FROM THE CAPTAIN'S WINDOW
Stories on Maritime Leadership
Mentoring: Helping leaders create themselves
"The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves."
- Steven Spielberg
These days when I meet people at social events, I try to focus on getting to know others well rather than just focusing on exchanging business cards. When possible, I ask them their stories, and remind myself that there is something I can learn from everyone.
On one such endeavour, I met Mr. Georg Von Oppen. He is currently the Director of TMH Ltd. which serves the shipping industry in providing equipment spares. He narrated a story from the early years of his career:
After school, I didn’t have any particular direction in which to take my career. By chance, I joined TMH through a mutual acquaintance of my family. The manager of the factory asked me to work on the store-floor and learn about all the products. After a few weeks, he saw me on his rounds and stopped to assess my progress:
“How does this pressure gauge work?” He asked in his usual booming voice.
I gave a feeble response “You plug it into the socket and it reads the pressure”
“Yes, but what makes the gauge know what is the pressure in the pipe?”
I shrug my shoulders.
He then proceeded to explain to me about the Bourdon tube and how the radially formed tubes inside operate without any electrical power.
I had not grasped the underlying mechanical principles and I said so, shaking my head.
My boss was thoughtful for a minute, and then declared “You’re going to the gauge factory for two weeks. I will inform your supervisor about the arrangements”.
So, the next day I was off to the factory a hundred miles away. They were one of the world’s leading makers of precision pressure gauges and one could learn whatever there is to know about various gauges. I learnt in detail how these gauges could achieve precision at different pressure ranges, and work in various external environments, and what safety features were installed to ensure the gauges would not burst in front of the observer.
When I returned to TMH, I had a spring in my step. My boss observed this, and to test me, asked a few questions, which I promptly answered with pride. The fire of learning and passion for the job had been stoked within me, and there was no looking back.
It started as a short-term apprenticeship, but encouraged by the environment of mentoring, I stayed on at TMH. I could share my knowledge with clients and help them choose the right products for their industrial needs. This in turn helped my company build deeper relationships with their customers. Some years ago, my boss retired and passed on the reins of the company to me.
His act of mentoring helped me find the right direction for my career. He had challenged, inspired and motivated me. He didn’t spoon-feed me but he helped me find the right resource from which I could learn.
Telemachus and Mentor from Odyssey. In this depiction from the ancient Greek epic, Mentor (actually Athena in disguise) encourages Telemachus to stand up against the suitors for his mother, Penelope and go abroad to find out what happened to his father, Odysseus. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia commons.
These days, I make it a point to encourage my younger colleagues to go on similar learning trips and seminars. We share learning experiences from work and enable each other to create their own learning path. Based on my boss’ philosophy, that is how we view mentoring at TMH. I believe this is a great way to help leaders discover their own potential, and enhance their own leadership abilities.
TMH Cyprus website (http://tmh-eastmed.com/)
Captain VS Parani is the author of Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas, Whittles Publishing (http://www.whittlespublishing.com/Golden_Stripes), and on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Stripes-Leadership-High-Seas/dp/1849953147)