Training versus mentoring: You need two in a canoe

True mentoring, getting your feet wet, helps those around you and their projects succeed. Training might be only as effective as shouting instructions to a wayward canoe from the shore.


A friend of mine teaches canoe lessons, and we were talking about how he helps his students. Regardless of the level of skill or difficulty of the surroundings, the answer is invariably, “I get in the canoe, or at least get in a canoe right next to the student, and teach how to paddle.”

This makes sense, and it works. If I imagine a person standing on the banks of a river shouting: “More LEFT! Paddle to your LEFT!” it makes me wince and seems like a disaster waiting to happen.

Why then, should this be any different when at work? Assigning Joe to “Help mentor Frank; just check in with him once in a while,” is a terrible idea. Joe isn’t embedded, he’s not invested, he’s not in the lake, and he’s not getting wet. If there is a waterfall coming, Joe won’t feel any pain as Frank’s canoe goes over. Frank, in turn, feels abandoned and left to paddle alone. He might make it eventually, but regardless, he has the opportunity to feel stupid as Joe shouts at him from the shore.

Training is good, and often the first step, giving someone the on-land overview of the boat and the paddle. To be honest, it’s unrealistic to think that after a little on-shore training, someone can then jump in canoe, shove off, and quickly and efficiently get to a destination, especially in choppy water. True mentoring is the only way those around you, and, in turn, your projects, succeed.

Take responsibility for the boat and the people in it. Make sure you are vested and that, if things sink, you will sink (and learn) with the team. That investment is the only way to really make a difference and get to success.

- This blog aggregates expert advice from Callisto Integration, providing manufacturing consulting and systems integration. This blog provides integration advice in plant-floor controls, manufacturing execution systems (MES), and manufacturing consulting, from the factory floor through to the enterprise. Andrew Barker, P.Eng., Callisto Integration, compiled the advice. 

Callisto Integration is a CSIA member as of 3/1/2015

Tisha , MI, United States, 07/30/13 09:42 PM:

Absolutely. My biggest struggle as a junior engineer is efficiency. All of my best strengths were developed by great mentorship. Unfortunately, aside from my co-op in college, it's been sink or swim. No training and no in house mentorship.
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