Training in the 21st Century

Mentoring – Making Beautiful Music Together

Guest Blogger: Kris Schaeffer, CPLP, Kris Schaeffer & Associates

I used to share office space with Titus Dickson.  He was an opera coach and one of his students was the famous soprano Ruth Ann Swenson.  Titus described how opera singers coached each other and passed along their techniques and tips.  He said that the notion that opera singers are high-maintenance competitive performers may be true for only a handful of the most notorious divas.  It’s not the ethic of the profession.  “Opera grows as an art only when the masters are willing to pass along their learning to the next generation.”  With each opera, the cast of singers becomes a team. They help each other master their parts.  They’re all looking for the same things – the critique’s rave review and a packed house.

An entire profession believes that they need to help each other to make beautiful music together.

That generous spirit reminded me of some sage advice I heard in my early years of ASTD – my professional organization.  Peter Lewis looked around the local Chapter meeting room and said, “Some of the pros look at other members and see newbies and wannabes with no experience.  We can either shun them or help them.  I choose to help them because their work will reflect on me and on my profession.”  Peter took the long view of how to create a cadre of professionals.

As a professional, do you feel that you should help others to learn and grow?

Professionals.  The word implies someone has mastered a craft and earns a living practicing it. Some crafts have the professional-apprentice relationship.  The master artist of oil on canvas.  Building trades.  The senior partner in the law or accounting firm. The SME (subject matter expert) on the factory floor or in the fab.  We need to have knowledge passed along.

Yes, there are reasons why we don’t do more to coach newbies.  No formal apprenticeship programs.  No knowledge management process. No recognition for the master. A lack of time. Demands on the professional to produce more work rather than to produce more talent.

But there are compelling, intrinsic reasons to mentor and coach others.  The generosity of legacy.  The feeling of satisfaction at seeing someone grow and learn. The pride and defense of a profession. The increase in quality and speed of doing the work, which is called “mastery.”

It takes masters sharing what they know to develop mastery in others.  If we truly feel that passing along our talents to others is a part of being a pro, then let’s do it more.  It’s good for you and good for your profession.

Kris founded Kris Schaeffer & Associates, San Francisco, almost 30 years ago.  Right now she is trying to “give away all she knows” by mentoring ASTD chapter members who volunteer to work on project teams for the Chapter’s Community Outreach Program.  Learn more about the Community Outreach Program at

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