At sea

by Michael Jemphrey

Michael Jemphrey, Translation & Anthropology Consultant, SIL Francophone Africa

With two friends at university I bought a small wooden yacht thinking it would be so fun to sail round the coastline of Ireland. We bought a book about sailing and studied it a bit, looked at the pictures and got on top of the theory. We were ready to sail! On our maiden voyage we launched the boat into the Irish Sea and took off with great excitement. Minutes later we were panicking, there was water gushing up through the centerboard, the wind was blowing us off course, we were tugging at this rope and that rope to try and get the sails under control. Somehow, I can’t quite remember how, we ended back on land, after a frantic first sail of less than 15 minutes!

In our youthful enthusiasm we hadn’t realized that we needed a mentor, someone with a bit more experience, who had sailed before, to show us the ropes. Sailing is complicated – with lots of factors to take into account: wind tide, sails, other boats. Knowing the theory and putting it into practice are not the same.

Our work in SIL is also complex and increasingly so: plenty of theories and new methods on linguistics, translation, literacy, Scripture engagement, multiple multicultural partners and complex regulations to navigate. There is lots of information out there, but without a mentor we can feel all at sea. It is not just academic disciplines where mentors are needed. In a recent presentation on the launch of the Robust Mentoring initiative in Africa, directors were all saying we need mentors for our colleagues working in finance, human resources, project funding, administration.

A mentor can be so encouraging! Our leadership has determined that mentoring is so vital for our professional growth and for the robust health of our organization as we seek to serve others that it should be part of our DNA.

But there are so many questions:

  • How to find a good mentor?
  • How to be a good mentor?
  • How to find the time?
  • How to start a mentoring relationship?
  • How to finish?
  • How to navigate mentoring cross-culturally?
  • How to organize and track a mentoring program so that people don’t fall through the cracks?

This website is one way we will address these questions and challenges together, learning from one another. We will seek to use the website to 1) gather useful resources on mentoring in one place, 2) publish a short blog post several times a year to encourage interaction, 3) facilitate discussion of questions and cross-pollination of ideas.

What metaphor comes to your mind when you think of mentoring? Leave a comment below.

3 thoughts on “At sea

  1. When I think of mentoring, the metaphor that speaks to me the most is that of a basketball coach.

    I played in a basketball team for many years from primary school all the way to university. I had two great coaches who not only helped us learn about the rules of the game but they also equipped us to be able to think strategically when on court, to read the game, to anticipate what might happen, to get to know our teammates and figure out how to work together to win. In addition to all this, they developed a long-term relationship with us through which they were able to challenge us and shape our values and character. Respect, encouragement, appreciation, obedience and a positive attitude were expected in training sessions. Sometimes, they knew more about us than our families or teachers because they spent time with us 2-3 times a week. They believed in us, young players, and they never stopped encouraging us.

    Some training sessions were rather painful but they knew that in order to endure the tougher games, we needed to develop muscle strength. Other training sessions were at times very repetitive, but they knew that shooting practice was essential for our success. And on some days, they just let us play, because they knew that that too was essential for our development.

    They saw potential in us, they could imagine what we could become as players and they were skillful at training us. They found the delicate balance of relating to us as a team but also as individuals with our unique set of strengths and weaknesses. Over the years, they figured out how to motivate and challenge each of us differently according to our needs and personalities.

    To me, a good mentor needs to do all these things, too. — Eszter

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really like the way your coaches encouraged teamwork. They themselves worked together as a team and got you to work together to make you the best possible team.


  2. There is an interesting article that explores different mentorship metaphors from Pacific Island perspectives. The authors ran mentor-training workshops in Fiji and Tonga in the framework of which they encouraged the participants to create metaphors that described their understanding of mentorship. The authors were pleased to see how many metaphors were created that highlighted local, cultural, traditional and historical values related to mentoring. It is worth reading this article, especially the concrete examples provided after the literature review:

    Click to access cfc3f52e1f1dd920f040ea741a64f2d8d4f0.pdf

    According to the authors “these metaphors helped to broaden participants’ understanding, to clarify complex realities, and to suggest creative solutions for adapting mentorship to match the developmental levels of individual protégés across the disciplines.”


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