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A “Handy” Mentor – A personal perspective of being mentored by Charles Handy

April 23rd, 2014 by Suzanne Sweeney

Peter Hawkins reflects on the lessons learned from Charles Handy, a mentor and instrumental shaper of his career and life.

Just imagine we’re given a final question at the end of our life.   There’s a simple answer – A, B or C, but the question is a bit more challenging –  “Have you been all you can be and made your unique difference?”  Answer C if your answer is absolutely ‘No’, B, if you’ve played it safe and partially met the criteria, and A if you’ve got close to realising your true potential.

Now consider your position today and plot out the pathways to each option – A, B and C.  What makes the difference between each route?  Where can a slight change of direction take you?  Why do many people automatically head off down Path B?  Who helps make the difference?

I’m still struggling with many of these questions myself, but what I’m certain about is that my ‘circle of support’ is absolutely crucial to each step I take.  There are countless friends, family, colleagues and clients who have helped me on the way, but I’d like to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned from one of the most instrumental mentors in my life to date – Charles Handy.

Here are 5 P’s worth of advice he has given me:

PRAISE –  Charles has the ability to shine a light on anything that is good about you.  He never lets his ego get in the way of positive feedback.  His definition of confidence is being at ease with yourself and the humble nature of his personality helps you truly believe in yourself.  It’s amazing how far a handful of praise can nudge you, but sometimes we need bucket loads to create the initial momentum to change.

PORTFOLIO – Many of us tend to think in black or white.  Full time job V’s own business.  We are one dimensional in the way we brigade and divide our options as we move forward in life.  From the age of 23 (Tuesday evening in the week of my life) I was leading a portfolio career.  Now late on Thursday night (47 years old!) this portfolio approach runs throughout my life and I value my volunteering work as much as, or even more, than my paid work.  This new mindset has given me the confidence and creativity to continually build my own crazy paving route rather than head down more traditional pathways.

PARTNERSHIP – It has been fascinating to see the partnership between Charles and his wife Elizabeth.  They often change roles, each in turn being the home worker and paid worker to complement the needs of the partnership at the time.  Without Elizabeth’s drive, determination and strength of character Charles Handy would not be the person he is.  This may not be rocket science, but how well do we appreciate the strengths of our partners, develop joint visions for the future and encourage each other to make our dreams real?

PROACTIVITY – In choosing a mentor I’ve realised the importance of finding people who have been down pathways you’d love to explore, demonstrated values you truly value and behaved in ways you’d like to behave in.  One of the things I’ve tried to model is Charles’s proactivity.  What I love about him is he both knows when to change things and continually scans for wider possibilities along the way.  This helicopter like, action thinking approach of seeing the bigger picture but also zooming in to make things real is a behaviour I’m trying to master (although there have been plenty of crashes on the way!)

PURPOSE – From this mentoring experience I’ve personally learned that my true purpose in life comes when my unique gifts and gladness meet the worlds hunger and sadness.  We don’t find this out in the neon lights of Platform 5 at Crewe Station.  Rarely do we see our future mapped out clearly from the summit of a mountain.  More often than not we are struggling in the bogs and the fog filled valleys.  Learning how to take tiny steps with the support of a trusted helping hand is one of the most valuable legacies any mentor can leave.

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