Everyone can be a Mentor - And why your badly needed
You are a Mentor.
Yes, you are.
Unless you live alone on a tiny Island somewhere. Or don’t interact with any other human. You will mentor to some degree. Daily.
And you will offer other people simpler, smarter, or just common-sense ways to work.
You’ve never heard of the Starter Kata. We know because we’ve seen the Google search metrics. But more importantly, we never hear about it out in the real world of mentoring. Or coaching or instructing. Which is a travesty. What kind of advice are these people giving?
Because the Starter Kata could well be the best way of thinking there is. Especially if you want to be a mentor or want to start down a road where mentoring development could be a large part of your life.
And if you are a Master, Guru or just a skilled operator in your field, then you damn well better be mentoring those needy young folks too busy getting their tips from TikTok or watching Twitch.
Impact & the "Dutch Reach"
We must start with a story. Don’t complain. We are excellent mentors, so we know what we’re doing. And as such, we know that our readers need real-world examples of what in the hell we are talking about. Before you click away to some other shiny thing.
In the Netherlands, there are a lot of bikes. They’re everywhere. Bikes even have their own roads and are higher on the hierarchy than cars.
Now there was a particular problem. Because of the number of bikes on the roads – when drivers would open their car doors – they were doing it just as cyclists passed by.
Tipping them, ass over teacups onto the road. So, the clever Dutch found a solution. It’s called the Dutch Reach.
Mentor Knowledge & Skill
Let us explain briefly. When you open your car door, you normally use the arm closest to it. That’s the left in the EU or right in the US. This motion is automatic for experienced drivers and a lot of us don’t check our mirrors when the car is parked and switched off.
The Dutch solution is a new way to open your car door, by using the OPPOSITE ARM.
It’s called the “Dutch Reach” because when you use the opposite arm, your head is automatically swiveled to the left (or right in the US) and so is already in position for you to look behind. And see any activity or cyclist that might be approaching your car.
Simple genius, right? Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of “Starter Kata”. A world where big world problems are solved in tiny steps.
They teach the Dutch Reach in primary schools, so the kids get it nice and early. And because they sometimes also open car doors. Another good example is in San Francisco. When you park your car on those alpine roads in the bay area, they teach you to turn the wheels inward. Pointing towards the curb, should the handbrake fail. Another Starter Kata.
As potential mentors, what we are trying to do is change someone’s behavior. They are doing something incorrectly (or don’t know where to start) and you need them to do it correctly. Or they have the wrong grasp of a concept, and you need to give them a way to reorganize the information in their head.
If you have teenage children, you can already understand what a monumental task this could be. But thinking about the current state and its relationship with the desired end state is only good in theory. What you need is something small, simple, and guaranteed to work. The Starter Kata (thanks to “Toyota Way” and part of the area called Lean) is the way to do it.
Relationship & Backgrounds
Sports and musical instructors have been using the Starter Kata for years and they know through experience that drills or scales are the way to begin. Coaching correctly is the key.
Golf instructors get kids to start with tiny swings, making sure the club hits the ball correctly. The child feels that sweet spot and remembers it when he misses. He will build on this as his swing grows to a full rotation and adjust when he feels the clubface change. But that initial goal is critical.
Same with a guitar teacher, you want stairway to heaven but what you need is the major scales. And this is not about “it”. The thing in question. The club, or the guitar, or the torque wrench.
It’s their behavior and attitude and their relationship to what you are trying to teach them. If their behavior is a good one, then the tool, or instrument, does not matter. Your attitude will allow them to enter the fray in such a way that success is almost guaranteed
Formal Mentoring Programs
Starter Kata is a new way of thinking scientifically – so that you will behave scientifically. As a good mentor, explain to your students that this is as much about understanding as it is about doing. If you explain to your students the reasons behind this new way of thinking, they will adopt it. But that’s only the start of the relationship.
- Explain the new way/process so the student understands the old and the new in context. And explain how practice and repetition are the only way that work.
- The power of repetition – Cramming for test doesn’t work. Studying the same piece of material numerous times over a period is what does. Science fact. Tell your student there is no way around this.
- It will take some time – and many repetitions, to change behaviors. Swings, scales, riveting or recovering an aircraft from an upset position, take multiple “go’s” as we make it second nature and automatic.
- Build on the automatic – Tell your students that you will build on the automatic behaviors and mastery will come. That’s how “Wax on Wax off” becomes the parry and jab.
- Always reinforce the Science – You will have more than one “learner” – so be a good role model and share the learning and remind them of the science. You need the “buy-in” as time passes, and young minds start to wander when they don’t get there after five minutes.
- Don’t overthink it – Just start. Start practicing or working the right way, the rest will take care of itself. Starter Kata is not a complex algorithm, it’s the first baby step.
The Best Mentoring
Mike tells you how to be a coach and gives you the Five Questions you need to focus on to achieve that goal. It also tells you how to build the Kata Storyboard and plan your own coaching journey to mentoring in the best way possible.
If you can originate your own storyboard and make the learner connections described, we think this would challenge any diploma or degree course in Coaching or mentoring. Mike’s advice on dealing with the learner obstacles is also a great tool for the role model landscape.
But that career advice is just for you. Don’t confuse or obfuscate the student. They only need to know and learn the next step. The start and then the next step. They should not be burdened with the why or the strategy.
Never forget the simple rule of the Starter Kata – We begin simply, and we end simply and when all these simple things combine, they make you a master. That’s the secret.