mentor, Ben, a manager who directs a computer systems engineering department, said that he was pleased with Erwin’s work from the get-go: “He was steady and eager to learn.” Ben also believed that he would have interacted with Erwin no differently without the training, but he admitted, “The Arbinger training was by far the best training I’ve ever been to. It applies not only to work, but to all aspects of my life, which is more important.” He said that it “really helped me to see [Erwin] as a person, not as an object like the training teaches.” Experiences like Erwin’s were a recurring theme among protégés whose mentors had been through the training.

Elujio and Fred, Professional and Personal

Elujio is a manager of a systems engineering department. He is responsible for a variety of projects around the laboratory. He attended the Arbinger training and was so impressed by it he invited his entire department to attend.

I interviewed Elujio before his protégé, Fred, arrived. Elujio’s attitude toward Fred was expressed with eager overtones, “I’m just excited and wishing for Fred to show up and begin to work.” After the Arbinger training and prior to the arrival of his protégé, Elujio stated, “I need to see [my protégé] as an individual, as a person, not as an object that’s going to be instrumental in this proposal to NASA.” Regarding the benefits of the training he said, “Arbinger works behind [the] scenes, or in the background, [a] kind of engine that continuously pings the forefront of my head, if you will, on every decision that I need to make in dealing with people.”

Elujio is a systems engineer who has worked at the laboratory for over thirteen years in various engineering capacities. He made it clear that he had always tried to see the humanness of people and not to reduce them to objects. However, he made this statement about the Arbinger Institute relationship training:

Arbinger has actually helped me cement some of the principles I may have been working on for some years, or decades if I may put it that way, but I was able to verbalize it and put some color to it as opposed to being something abstract on the subconscious level.

It was very important because not only can you realize what you’re doing but you can express it. And when you do that, you hear yourself saying things like, ‘Well, I saw [my protégé] as a person. I didn’t see his student ID number. I didn’t see the cubicle that was just outside my office here (pointing toward the door). I didn’t see the cost of paying for [my protégé] being here.’ I saw [my protégé] as a young professional who wants to succeed. Yet, in doing so, that didn’t distract at all from my other obligations like all the bureaucracy, all the forms and all that.

It was just all part of what needed to be done. But the essence of the activity, or the experience, if you will, was to make sure that he left the … [National Laboratory] with something more than when he came in.

Fred, Elujio’s protégé, was “amazed” at his experience. Fred said, “every step along the way, he’s [Elujio] been there to help, to consult.” Fred described his perception of their relationship:

It’s more than professional, which was better. My first day here I went to his house. We had dinner and enjoyed ourselves…played ping-pong. He’s taken me on as, almost like, a summer son. It’s been a great relationship. By establishing such a comfort level there was in no way [a feeling like], ‘Oh, I’ve got to go talk to the boss,’ I didn’t have to be intimidated. Every time I had a problem or anything I could go to him.

Fred expressed his gratitude to have a mentor like Elujio because of the meaningful and life changing training experience their relationship allowed:

I heard [from] of a lot of other interns around here that their mentors saw them once a week, if that. And I feel bad for them because I see Elujio every day. We talk every day. If I had not had him I probably would have not have a high consideration of coming back in my mind. Elujio created an environment to where I was nurtured as a person as well as a professional. …I think key points to hit for any mentor is to get to know your protégé, get to know them as a person… ‘Cause if you satisfy somebody outside the professional environment then they’re going to be a lot happier when they’re working.

Fred expressed how intimidated he felt as an undergraduate student. He said he was surprised that Elujio would take time to get to know him as a person before they engaged in the work. Fred expected to have more of a boss than someone who “established a professional but casual relationship as well.” Fred was pleased with what he was able to accomplish. He said, “With the project I’ve done, good results were obtained.” Fred was instrumental in presenting a successful proposal to NASA for a lunar experiment. Elujio’s attitude and his commitment to the success of the mentoring experience resulted in a satisfied protégé who was able to accomplish his goals and was affirmed in his desires toward a career in engineering.

Sage on the Stage or Guide on the Side?

Mentors can become either self-selected teachers or other-selected teachers. As implied in the literature, when a mentor is self-selected, they tend to assume the role of expert and proceed to impose and impart their vast assortment of knowledge upon the protégé. In this capacity they are as Zachary (2000) characterizes as the “sage on the stage” (p. 3). This personifies the traditional style of mentoring, or teaching, that Knowles (1979) describes, “The teacher [mentor] has full responsibility to…transmit… content…and to assure that the content has been learned exactly as transmitted” (p. 37). Such environments can inhibit learning (Merriam & Caffarella, 1999). Telling someone what to think is quite different from inviting them to learn how to think. Marie describes mentors who take up this posture as “so frickin’ boring! …Most of the time it seems like they just go there to mark time. They’ve lost their enthusiasm, they don’t want to go the extra mile….”

In contrast, when mentors become the other-selected teacher their teaching becomes more effective because the relationship is power-free, mutually trusting, and respectful. When the integrity and character of the mentor is trusted the protégé makes the decision that this is someone they would like to learn from and even emulate. Such a relationship was characterized by Marie and her protégé Jerry.

Jerry was an intern from the University of Utah majoring in robotics. When he initially arrived at the national laboratory he said that his mentor, Marie, caught him by surprise because of her caring attitude. He reported that Marie initially approached him and said, “This internship is really just for you. It’s for an experience for you to learn what you need to learn to become a better engineer or whatever you’re going to be.” Then Jerry said,

About a week or two into it she [Marie] sat me down and said, ‘what can I do—what can we do this summer to help you learn and grow? What do you need to learn?’ And that was something that was really cool. It’s just been really neat to be able to work with a lot of different people who know a lot and to be able to find out these things too—[that they can be caring].

Marie indicated that because of the demands on her time she did not have a lot of time to spend with Jerry. However, she believed that a mentor should,

“…let the protégé look to you and glean from you whatever it is that they need to glean from you. So you just put yourself out on a buffet tray, so to speak, and just let them come and pick what they need and you just make yourself available for them.”

In spite of her busy schedule, Marie did just that. Jerry reported that Marie was always willing to answer his questions. As a result of this relationship Jerry changed his view of mentoring and sought to emulate the example of his mentor, Marie. Jerry said,

I don’t think I was quite expecting this type of service, but I think…it’s kind of shifted my view of what I think of what a mentor should be, and it’s really given me a lot of desire that, ten, fifteen years down the road when I’m in a position to maybe mentor somebody else that I will definitely go the extra mile to try to help someone out because, I mean, it’s made a huge difference in my experience.

In this scenario, the protégé, Jerry, was encouraged to enter the work of the mentor, Marie, and bring to the table new ideas. Jerry wanted to work on a solar powered automobile and when time permitted, he was encouraged to pursue his dream. Although time did not permit him to work on his solar-powered automobile idea, he expressed appreciation that his desires were taken into consideration.

In this capacity the mentor became the “guide on the side” (Zachary, 2000, p. 3). As in the case of Jerry and Marie, it appears that when one chooses to learn from the mentor they are more likely to retain and use what is taught and the process of learning is likely to be more enjoyable.

This guide on the side relationship exemplified what Starcevich and Friend (1999) characterized as a “power-free, two-way, mutually beneficial learning situation” (n. p.). In such relationships the protégé is invited to expand their understanding while the mentor experiences a sense of rejuvenation by sharing how they have acquired and applied their knowledge. Henry David Thoreau (1906) has been quoted saying, “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.” Attentiveness to the needs and desires of others along with active curiosity seems to open doors for the attainment of higher potential and a brighter future for both the mentor and protégé.

Conclusion, Recommendations, and Implications

Have you ever really had a teacher? One who saw you as a raw but precious thing, a jewel that, with wisdom, could be polished to a proud shine? If you are lucky enough to find your way to such teachers, you will always find your way back
(Albom, 1997, p. 192).


With the impending economic challenges that face the U.S. science and engineering community, as indicated by the Committee on Prospering in a Global Economy (CPGE), it should not be left to chance for college and university students to find a mentor who builds leadership by inspiring life-long and self-directed learning. The element of luck will always exist; however, this study offers the supposition that the risk of having a good mentoring experience can be reduced with effective interpersonal relationship training for mentors. Future research is needed to investigate this question.

A vast number of training programs, seminars, and workshops offer interpersonal relationship training. For this study, Arbinger’s relationship training was examined in context of mentoring because it was already present at the lab and many employees who were serving as mentors in the formal mentoring program had already participated in the training. Findings indicate that the theoretical assumptions of Arbinger’s training had a significant influence on mentor-protégé relationships which extended beyond the laboratory and into the mentor’s personal life, as noted by Ben, who said, “The training works… as a way of doing things that you incorporate into your daily life, not just at work, and that’s better.”

Knowledge management researchers suggest, “Mentors transfer a kind of tacit knowledge to their protégé which includes enculturation” (Armbrecht et al., 2001, p. 36). Callahan (2005) asserts, “There is a growing awareness that tacit knowledge makes up a substantial proportion of …vital knowledge—perhaps as much as 80%” (p. 1). Callahan continues, “Tacit knowledge is personal knowledge. It is difficult to discern and difficult to express. Examples include ‘intuition,’ ‘hunches,’ ‘heuristics,’ and ‘inherent talent’” (p. 2).

In 1965, Reber (1995) introduced the term of implicit learning, a synonymous term with tacit knowledge. Reber explains that implicit, or tacit, knowledge is “the acquisition of knowledge that takes place largely independently of conscious attempts to learn and largely in the absence of explicit knowledge about what was acquired (p. 5). One of Reber’s core assumptions of implicit knowledge is that it is an integral component of learning of any kind:

Implicit learning is a fundamental root process, one that lies at the very heart of the adaptive behavioral repertoire of every complex organism. As such, it is the concept of implicit learning that can, in principle, encompass the early work of learning and conditioning and tuck it into a more general epistemic framework along with the more contemporary analyses of learning, induction, and discovery. (p. 5)

The work of Reber and other research on tacit knowledge seems to confirm key points from the theoretical underpinnings of Arbinger, who suggests, “There is something deeper than behavior that others can sense—something that, when wrong, undercuts the effectiveness of even the most outwardly ‘correct’ behavior” (Arbinger, 2000, p. 3).

The early work of learning will significantly impact whatever learning will come thereafter. Tacit knowledge—what is known by the mentor, possibly one’s way of being—exists in one’s mind and heart and undergirds information sent and received within a teaching and learning relationship.

Preliminary findings from my study confirm that the way tacit knowledge is transferred may significantly influence the mentor and protégé’s relationship, which, in turn, influences the S&E protégé’s career intentions. How the principle advanced by Arbinger (2000) and Daloz (1999)—way of being or seeing another—underpins how knowledge is transferred and as a corollary how knowledge is received is a subject worthy of further research.

Thus far I have identified four implications from preliminary findings:

Implication One: Defining and Actualizing Mentoring

  1. For the U.S. to maintain global leadership in discovery and innovation in a time of rising international competition in a global science and technology enterprise, S&E organizations need to specifically define and actualize what is meant by “mentoring.”

Through the course of this research I developed a working definition that seems to apply to the practice of mentoring for S&E organizations; however, it is general enough and could become useful for other organizations:

An active invitational learning relationship where more experienced professionals share their explicit and implicit intelligence and character with the intent to advance less experienced colleagues toward achieving meaningful results, maximizing their learning capacity, and cultivate their potential for leadership.

Each phrase in this definition carries deeper implications. For example, mentoring is an active relationship, never passive. From Arbinger’s theory of relationships we learn that when others are seen as objects a supportive sense of that view of them is often communicated—if not through behaviors, then through tacit, often inconspicuous, feelings. For example, in Arbinger’s training attendees are often asked,

·       Have you ever been complimented and felt it was not genuine?

·       Have you ever been listened to with what appeared to be the right communication skills and not felt understood?

·       Have you ever been apologized to and felt it was not sincere?

Good behaviors—complimenting, listening, and apologizing—gone awry. Why? Because, as Arbinger (1998) explains, over time, our protégé can often tell how we really feel about them. They can eventually tell when we are just going through the motions, when we are mechanically carrying out some process or procedure, when we are trying to manipulate them, or outsmart them with our skills and ability to systematically comprehend and control them. As Arbinger (1998) and Daloz (1999) explain, they can eventually tell our “way of being” with them—whether we consider them as people or objects. In this regard, our relationships are always active and never passive.

Invitational Learning

The above definition of mentoring includes the term “invitational learning.” According to the research of Stanley, Juhnke, and Purkey (2004), invitational learning theory of practice (ITOP) is based upon…

…a body of assumptions offered to understand the myriad subtle and not-so-subtle communication patterns that exist in every human environment. ITOP is a theory of practice for communicating caring and appropriate messages that are intended to summon forth the realization of human potential as well as to identify and change those forces that defeat and destroy potential. (p. 304)

From this definition it may be assumed that all mentoring is, to some degree or another, invitational learning. The definition of an invitation is to “offer something beneficial for consideration, to summon cordially, not to shun” (Stanley, Juhnke, and Purkey, 2004, p. 304). To “summon forth the realization of human potential” (p. 304) for the protégé it may be postulated from this study that a mentor’s primary responsibility is to examine their “way of being” (Arbinger, 2000) toward their protégé—whether they see them as a “total human being,” or “person” rather than merely “a mind to be trained,” or “object”.

As implied by Arbinger, to stifle an invitation and defeat human potential, the mentor and/or protégé need only to become entrapped in self-deception—to become blind to the fact that they regard one another as mere objects and then become unable to see any problem that may exist and if it does, to be unable to consider their involvement and perpetuation of the problems. To invite learning it may prove beneficial to keep in mind these ideas presented by Arbinger (2000) and supported by Daloz (1999). Simply put, cordiality inviting someone to learn can be done in two ways: 1) seeing them as a person, or a total human being, or 2) seeing them as an object, a mind to be trained. Way of being as defined by Arbinger appears to stimulate responses to learning both positive and negative. Because of its apparent importance, the extent to which this tacit communication occurs is a topic researchers may continue to pursue. Invitations are extended and received when protégé are seen as equal human beings whose needs, fears, concerns, and desires are counted equally important and real.


As with the other words in this definition of mentoring, the use of the word “intelligence” is intentional. Intelligence encompasses both mental and emotional responses to learning and relating to others. Intelligence, according to Merriam-Webster (1998), includes the capacity to both acquire and apply knowledge. It is the faculty of thought and reason. Regarding emotional intelligence, Chandler and Kram (2005) explain, “it may be that certain competencies such as emotional intelligence impact both the initiation and ability to foster strong mentoring relationships” (p. 14).

Operationalizing the Definition

While a clear definition is important, it is only part of the equation and should, in turn, create a foundation upon which program administrators can develop a mission statement that clarifies program expectations. A clear definition and a focused mission statement then lead us to a purpose statement which operationalizes the mentoring program. Through careful study of the literature and discussions with scientists and engineers who serve as mentors, I submit that the overall purpose and result of a mentoring program should be as follows:

Optimization of the transfer of important technical and tacit knowledge that will build new leadership and improve the recruiting and retention of highly productive, creative, and cooperative scientists within an invitational learning environment.

Implication Two: Influencing Career Intentions

The second implication from this study has to do with interpersonal relationship training and its impact on mentors and then how the mentors-protégé relationship influenced the protégé’s career intentions.

2.     The effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the mentor-protégé relationship within a formal mentoring program is influenced by interpersonal relationship training which carries repercussions into the protégé’s career intentions.

From the interviews and observations around the laboratory, a distinctive characteristic that was observed among the mentors was their concerted efforts to see the protégé with respect—as “people” (Arbinger, 2000), or “total human beings” (Daloz, 1999). This way of seeing their protégé established a climate where learning was invited in such a way that it was readily embraced. It was evident that the protégé’s potential to become a successful scientist or engineer did not go unnoticed. Some protégés expressed how the caring attitudes of their mentors strengthened their desire to continue to pursue a career in science and/or engineering. Some even changed their career decisions based on their experiences with their mentors.

These findings may not appear to be anything new. Some may see it as another way to emphasize the golden rule—treat others the way one would like to be treated. This is certainly fundamental to healthy relationships; however, in any relationship it is not uncommon to forget the golden rule and treat others based on random emotions and moods. As Daloz (1999), Arbinger (2000), and Buber (1958) declare, we have two possibilities to be in relation toward others: (1) “minds to be trained,” “objects,” or an “I toward an It”; or (2) “total human beings,” “people,” or an “I toward a Thou.” Because it is common to move from one way of being in relationship to the other—i.e., from seeing someone as a person to seeing them as an object—a program that provides tools and strategies to help assuage the challenges associated with seeing others as objects and becoming self-deceived may prove useful.

Emotions are a common characteristic when working with people and often dominate responses to others, particularly in close interpersonal relationships. Because the golden rule is often a challenge to live, proper types of training could help alleviate possible negative outcomes from mentor-protégé relationships. Emotions are powerful things and can be useful and good, but can also be misunderstood and inaccurately applied when the golden rule is broken. Therefore, it may be helpful to participate in training and practice principles of healthy relationships in the way Elujio explained, “…in the background …continuously ping[ing] the forefront of my head…on every decision that I need to make in dealing with people.”

Implication Three: Time for Caring: Fact or Fallacy?

There is a common concern about the time needed to build an effective working relationship while facing demanding results, deliverables, deadlines, and budget constraints. The findings of this study coincide with prior findings reported in the literature:

  1. Sincerely considering another’s concerns, hopes, needs, and fears stimulates self-assessment and higher accountability. The implication is that results are multiplied within caring organizations as opposed to organizations that are perceived as non-caring.

Implication Four: Professional, Personal or Both

4.     The better a mentor understands how to establish and strengthen healthy working relationships beyond what is typically noted as professional, the more likely positive outcomes will follow. The term professional in this study denotes coolness in the relationship, a distancing from others that appears trite, to the point, and without human recognition beyond the task at hand. A particular warmth in the relationship is what seems to engender effective learning situations (Daloz, 1999), which is the crux of effective mentoring.

Arbinger (2001) teaches, “The quality and quantity of learning is a function of the quality of the relationship in which the learning takes place” (p. 26). Advocates of adult education theory, who address the subject of mentoring, suggest that if an atmosphere or environment is to be conducive to continual and self-directed learning, the mentor must possess a sense of caring and concern for the protégé, or student (Armstrong, 2001; Bouquillon, 2004; Daloz, 1999; Gardiner & Enomoto, 2006; Merriam & Caffarella, 1999; Palmer, 1998; Zachary, 2001). In such an environment, the protégé is emboldened to reach out and discover possibilities they may not have previously considered. This increases the likelihood of enduring and growing knowledge.


Formal mentoring programs could benefit from understanding these implications. Just placing a protégé—a university or college student, or new employee—with an assigned mentor to gain experience and learn and grow, and expecting the magic to happen may be unrealistic. Whether formally matched like a blind date, or strategically chosen by the participants, the relationship has potential to become either a positive or negative influence for both the mentor and protégé which extends in and out of the organization. The difference is the level of organizational support offered to help the mentor prepare to develop a healthy working relationship that inspires learning. When learning is inspired then knowledge can be effectively nurtured, leaders can be developed, recruiting becomes easier because talented students are attracted, and attrition is lowered as purpose is felt and clarified. A community that inspires instead of stifles learning adapts to change and meets the demands of the future as indicated from a maxim attributed to Eric Hoffer which says, “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” (Eric Hoffer, 1902-1983)

Learning is the key, but it is important to keep in mind what is communicated tacitly—what lies beneath learning. This should be continually monitored so outcomes may be better managed. Research affirms and this study confirms that improving mentoring is likely to enhance the protégé’s learning experience. Improved mentoring may also positively influence communications, teamwork, morale, motivation, and ownership/accountability, which may have an overall impact on the organizational culture.

The literature shows and this study confirms that the right kind of experiences with mentors improve recruiting, retaining, and educational initiatives. One of my recommendations is to establish a formal mentoring program where mentors receive training that will provide the tools necessary to develop, strengthen, and maintain the foundation of healthy working relationships by clearly understanding implicit communication patterns. Mentors and protégé are people and are constantly in relationship, there is no avoiding this fact. Signals, spoken and unspoken, are communicated between them which impact the relationship and the effectiveness of learning, which ultimately affects the organization’s culture. Because seeing others as people or objects lies beneath learning and behaviors in general, enculturation will happen with or without intentional training. It is far better to implement a strategy to move an organization toward a cultural that invites learning rather than leaving it to chance. The culture is always a dynamic, full of life and energy, and will make a difference on the individuals within that culture with our without healthy interventions—interventions that address the deeper implications of mentorship.

            Training is an expensive endeavor. In 2006 the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) estimated that “U.S. organizations spend $109.25 billion annually on workplace learning and performance” (Galagan, 2006, p. 8). This includes orientation training, safety, and employee advancement training. The cost alone elicits the necessity for accountability. Is the training making a difference? It was too often reported by mentors in this study that the training they had received—prior to and including the Arbinger training—provided a boost of enthusiasm with cheering and applause and everyone left feeling good. But, as time passes, the excitement faded and the day to day grind began to wear former resolutions thin. For this reason any training implemented should require follow-up and measurement strategies.


In the process of this heuristic research experience, which began more than five years prior to this manuscript, I have found that one dangerous approach to building relationships is the resultant tendency to reduce all matters of the inner person—the mystical chambers that deal with the unmeasurable—to mere prescriptive formulations: systems, techniques, strategies, models, programs, or methods (Boyce, 1998; Daloz, 1999; Palmer, 1998, Pratt, 1998; Wheatley, 1999). There is a need for systems to organize and operationalize people into productive work. However, in such systems there should be avoidance of capturing behaviors and motives with our evaluative judgments and develop clear, clean explanations of people while leaving out their vibrant reality, their individual untidiness. Operations can be systematized, but people should not be. In doing so, a sample of soil or an innate organism under the microscope can become no different than the person—both factoids are reduced to statistical analysis. This dehumanizing approach leads to perpetual misunderstandings and conflicts, as contrived postulating now replaces honest dialogue. This totalizing approach captures the concepts and labels of the person while leaving out what is real and unique about them. Instead of a person, they become a set of labels and concepts that are comprehended. Within this conception we either control our reaction to this person-label or try to control the person based upon our impressionistic perceptions of their characteristics, which are often summarized by the category they fall into.

Human connectedness happens when people are seen as people and not at mere “Its” (Buber, 1958), or “objects” (Arbinger, 2000), or “Minds to be trained” (Daloz, 999). Mechanistic and controlled environments meant to guide the outcomes of relationships are more likely to work when leaders facilitate learning with active invitations. The sage would do well to come off of the stage. In such postulating positions there is a tendency to regard others as mere audiences to be impressed instead of invited and inspired. In order for a “sage” to achieve their objectives while in such a position there is a tendency to use intimidation and manipulation strategies to force change and progress. Perceptions are altered as reflected in these few simple words attributed to Anaïs Nin, “We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

We can seek to understand and enable others to learn and progress by first learning about them through the lens of our own experiences—concerns, hopes, needs, fears—and seek to see them as they really are, in the same way we may see ourselves as we really are. This, of course, is tough work given human tendencies related to ego and narcissism. However, this challenge can be effectively addressed when realizing the process of how others become dehumanized statistical factoids in our own minds and how tacit communication patterns can be comprehended and controlled.  

The definition of the term “factoid” seems fitting to describe the value of individuals who are often systematically comprehended and then who become the recipients of systems, methods, strategies, and behavioral modification programs. Merriam-Webster (1998) defines the word factoid as, “small and often unimportant bits of information; something that may not be true but is widely accepted as true because it is repeatedly quoted.” In attempts to reach certain outcomes people can become “small and often unimportant bits of information…,” which become misunderstood. Our perceptions of people “…may not be true but [are] widely accepted as true because [they are] repeatedly quoted.” Widely accepted theories of development often become the standard to understanding ourselves and others. This begs the rhetorical question: “do you really believe what you are saying or have you come to believe it because you have said it so much?” Advertisers invest millions of dollars banking on this human tendency. The implications of how we may enter these type of interpersonal relationships toward others is worthy of continued investigation.

Self-realization of how we may reduce people to mere objects may ironically stir hope. Acknowledging this reality can help us to understand the unique qualities of others and then accentuate those unique characteristics as we begin to see them as “people” and identify our similarities instead of our differences. Nothing can guide one toward true potential more than being freed from a totalizing concept or label. As in the case of my relationship with my personal mentor, freedom fosters honest dialogue, and in honest dialogue the stage is set for mentors and protégé to heighten self-efficacy and achieving greater potential.


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