Mentoring the Diversity of Creative Aspirations
Michael H. Shenkman, Ph.D. Arch of Leadership: Professional Leader Mentoring
People's creative aspirations take on different forms, and mentoring engagements vary accordingly. Michael H. Shenkman, Ph.D., studies the role of mentoring in cultivating the aspirations of those who seek to concentrate on specialized, "creative" roles: those of leader, artist, prophet and mystic. People, who adopt these roles, consciously or unconsciously, exhibit temperaments, attitudinal and behavioral preferences and life patterns that are very consistent. Each of these roles has its expectations, genealogy and specialized psychic demands/ and, accordingly these patterns present issues that overlap very little. Thus, the process of mentoring a leader who aspires to bring a new product to market differs significantly from mentoring someone who aspires to be a fine artist. What a leader desires as a life way often diverges significantly from that which an artist desires. Shenkman's session will discuss the aspirations that guide and define each role. Each role presents mentors with specific challenges. The role’s aspirations shape a person’s mindset, and will place that person in the midst of specific traditions and social resistances. The mentor works to provide strength, vigor and realism to that person’s aspirations, even though those challenges cannot be diminished. The session will concentrate on the most important elements that guide a process of mentoring creative roles in general, and then offers a template for tailoring the mentoring process to the specific role in question. Mentors will see how they must continue their own learning and development by studying the demands facing these challenging life roles.
In today’s brief session I want to suggest two parameters that delineate the subject matter of mentoring – aspirations and roles. I will then use the examples four “creative roles” to show how mentoring has to address the profoundly different mindsets these roles entail. By highlighting these differences we can identify the salient themes that define mentoring as a distinctive pursuit and we can point to certain characteristics and structures that distinguish the mentoring conversation from other supporting services, make it effective and identify parameters that foster positive outcomes.
I propose that mentoring concentrates on roles: Roles are distinct from professions or careers or even positions in that they are at once more personal and more general than these usual designations of social action. Roles are more personal in that in addition to, or despite, the training and education that any of these other tracks entail, a person takes on a role that expresses beliefs and aspirations that accord with what these tracks promise. They are more general because there are often several kinds of tracks that a role can touch on: a healing role
can be done in the context of several medical roles or spiritual ones; an inventor role can take place in several kinds of contexts from science to engineering to mechanics, etc.
What most distinguishes a role from these other kinds of tracks is the quality of “aspiration.” A person achieves, accomplishes and has ambitions in a profession or a career but aspires in a role (or in the role they take up in that profession or career track). Aspirations, one might say, are the dreams, visions, desires and wishes that a person actually acts on; when a person aspires to something, he or she not only envisions, but actually makes decisions in light of, that shape his or her life, that have real consequences and act as determining values from day to day. It is this confluence of vision, desire, caring and concrete action that characterizes aspirations and directs people into a role. Mentors, I propose, address this specific combination, and so this combination of aspiration and role is its subject matter. Mentoring affects aspirations by concentrating attention on four aspects of aspiration: (1) Attitude: the person’s sense of determination, resilience and flexibility in the face of obstacles and the level of brightness, optimism and affirmation that the person is willing to self-generate and support in view of those obstacles. (2) Anticipation: the person’s ability to realistic ally expect certain obstacles that the role entails and be open to a range of obstacles that cannot be envisioned, and incorporate these in the realistic sense the demand for adaptation. (3) Accountability: the person’s commitment to stand by what he or she accomplishes in presenting his or her work to the larger community and world. (4) Acceptance: the person’s willingness to proceed with resolve to a path of development and discovery that includes limitations as well as learning. Mentoring a person’s aspirations isn’t about helping them cope or adjust. It’s about strengthening their creative lives, even if it takes them off the beaten path. As close as I can come to a definition, I would ask you to consider this: Mentoring provides support to someone who is experiencing a moment of significant transition in the fulfilling of a chosen role. The mentor offers a moment of creative respite, offers listening of active attuning, and then undertakes an intervention process that is directed specifically at affirming the mentee’s aspiration to do the work demanded of that his or her chosen role. The mentoring process inspires new self-awareness in the mentee and brings these to sharpened expression, forming connections between the mentee’s aspiration and his or her specific values, experiences and capabilities; mentoring then concludes by providing the mentee with an outlook that integrates a lasting, stance, framework and life path directed toward doing the work mandated by the mentee’s chosen role.
Aspiring to Creative Roles.
To help clarify the notion of mentoring people in the aspirational aspects of their roles, I suggest we look at that sector of the population whose roles are most purely aspirational, whose roles include very little of “conventional” expectations, or for whom the conventions of their work (the selling or publishing of works, for instance) are even deflating of aspiration. This will enable us to see mentoring at work outside of the complications presented by career, ambition and professional competencies. I have identified four roles of this kind: leader, artist, prophet and mystic. As to mentoring these figures, the research has uncovered certain themes that serve as hypotheses we can investigate further:
(1) Each figure directs large, driving and excessive aspirations into roles that place them more (mystics) or less (leaders) outside of the mainstream of activities, discourses and institutions that support conventional commerce. (2) Each creative type has a distinctive and highly specialized mindset, or way of approaching the world, and mentors need a reliable framework for understanding these role “mindsets” in an immediately accessible way. I have devised “icons” that service this purpose for mentoring the creative aspirations in each of those roles. (3) These figures turn to a mentor when they are facing some kind of “block” that prevents them from acting on their aspiration. (4) Mentoring these figures requires an awareness of the psychic and historical distinctiveness of these roles, as well as the trajectory of aspirations these roles take up as paths for fulfillment. (5) The desired outcome is to foster a deep and abiding acceptance that welcomes learning and increasing challenge. The chart below provides an overview of the factors as it applies to each role. For a discussion of the mentoring process, exemplified by our leader mentoring program see the paper in this volume: “Effective Mentoring Programs.” Now I want to set out a train of thought that addresses these large concerns.
Decisive Factors in Mentoring Creative Aspirations
(1) TO THE EDGE. I think I can say with a good measure of certainty, that mentors always deal with people who are trying to take their lives into new directions, stretching the boundaries of their circumstances and extending the reach of their abilities so as to make their idiosyncratic and/or unique contributions to the human endeavor. Each role intends a different kind of contribution, and the person aligns with one role (predominantly), with greater and greater concentration as commitment to the outcomes grows. Mentors, in the situations I am describing here, support those who have chosen to perfect activities that change norms, challenge conventions and produce works that are not presumed to be absorbed into the mainstream of understanding, commerce and assimilation. (2) MINDSET/ICON. Each role places its own stamp on a person’s mindset: their ways of thinking, their life priorities, the priorities in their constituting of anticipations, perceptions and the demands of the disciplines for their work. Mentors are most often “laypeople,” outsiders and non-practitioners of the mentee’s way, and so needs a reliable framework for guiding the conversation in supportive/challenging and edifying ways. For that purpose, I have suggested the use of pedagogical icons, and have developed “curricula” that assure a core of constructive, generative engagement. Icons have been used throughout history as devices for learning. They use common, everyday, well-known objects for the expressed purpose of pointing to a kind of awareness, mindset, vision, faith or aspiration that is not apparent, not yet “real” for the person. The icon centers and connects a story or a set of dynamics in such a way that they can be glimpsed in one view, and so all the salient forces in play are in evidence. The icons for each of the creative figures are noted on the chart. Using these “teaching tools,” the mentor and mentee can discuss the dynamics in play, that characterize and specify aspirations, keep all of them in view, and can immediately assign priorities, significances to those factors, as well as note the relative strength of each in the life of the mentee’s own aspiring life.
(3) THE BLOCK. The mentor never engages with a person when they are in the full blossoming of their creative talents. The mentor meets the creative person when they are faced by some kind of block. We can safely say that the mentee’s vulnerability has outstripped his or her life resources, as they have been developed up to this point, and all that onwardpushing energy is dissipated by doubt, fear, frustration, confusion, anxiety and even dread or depression. Now for some people in this position, the tensions are so severe that mentoring would not be of use – a therapist might be called for. And, if a person is exhibiting a strong sense of the inadequacy of skills to the task they want to undertake, a coach or professional teacher might be most helpful. Here the mentor has to probe and test for the mentee’s attitude, to determine if the will to fully engage the role, in all its complexities and challenges, is sufficiently robust. The mentor also has to gauge whether or not the mentee’s anticipations are in line with what this person can expect by choosing this life way or role. The prospect who will gain the most from mentoring when this strong, capable and dedicated person has a problem that is getting in the way of doing the work, of acting on, within and fulfilling that role. The mentee thus presents a problem that can be delimited, framed and resolved, a mentor might be of service. Mentoring provides a service of value, a transforming one, when strong psychic resources are available, but are not arrayed robustly. (4) MENTORING PRACTICE. The mentor has to develop a practice around mentoring as does any service and support provider. My research has found that the roles cluster around deep currents of historical development and strong forces of social constraints and expectations. The mentor has to be familiar with these. And, also, the mentor does not deal with these issues psychologically, but in a manner that I would call “phenomenological.” That is, mentors do not deal with psychological complexes or patterns that need adjustment to a known set of circumstance, nor do they address existent verities that calls for increased competence. Instead, in dealing with aspirations, the mentor is dealing with highly fluid constructs that are continually in process, are always in states of revision, and require continual re-envisioning by the aspiring mentee. Calling the mentoring process “phenomenological,” refers to the idea that mentoring, being relevant for one’s aspirations has to address situations that are not resolved into facts, and that depend on the mentee’s process of constituting his or her sense of the “reality” of the situation. This process of constitution is highly individual, although it can be characterized schematically, at least, in terms of anticipations of self-awareness that are arrayed in a way that is appropriate for the role envisioned. That is the purpose of the icon. The “realities” the mentor deals with mostly take the form of the blocks and hindrances the mentee has hardened into a sense of limitation. The mentor may indeed acknowledge the veracity of those observations, but the point of mentoring is to diminish the limiting qualities of those “realities,” and help the mentee to build an attitude of grounded resistance to them. By forging strong links between the actual requirements of the role, including its socio-cultural traditions (see below), and the personal qualities the person brings to the role, new modes of accountability (responsibility and learning processes) can be forged. The issue for the mentee is to deal with the demands and affects of that continually changing process. The use of the icon helps the mentor to form a single, readily available impression of what the role demands, and offered to the mentee, provides for a common base of conversation about those demands. (5) THE ROLE IN SOCIETY AND CULTURE. The mentor also has to have a strong sense of what the aspirations of that role mean for the human endeavor at large. What will a person in this role be asked to take responsibility for? To what will that person be held accountable?
Is the person up for that? No one but a mentor will ever provide this person with a detached but caring opportunity to honestly explore that question. Each of these roles has a distinctive socio-cultural history and has developed institutions and process that support that role alone. Each role appeared at a certain point in human history, and people responded to the ones who pioneered those roles in specific ways. A role survived social scrutiny and opprobrium because it found a niche and formed structures around it that both protected it and afforded controlled ways for it to be effective in the society. For example, artists became valued for their portrayal of religious spirits and developed apprentice relationships so that role could be perpetuated. In modern times, patrons (in place of kings and rulers who supported priests), a culture industry and art schools developed to provide some support to artists. For another, prophets developed academies, in ancient Greece, and then universities in Medieval Europe so that their work could be incubated and debated in a sheltered way before becoming public. The mentor supports the mentee by having insight into how these roles meet social resistance and also how society allows for their perpetuation and development, within certain boundaries. These traditions explain many of the factors of resistance and disappointment, if not discouragement, a creative figure encounters; and it provides a concrete setting for the mentor to discuss how to form strong, robust and appropriate anticipations of what this life entails. (6) ACCEPTANCE. All mentoring comes down to strengthening a person’s singular and individual connection, allegiance and commitment to the role. The successful mentoring engagement then enacts a transformation of, one might say, a “subtractive” sort. Rather than adding a skill or rationale for confidence, the mentor solidifies the mentee’s appreciation of what his life is called to do, summons recollections and heightens awareness of the path to this point and forward, and awakens a person’s sense of the reality of their lives, in terms of its constraints as well as its promise. The mentor also has to have a strong sense of what the aspirations of that role mean for the human endeavor at large. What will a person in this role be asked to take responsibility for? To what will that person be held accountable? Is the person up for that? No one but a mentor will ever provide this person with a detached but caring opportunity to honestly explore that question. The ultimate aim of mentoring then is help a person enter into and commit to an ethic, a way of life that offers excitement, challenge, change and joy that is uniquely that person’s own path. And by participating in this conversation with the mentor, the aspiring creative person can restore and revitalize that commitment for a lifetime, to the full extent of their energy, vision and aspiration.
To establish mentoring as a viably singular support service thus requires means to specify that activity, in relation and in contrast to other services. I suggest that mentoring supports the aspirations a person takes into committing to a role in life. In addition to other supporting roles, in its proper place, mentoring supports aspirations that contribute to the vitality of the human endeavor. To do this demands that the mentor understand those roles in depth, and be able to guide the mentee into new senses of strength and resourcefulness, and into the history and forbears who founded, enriched and institutionalized those roles.
Aspirational Roles: Components for Mentoring Attention
Figuration KS (X) Block Symptoms Mindset Icon Constituents Unifying Dynamic Keystone: Attentive Responsibility Ethic Outcome
Leader: Create Followers to collaboratively accomplish a visionary goal. High E/I Arch One: Effectiveness Arch Two: Vision and Organization Arch Three: Leader’s Ethic Flow Moral Learning Moral Imagination Dialogue, Narrative Signature Behavior Drive, Self-Awareness, Practical Insight, People Skills Strategy Values Mission Culture Self-Trust (Resolve of Worthiness) Doesn’t Know What is Next Arches (3) and Path* Four Spires:
Clarity about a story that shows worthiness of creating followers
Mystic:** Teach in order to open adherents to new vistas of possibility, hope and projects that revitalize the human endeavor. High E/I; 3 Xs Perplexity at being expelled, despite high performance. The Open Artist:*** Bring forth works that demand new orientations to experiencing for an audience. X in S/N “Blocked” at the threshold of a next work. The will and energy is there, but something resists. Amphitheater
Drive Rejection/Expulsion Exile, Connection to Genealogy
Able to venture freely, no expectation of return, and do the work to teach what others cannot yet realize.
Circular Rows (Qualities of Person) Energy and Love; Great Learning; Introspection: Inner ..Strength and …Discipline; Accountability
Able to venture into encounter with raw energies and freely develop means to portray what occurs there in “works.” (style, medium, theme)
Prophet**** Write Theses, which identify and clarify the process of dynamic conceptualization that provides means and meaning for general engagement of disciples. X in T/F “Relations” are unclear. Encountering resistance to one’s demeanor and inability to express the driving concern, care, call to commitment. Marketplace (the open bizarre) Separate locales of activity toward concerns, connected by a path of thematic dislocation and resolution. Concept: Clarifying Expression Pathos *Book, Arch and the Path available. ** Common roles: teachers, “visionaries,” founders of “causes,” some poets and/or composers; sometimes “marketers” in corporate settings. *** Includes roles of mathematicians, scientists, technologists, priests, athletes, performers **** In progress. Includes roles of philosophers, founders of “fields” of research (psychoanalysis, sociology, etc.)
Accept the solitary work of deep study and arriving at forms, strategies and constructs for articulation.