Education: Mentorship: Don't Waste My Time by Kyle Phoenix

Mentorship: Don't Waste My Time

A few days ago  I posted an essay about fatherhood---I teach a mentoring/fatherhood program to teach men, particularly men of color, how to be fathers, heal their lack of a father wounds or to act as mentors.  It was natural then that I would write about it and I've dedicated several episodes of The Kyle Phoenix Show (simulcast Thursdays EST at 12 midnight through to this line of discussion. Then I got a wave of emails about the blog on Fatherlessness.  The overriding question though was if you aren't a biological father, how to mentor?

I've been actively, professionally mentoring for about 10 years.  The outline I teach others or when I hire mentors is: Maintain Boundaries, Set Outcomes, Stay Accountable, Teach Responsibility, Don't Let Your Time Be Wasted, Recycle Into Mentors

  1. Maintain Boundaries
    • The age group I've worked with has been from 13 to 65, about 60% male with about 55% being Black or Latino.  The best way I've found to find and help people is by working or volunteering for an agency.  The agency itself will give you great additional resources (such as a Social Worker, Psychologists, Probation Officers, Guidance Counselors, etc.)  The first boundary is to recognize that you can't be all things to them though you might feel some of that projected gratitude.  I'm a teacher---essentially I'm an Educational Mentor so 2 out of 3 conversations with me are going to center around an individual increasing their reading skills, educational attainment and that's expanded for adults into career development and job skills.  I always gently but firmly make the delineation between what is my professional knowledge and opinion.  Now one's life experience is invaluable but it shows a level of responsibility and maturity not to come across as the know it all God by always hindering one's self with honesty.  You also want to make sure that you utilize some counseling skills but that you don't cross into being a therapist.  That's not your job.
    • I've worked at the places where the older men would chickenhawk the younger men, hang around my youth center to see what young ones were coming in, sexualize them, seduce them, add them to their taxes and then break them off a hundred or so.  Thirty year olds to 17 year olds being used because there was no agency structure/healthy support.  The agency then started a project with the young males where they would officially pimp them out.  The Executive Director looked the other way until he was forced by other employees to fire the predators.  He fired the predator for 1 week.
    • The commitment to improving others can't come included with your crotch or your needs.  If you find yourself distracted, hit the road.  I savor being in positions to fire those who would do more harm than help to young people  It warms a special place in my heart for those I've directly or indirectly gotten fired, dismissed, eradicated.  They make the legitimately committed or interested frightened due to internal perceptions of how being a man or a Black man or a homosexual will have an agency judge your relationships in mentoring.  Stand in your integrity and help; don't let the predators win by psyching you out of the game before you even get in..
  2. Set Outcomes
    • You're trying to help a person so you really want to know the timeframe of how long you should be committed to them.  They will test you.  No, they will really test you.  I now intimately know why parents are applauded for keeping their children because when you don't have to stay attached to someone, you fast learn to question and navigate your frustrations with them.  
    • An outcome for my mentees has been: 
      • high school
      • GED completion, 
      • college entrance, 
      • job skills (MS Office, LEED Certification, National Work Readiness, Career Coaching, professional corporate skills), 
      • college survival, 
      • graduate school entrance, 
      • graduate school completion, 
      • life planning/coaching or some mix of the two.  
    • If you're doing it even casually, you should keep some sort of charting file to mark where you started with someone and where they're at.  This will help you measure movement and effectiveness.  You might also want to have some sort of identity takeaway for them; something that answers questions about themselves that you may not completely be able to answer---an assessment. I use Now, Discover Your Strengths (see review on here: for the Gallup Oragnizations Theme and Strengths evaluation to give each mentee an objective reflection back about themselves.  
    • I can tell you that based about age, race and sexuality how long you think outcomes should take and how long it really might take are vastly different.  I've learned that high school/GED/college mentees can take anywhere from 2 to 5 years for them to make movements and progress and then maintain progress.  So if you take someone on you have to be committed to that timeframe, unless they (or you) breach some of the boundaries/rules.
  3. Stay Accountable
    • You want to make it clear that you want them to advance.  That's your interests.  I explain to my younger mentees that they are essentially teaching me how to parent in the future, to learn how to articulate to my own children, in all their inherent variety, how to become whatever it is they want to.  
    • Older mentees give more of a symbiotic process/lesson as they teach you how to solve problems, restructure concepts and that in turn that helps you change your own mind and thoughts about your life and abilities.  At one position, as a teacher, the work I was doing was to do career developmental work with adults.  By just processing the material to them I evaluated and made radical changes in my career and left the position.  The work you do, will change you especially if it's good material.
  4. Teach Responsibly

    • I try to back up my discussions with mentees with some sort of text.  I believe that as a teacher I'm teaching Ideology + Liberation= Power.  Now I'm challenged with what Ideology to present you with.  This will task you as a mentor with having a book, movie, music for whatever it is you're trying to convey.  But most importantly, most responsibly, you should give this in a physical form to anyone you're mentoring/teaching.  Why?  It neutralizes the possibility of narcissistic based power/control from the mentor.  If I hand you a book and say this is what I was telling you about, I'm now giving you the chance to take it and examine it intensely.  If I withhold text or facts or act as the only cipher of facts or a new way of thinking for you, that I might even insist/believe is better, I'm acting as a narcissistic demagogue.  Therefore you have to make sure your material is on point whether it's The Autobiography of Malcolm X to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to Nelson Mandela's Long Walk To Freedom autobiography because you're trying to grow not clone.  Mentoring can be seductive because it's aggrandizing attention to you.  But your mission is not to be the smartest person they know but to teach your mentee how to think, how to reason, how to think critically, how to appreciate their own intelligence, how to grow and develop themselves.
  5. Don't Let Your Time Be Wasted
    • I'm vicious with my time.  I'm not your social worker nor your psychologist.  My goal, whether that's professionally or personally, if I take my personal time with you, is to get you to the next level.  To help nurture you through the challenges that I have gone through or know how to navigate.  We can of course talk about your choices and how say having a child before you're 30 years old will massively impact your potentiality because now you have a new, demanding responsibility.  For a mentee who is in a pregnancy situation we'll talk about abortion, safe sex and parenting and how it affects your future/education.  
    • The understood knowledge, based on statistics, is that children become what their parents are, not what they say to do.  Which is why poverty is so hard to change---impoverished people can't teach their children of what to do or not to do because they don't know.  We often don't consider that most of the college educated people come from high school graduated college educated parents---one perpetuating the other.  If that person's parents don't have higher education, that's where mentorship is so valuable.  In fact if you or someone you know parents' didn't attend college but you did--track who told, taught, mentored you about college.
    • This folds back into my time with mentees.  They either want it or they don't want.  Hard head, soft ass.  If you won't listen to me, life will teach you why a hard head equals a soft ass.  By 2014 the American requirement for a living wage with benefits and a future ($15 an hour) will be an Associates Degree.  Because of the threat now of a permanent underclass being created, I think of mentoring like a MASH or a triage unit in an emergency room and myself more like a surgeon than a kindly doctor.  There are potentially too many who will get left behind if I diddle away or allow my time to be  diddled away with push and pull and senseless drama.  Do you want it?  If you do, then let's get to work, if you're not sure or need to figure it out or question the efficacy of developing yourself, then you need to get the hell out of the way.  I have your eager replacement right behind you eager for the time and attention and resources that I can give.  You must have this rule and more importantly, you have to understand that you can't save everyone.  There are too many who aren't capable, don't want it, don't know better, are crazy.  When I teach teachers this is most often what I'm counseling the newest through their guilt over and assuring them that it's a necessary transition and the guilt should be replaced with strategies to help others.  But you have to remember:  You can't save everyone.
  6. Recycle Into Mentors  
    1. But the ones you can save you can then see them becoming mentors.  My greatest gratification have been mentees who are employed, who've moved into new careers, who've graduated from school and who are actively giving back.  Sometimes I've even placed them into old positions that I'd outgrown or no longer had time for a a teacher because they had the time and ability to do good work.  Most importantly the parents now have a different skill set to pass down to their children and a work ethic or an educational ethic. 
I look at the impact of my work as ever expanding circles of intensive influence. This blog and podcasts are another two circles within multiple circles that approximately serves 10,000 people directly a month but multiplies back out to 1.3 million in the syndication circuit around the world. The Kyle Phoenix Show on videos and television hits about 1 million viewers a week so I do a level of mentoring to about 6 to 8 million people a month around the world (hey, Mauritius! :)). 

I outline this not to brag but to suggest to you that what you know---how to cook, how to get through school, how to write a resume, how to use Word 2007, how to raise a healthy child, how to start a business---you can upload that video to YouTube and spread it on Facebook or even start a blog about it.  Use Facebook to post useful things to people because it's acting as a passive mentor---I'm often watching hundreds of people watching their phones on the train but rarely do I see them teaching each other.  But I do see them get off at the poverty laden stops in the poverty laced clothes with the lack of developed knowledge because we, who have resources and education, aren't leaving golden information nuggets along the information highway---we're keeping it hoarded to ourselves and share only with like minds at dinner parties.

Maybe you'll take this and mentor to someone in your family, neighborhood, job or at school or volunteer (NYC Volunteer is a great site I use for finding projects to volunteer at least 10% of my time to) with a non-profit.  I also spiritually look at mentoring as filling a spirit bank account when I pray for myself or others, when I need help in the Universe or more importantly when I'm confronted with people asking for help.  
Marianne Williamson in one of her audio lectures said that people who complain are generally the people who don't actively go out and do things in and for the world.  That's always struck me because I don't  feel as helpless or put upon by the world because I'm helping, Black and Mexicans and women and gays and the disenfranchised and the abandoned.  I can't save everyone, and I'm vicious with my time but I'm reaching out to millions, maybe just a scrap of hang on or a meal of read this book to start your business or feeding a mentee in person because they have no father.

"By your pupils, you learn............"

I can anecdotally say that mentoring has developed me into a whole other career strength in doing life/professional strategy and coaching work.  Helping people develop businesses and improve non-profits because my mentees have given me valuable insight into what they might need or observe in their lives.  Your mentoring, I can assure you, will enhance you on many levels.

In closing, I challenge, what are you or what could you be doing for someone else you might never even meet?

Thank you!
Kyle Phoenix
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