Friday, April 22, 2005

Max De Pree - A Mentor Among Mentors

Some of you are aware that I earned my Doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. As was the case with each of the schools I have been privileged to attend, I sat under some gifted teachers and mentors. Max De Pree stands out as one of the best! He taught a leadership class that I took as part of my doctoral studies. At the time, he was Chairman of the Fuller Board of Trustees, and was renowned for his enlighted leadership of Herman Miller Corporation.

Fuller recently honored Max for his 40+ years of exemplary leadership by inaugurating on campus the De Pree Leadership Center, and by dedicating the Winter 2005 edition of their Alumni publication, Fuller Focus, to Max and his role as a mentor.

In a series of linked articles, Max talks about mentoring, and several of his mentorees share their impressions. The principals that emerge stike me as the most concise definitions and explications of mentoring that I have seen anywhere. They are totally consistent with many of the themes I have been sharing in this Blog. I am pleased to share with you exerpts from Max and his mentoring progeny.

Max on mentoring:

"I have often played around in my mind with the exact nature of mentoring. It has similarities to, but is not exactly like, the role played by other sorts of advice givers: therapists, spiritual directors, pastoral counselors, coaches. But these roles typically are undergirded by a specific kind of professional training. Mentoring is a somewhat different thing (although, clearly, persons in these other roles may also provide good mentoring). In a mentor, one primarily looks not for professional credentials, but for wisdom."

Walter C. Wright, Jr. has been mentored by Max De Pree. Walter was recently named the Executive Director of the De Pree Leadership Center. Walter shares these thoughts about Max and mentoring:

"In his first book, 'Leadership Is an Art', Max included a chapter on 'Tribal Storytelling' recognizing that tribal elders are critical to the maintenance of shared values and the process of corporate renewal. With David Hubbard’s encouragement, he sat close to the fire at Fuller."

"From Max I learned that mentoring is something initiated and maintained by the mentoree. The mentor is available as the wise elder, sharing experience and asking the questions that create space for the mentoree to take responsibility for his or her own learning and growth. Mentors do not direct; they share wisdom, listen, and encourage reflection and accountability."

In the magazine's final article, Max writes about "Mentoring: A Work of Love"

"At its best, mentoring is a covenantal approach to life and leadership. I once heard a wonderful description of the work of a mentor: A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song."

"Mentoring takes place in many settings and at many levels. It cannot be reduced to a formula. All we can do is build a framework on which we can hang our experiences, gifts, and art in such a way that another person can interact with it, make sense of it, take ownership of it, and work at reaching new levels of humanity and leadership on their own. At its heart, mentoring might be described as witnessing."

"Mentoring is above all a work of love, which at its best is a two-way exchange. Though both parties walk away with priceless insights, both people come to each other intent on giving rather than taking. The immediate goal of mentoring is reaching toward potential. It thrives in community and prospers with risk—for nothing worthwhile arrives without risk. It thrives on the vulnerability of both mentor and mentoree. It focuses on the whys and wherefores in our work and our lives, not on the what and the how. Mentoring is about conjugating the verb “to be,” not the verb “to have,” to paraphrase the pianist Franz Liszt, himself a famous mentor. Mentoring is not a private management seminar. Its ultimate goal is to make mentors out of mentorees."

"Mentoring is about life-long learning."

"Several of the persons who call me mentor have decided to work together to further the practice of mentoring. At one of their sessions in June of 2002, they set aside a part of their meeting to thank me for helping them discover the best about themselves. In many ways, it was an embarrassing morning as one after another spoke in wonderful ways about our times together. Each of them brought me a unique gift that symbolized for them the very special relationship that mentoring can become. One person gave me a carabiner— a piece of mountain climbing equipment used to connect people by rope. This particular carabiner had been up Mount Everest over 18,000 feet and back down. The gift and accompanying words reminded me of the power and love and growth that spring from simple human connections."

To have sat as a student at the feet of Max de Pree for a few weeks in the warmth of a Pasadena summer was a privilege I will never forget. I encourage you to read any and all of the leadership books that he has written over the years. There is gold in every page.

If you wish to access the entire edition of Fuller Focus, click on the link below:
Fuller Focus Winter 2005


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