As I exited Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry while on a side trip before the NALP Annual Education Conference in April, a Eureka Spell flashed, crashing into my brain like a Whomping Willow. It might have come from the wand of Professor Albus Dumbledore, one of the two greatest Hogwarts Headmasters ever and mentor to hundreds of young Hogwarts wizards and witches, to offset my recent brush with the fearsome Dementors in a (virtual) game of Quidditch over the Hogwarts castle grounds.
When the Eureka Spell hit, my field of mental vision instantaneously split into two separate side-by-side fields: Dementors on one, Mentors on the other. Eureka! — "De-Mentors" and Mentors — the bad and the good, two diametrically opposed concepts and images.
For anyone who has read J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, the horror of a Dementor is instantaneously recognizable. As described by Professor Lupin in Prisoner of Azkaban: "Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them.... Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself—soulless and evil. You'll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life."
In Mentors, on the other hand (as paraphrased by me with the utmost respect for J.K. Rowling), we see the very opposite of Dementors: Mentors are among the most respected and revered people to walk this earth. They illuminate the dark mysteries of professional life, they glory in the professional growth and personal resilience of everyone around them, they breathe peace, hope, and happiness into the air around them.... Get near a Mentor and good feelings and happy memories will surge forth for you. If he or she can, the Mentor will energize you long enough to develop you into something like him or herself—a dynamic and positive life force within your profession. You'll be left with one of the best experiences of your life.
To save our summer associates (in the USA), our summer law students and articling students (in Canada), and our lawyers from the gut-churning, nightmare-inducing horror of Dementors,we need to make sure that they are working in a Dementor-free zone with real Mentors — never Dementors!
Here I am using Mentor in both senses of that word — in the narrow sense of the mentor with specific developmental responsibilities for one or more assigned mentees AND in the broader sense of the mentor as someone who in his or her daily interpersonal relationships stands as an example and a guide to all in making the workplace one of positive attitude and energy.
The Dementor concept offers a terrific lead-in for a number of orientation and coaching discussions of mentorship in both senses of the word mentor, whether in groups or individually, and whether for all students and lawyers or for specifically assigned mentors or mentees.
For assigned mentorships, for example, orientation, coaching, and discussion might be —
- on the goals of a mentorship program in a professional services context (e.g., integration, professional growth, individualized development, retention, role model, safe haven).
- on what is expected of an assigned mentor (e.g., regular check-ins, proactive direction, positive support, coaching when necessary).
- on what is expected of an assigned mentee (e.g., commitment to process, open to advice, support, and learning).
On mentorship writ large, discussion might be —
- on the positive attributes of mentors (e.g., "glass half full" people, always pleasant to everyone whether professional colleague or staff, positive attitude about work and about life).
- on how to recognize a Dementor (e.g., negative attitude, complainer, gossiper, generally unhappy except for being happy to share his or her unhappiness).
- on how to prevent a Dementor's devastating effect in the workplace.
For fun, introduce the Dementor comparison as part of your orientation program for incoming students and professionals, as well as for staff if they come within your sphere of responsibility. Instead of using my Mentor description noted above, try assigning newcomers in groups of two or three to draft a Dementor vs Mentor comparison for themselves and then present their version to the larger group. I had fun writing mine, and I guarantee they will, too.
Discuss life experiences that have exposed people to Dementors in the guise of Muggles (non-magical people such as you and me) in ordinary street clothes, and their negative impacts (e.g., the teacher everyone feared, the sports coach who shredded team members, the cranky uncle the family hated to visit), and ask about life experiences with the Dementor's opposite, the Mentor (e.g., the adored teacher, the great sports coach, the favorite aunt).
Move those comparisons into the daily life of the workplace. Show how Dementors can infect and poison hallways, coffee break areas, and working relationships (including assigned mentoring relationships) with unremitting crankiness and complaints. Point out the difference with Mentors, who are friendly and who spread goodwill and positive energy wherever they go, both to assigned mentees and generally to all within an office.
Talk about a 100% requirement for respect in the workplace and the types of Dementor negativity that can undermine it (e.g., sarcasm, yelling, unremitting criticism at a personal level, sharptongued comments, never a kind word spoken). Commit together to create a "positivity force field" over your whole workplace to ward off any Dementors who might manage to get inside the doors.
It takes more than a wave of a magic wand to Dementor-proof a workplace to prevent it from becoming an Azkaban (J.K. Rowling's prison under Dementor control where everyone survives, though barely, in unhappiness and despair). But maybe a Hogwarts mentorship lesson will band your students, summer associates, and/or lawyers together with determination to create a workplace where mentorship and professional growth thrive and where everyone can "breathe peace, hope and happiness," "have good feelings and happy memories," and "be energized to develop into dynamic and positive life forces."
Have fun with the Dementor vs Mentor concept!
This article originally appeared in NALP Bulletin, August 2013. It is republished with permission.
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