Monday, October 18, 2010

The Shaper and the Shaped

Speech No. 3 - Manage and Motivate
Advance Communication Manual - Speeches by Management
Time: 10-12 minutes

The Shaper and the Shaped
by Gege C. Sugue

Because we want our members to develop their skills in a warm, motivating, learning environment, MENTORING is key. And tonight, I want to encourage you all to become mentors.

So, let’s talk about mentoring.

And I’d like to use this thing (showing object) to help me talk about mentoring.

Take a look at this. This is a piece of pottery. It may look rather simple. Pretty perhaps, but the craftsmanship leaves much to be desired. But to me this is a special piece. Why? Because I made this piece. Yes, I took a piece of shapeless clay, flattened it, cut it into an oval, used a real leaf to imprint the veins and details, trimmed the edges and folded them to form this tiny bowl. To me, it’s a work of art. It is something I’m proud of. I shaped this thing myself.

In a pottery workshop in Batangas, I was taught by a master potter to make pottery. The artist’s name is Ugu Bigyan, arguably the best and most renowned potter in the country. His works, though functional, are considered art, and they are used and displayed in many parts of the world.

I have admired his work for many years ever since I visited his home and workshop in Quezon. And one day, I had the chance to learn from him.

And do you know what I discovered in that pottery workshop?

Pottery is hard. It’s horribly hard. I have to admit that it came as a surprise to me. I came into that workshop somehow thinking that it would be a bit like child play. You know, playing with clay like we used to as children. How hard could that be? But as I tried to create shapes, as I tried to translate my artistic vision into beautiful art pieces, I discovered that making shapes out of clay was hard. Play-doh and clay are not the same things. The clay was not responding the way I wanted to. It kept on drying up. And dried up clay cracks, and so when it cracks, you have to throw away that piece of misshapen clay and start anew. It was frustrating.

But eventually, I managed to create this. One whole day in the pottery workshop, and this is what I have to show for it. But I took home more than this piece; I took home a few lessons. Lessons that can apply to the art and skill of mentoring.

I learned that pottery takes time. The same thing goes for mentoring. I was frustrated that I could not create the pottery pieces I wanted to. But I realized that I was trying to rush through the learning. Ugu Bigyan and other potters took years to master their art. They had to take lessons; some took courses in ceramic engineering, then they had to first become apprentices, and then they spent the rest of their lives working to hone their craft.

It takes time. Just like mentoring takes time. One cannot expect a protégé to change overnight. One cannot expect to reap results if one does not invest time teaching, coaching, giving feedback. Working with clay is not about instant gratification. Some projects take days or weeks to complete. To mentor somebody takes months. Toastmasters International recommends that a mentor helps his protégé for at least the first 3 speeches. But in BnT, we recommend you mentor your protégé until he completes his 10 basic speeches, and maybe even beyond. Take the time. Find the time. Spend the time wisely together with your protégé.

Pottery takes skill. Maybe our idea of pottery is what we saw in the movie Ghost with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. But it’s so much more than that. Pottery is not a sexy thing. It’s dirty, sweaty, back breaking work. A good potter needs to know a variety of techniques. The potter needs to understand the raw materials and processes; he has to have a working knowledge of chemistry and physics. A potter’s hands have to be trained through years of experience how to work with clay and water. To press, pull, squeeze in just the right way so that the clay becomes malleable, so it doesn’t dry up and crack the way my pottery attempts did. It takes skill acquired only through study and experience.

As a mentor you have to have the skill to mentor. And you have to have the skills and knowledge to share with your protégé. To be a mentor in Toastmasters, you must be a skilled communicator and leader. Nobel laureate Romain Rolland said, “If a man is to shed the light of the sun upon other men, he must first of all have it within himself.” How can you mentor somebody on public speaking if you have not delivered speeches? How can you coach somebody to be a leader, when you have not taken officer roles or meeting roles? Pottery, as well as mentorship, does not rely on lucky accidents. It takes skill.

Pottery takes heart. I discovered in that workshop that pottery is not just a mechanical skill. At first, while I was playing with my clay, I was chatting with the people with me, or marveling at the sights in the venue. And that wasn’t working. I discovered that in pottery, as your hands shape the clay, you have to be sensitive to it, connect to it, feel it, commune with it, be part of it. At some point, I had to close my eyes, to let the clay speak to me. And I don’t mean that in a new agey, mystical way. I really had to listen to the clay tell me how I can shape it. A potter shapes the clay not just with his hands, but with his heart and soul as well. Same thing with mentorship. A mentor is not there to dictate, to tell, to teach. A mentor is there to listen. To connect. To ask. To learn. To resist the urge to shape somebody according to one’s selfish agenda. A mentor needs empathy. And patience. A mentor needs to suspend judgment and silence the ego and let his protégé lead the process. At some point, when you’ve invested the time and shared the skills, you become friends.

My experience in mentoring here in Toastmasters did not turn out to be the way I expected it to be. I have had the kinds of protégés who have great ideas and the ability to communicate their ideas. There’s Faye, who’s a much better, more experienced writer than I am; she hardly needs to be coached in speech writing. And then there’s April, who has imagination, and can weave words to describe a noche buena feast that had this audience salivating. I felt pretty useless at times, because they didn’t need me to check their speeches. They didn’t need the grammar pulis to add to the perfection of their speeches. So I had to close my eyes and listen to connect, and when I did, I heard Faye tell me she needed mentoring in leadership, and that’s an area where I hope to lead by example, because I’ve been an officer of BnT a number of times now. And for April, we’ve taken mentorship on a different level. For two weeks now, we’ve been working on some marketing plans for ExeQServe. And I had the opportunity to share what I knew about marketing.

And two weeks ago, I agreed to mentor our new member, LJ. New clay. I’m not sure how she will shape up. From what I’ve seen of her feisty personality, I can see that she’s not going to conform to my lazy, easy idea of a pliable protégé. But I’m willing to invest the time. It won’t be easy. I know that mentorship takes time. It takes skill. And it takes heart.

But I keep on talking about what it takes to be a mentor.

That’s just half of the story. The story is about give and take.

Yes, it takes a lot to mentor. But mentoring gives something back. There are rewards. After a frustrating day of shaping clay, I took this home with me. And this now sits on a shelf by my bedside. I use it as a receptacle for earrings or coins or little objects that I set aside when I empty my jeans pockets. And sometimes when I see it, it makes me smile, that this pretty little thing was shaped by my hands, my eyes, my heart.

But this, this is just an inanimate object that gives me joy. It surely does not match with the joy of mentoring a person. To see somebody of flesh and blood develop in front of your eyes. When Jonathan faltered in his speech and gave up on his first try, and then eventually and bravely delivered the full speech again, I was in awe of Jonathan’s transformation. In his speech about the eagle, he soared like an eagle. But I also knew that the mentor beneath his wings was Ed Ebreo, who gave him the encouragement and practical advice he needed to try again.

When I heard the story of Johnson who rescued his mentor Sheila when she had a vehicular accident, I was inspired and made the conclusion that Sheila must be doing something right as a mentor.

Mentoring has its rewards – the satisfaction of knowing you made a difference, the recognition when somebody acknowledges your contribution, the joy of being part of somebody’s transformation.

There's a line from a Persian poem, “Who is the potter, pray, who is the pot?” Allow me to rephrase that in a line that speaks about mentoring: Who is the shaper, and who is the shaped? That day when I was a potter, a potter shaping clay, I learned my lessons -- lessons about patience, fortitude, focus, art, and heart. As I shaped the clay, I, too, was shaped. Changed. Molded. Made better.

So, Toastmasters, I encourage you to be mentors. Be a mentor who takes the time, who develops his own skill as well as the skill of his protege, a mentor who has heart.

Remember that when you mentor. Yes, you are shaping somebody. You are helping somebody be somebody better. But in the process, you, as mentor, are also being shaped. You will find yourself changed. Honed. Made better. Formed. Reformed. Transformed into a wonderful work of art. You, as mentor, the one who shapes, will find yourself shaped.

1 comment:

akashy said...

great speech as usual, gege! love the comparisons you've made between being a potter and a mentor. BRAVO! am doubly sad now that i missed this meeting...


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