What Yoda taught me about being a mentor

Like I mentioned in my blog post, What I’ve Learned from Mr. Miyagi, the elderly, wise, green alien creature from the Star Wars saga, Yoda, was another model for how I learned to be a great mentor. I didn’t know it at the time, but while I watched The Empire Strikes Back when I was a young boy, I was learning many life skills while I dreamed of being Luke Skywalker flying an X-Wing, commanding the force, taking on the bag guys, and learning to overcome the dark side, and in particular, Darth Vader.

Yoda was introduced into the story when Luke Skywalker crash lands into Dagobah, a swampy forest planet. After a moment trying to gather his surroundings, Yoda arrives in scene as a quirky, curious, alien creature who speaks in broken english, but still shows some sarcastic and quippy wisdom when he speaks. For instance, when Yoda asks Luke why he is there, after some banter, Luke states, “I’m looking for a great warrior.” Yoda immediately in his broken english language states, “Great warrior? War’s not make one great.”

You can watch the entire dialog above, but the truth of the introduction is that Luke is overconfident, and almost cocky. He has many thoughts about how everything works, how he is supposed to become a Jedi Knight, how his destiny is supposed to pan out, and in reality, he has much growing up to do. Luke is like many of us when we start out on our career paths. We have a small education and maybe some bits and pieces of real world experience, but in practice, we don’t have much experience at all.

Many of us, when seeking mentorship, are ready to receive it. Luke, on the other hand, was not. He argues with Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi’s force ghost about whether he is ready to be a Jedi Knight or not. Eventually, they all agree he will finish what he starts and become the Jedi Knight he is meant to become. This submission of will is important, because being a good mentee is about submitting to the process, knowing that in the future you’ll be able to expand your wings and fly on your own.

Yoda trained Luke on calming his mind and approaching challenges in a clear frame of mind and to stay focused. He also taught Luke small concepts and allowed him to build upon them later, even though he didn’t know why he was doing them in the first place. This idea of foundational building was something I explored with how Mr. Miyagi trained Daniel in The Karate Kid. This was the same with Yoda. He started by having Luke move small objects with the force. Later in the training scenes, he had Luke try and move his X-Wing from the swamp as it began to sink. He utters some of his best lines during this scene, “No. Try not. Do or do not, there is no try.” or Luke saying, “I don’t believe it,” when Yoda uses the force to move his X-Wing from the swamp and Yoda replies, “That is why you fail.”

I use these same techniques when I mentor. I often only give out bite size pieces of information which are enough to get the job at hand completed. This allows my mentees to become masters of that technique faster, and later one we can connect the dots. Keeping things simple is a core value of mine. Not only is it the best way to keep things progressing, but there are many times I learn new techniques as well. As I have explored in many of my previous posts, including Teach a Man To Fish, I point out that the best leaders and mentors surround themselves with smart people, and allow them permission to fail. Everyone gets an opportunity for growth this way.

In conclusion, Yoda and many other wise sages in many movies taught me much about how I mentor today. Lessons such as keeping things simple, staying focused and submitting to the process are all key to growth. We will explore this more in the future, but for now, venture out and try these things out for your teams.  May the force be with you.

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