I am blessed with the negative ability to get the wrong end of an author’s metaphors. Subsequently, reviewing a book often means climbing past metaphors in order to see what they are getting at. This book was a prime example of how my dysfunctional mind operates. The introduction just about tipped me over the edge.
Gold mining! Wrong metaphor for me. It brings images of strip mining, ecological devastation, slave labour, violence, civil wars and the economic deprivation of displaced communities. Gold mining has rarely bought about anything good except nice jewellery, electronic conductors and symbolising wealth and power. Gold is rare and when found commercially it benefits a few at the expense of others. I don’t like the gold mining metaphor.
Second, in most wars’ military leaders were more often pragmatic tyrants than visionary leaders. People followed them out of fear, not vision. Many leaders weren’t trusted at all. I was in the army too, and one of the close secrets held by officers was not to disclose to the cannon fodder (otherwise known as ‘troops’) one of the equations they used to calculate a battle plan – acceptable losses. “Yes, we are going to take this strategic hill with an accepted 20% death rate and 30% casualties. Will it make a difference in the scheme of things? No. However, we can’t afford to retreat”. Military leaders more often used troops; they didn’t lead them. In fairness, Tom Comacho doesn’t draw much on the military metaphor.
However, in true English fashion, now that I have the stuff I didn’t like off my chest, I must say it was a good read, reminder and provocation to reconnect with mentoring in a refreshed way. I do like the precious metal’s analogy, though it needs expanding: personally, I’m more like a lump of lead or perhaps iron. I still need to be refined, but quite frankly I’m a lot more useful than gold. So maybe it would have been better to look at the benefits of different metals. Especially given the end desire is mentoring. Different metals need different treatment for different outcomes. I get the idea though, and it’s helpful, especially if mentoring is seeing people as they could become rather than who they have settled to be.
There was a sentence in the movie, Rocket Man, which caught my attention a few weeks back, and I have been thinking about it. A side character said in passing to Elton John, “If you want to succeed, you need to kill off who you were born to be in order to become who you want to be”. Is that true? If I change the phrasing to, “You must kill off who you were born to be in order to become who God wants you to be”, I engage in theology and transformation. In section entitled, The Challenge of Leadership Development, Tom Comacho has a go at addressing transformation. Being born is not being created in theological terms. We might bear the imago dei but we live with the imago adami too. The former requires the transformation of the Spirit, and Spirit engaged people to recognise it in us.
Comacho addresses the issue of brokenness in leaders and leadership development, and the theme is scattered throughout the book. As a broken leader in my own right, I appreciated this. In chapter 8 Comacho tackles brokenness and identity pretty well in the concept of being sons and daughter; though in my current context the gendered terminology just gets me in trouble. Consequently, I like the way Fr Greg Boyle uses the terminology of broken kinship and its restoration. (You need to listen to him – see the note below)
Though the book reads like a practical guide to mentoring, at its heart the desire is to know that mentoring flows from the experience of mentoring, as Comacho himself confesses, “One of my greatest mistakes over my life has been to focus too much on helping others, without doing the things that I needed for my own nourishment and growth.”
A few years back I saw a bowl that was possibly the most beautiful thing I’d seen in a while. It was a broken bowl repaired though the Japanese art called Kintsugi. The broken parts are gathered and are re-joined, not with glue, but with gold. The end result is not a repaired bowl, but a renewal; same broken bowl but with a beauty that changes the environment forever. Isn’t that a good illustration of mentoring?
Twenty years ago I read an article by Martin Broadwell describing four levels of teaching. It has come in handy over the years for both self-reflection around my own leadership and mentoring skills, and understanding how to see other leaders in development The four levels go something like the following:
A person does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit.
A person does not understand or know how to do something, they recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit.
A person understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration.
A person has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task.
The reason the four levels are useful in mentoring is that they categorise the places in which we might not be helpful to others. They are worth thinking about. Ironically, unconscious competents are terrible mentors as they don’t know how they do what they do because they just do. Such people need to reflect on their skills in order to pass them on.
What I took away from the book? Open your eyes to see God’s best in people where it’s not always visible. Sometimes the precious metal is within, sometimes we need to use a bit of metal to reveal a beauty hidden in the broken and ordinary.
 Tom Camacho, Mining for Gold: Developing Kingdom Leaders Through Coaching 26ff
 Camacho, Mining for Gold, 91ff
 If you haven’t read or heard of Greg Boyle, you need to listen to him. Short video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipR0kWt1Fkc
 Camacho, Mining for Gold, 129
 Have a gander at this link: https://www.lifegate.com/people/lifestyle/kintsugi
 Martin M. Broadwell, Moving Up to Supervision (Wiley-Interscience, 1986).