Much like traditional one-to-one mentoring experiences, group mentorship has been practiced for centuries. As a developmental relationship, it has played a significant role in the learning and growth of individuals, the enhancement and productivity of organizations, and the evolution and progress of whole communities. Benjamin Franklin, as a young entrepreneur in Colonial Philadelphia, established a mentoring group named The Leather Apron Club.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1727 was the fastest-growing city in all of the British settlements—a bustling urban environment of 51,000 colonists. It was on the verge of becoming the commercial, economic, and political power of the Thirteen Colonies—more culturally relevant and influential than the other dominant settlements of the New World. This is the same year that Benjamin Franklin convened friends and colleagues to create a peer mentoring group named The Leather Apron Club. Much of Philadelphia’s emergence as a prominent colonial force is due to the work of Franklin and his collaborators.
This secretive society was comprised of men who donned leather aprons as part of their trade—artisans, craftsmen, and merchants. These middle-class entrepreneurs dreamed of a city that would better serve its populace and utilized this forum to realize those dreams. These dozen men discussed issues of the day, debated philosophical topics, devised schemes for self-improvement, and developed a network that allowed for the furtherance of their own careers and tangible improvements to the city.
The Leather Apron Club was a safe space for ideas to simmer and initiatives to unfold. The reflective space for dialogue and relationship-building established an important holding environment. These gatherings resulted in each member engaging in personal growth and professional learning opportunities. Stimulated by Franklin, a particular method was encouraged—the utilization of soft Socratic queries which guided the developmental and democratic dialogue. Suggestions and questions were utilized rather than debate or dictatorial responses. This allowed for each member to pause, enter into a reflective space, forge their own knowledge, engage with their peers, and then author their own decisions.
The Leather Apron Club served as a crux for social change. A multitude of civic improvements rooted in “social utility” and social improvement were devised within the gatherings. Some of the crowning achievements include the establishment of paper currency, a system for regular road repair, and consistent street cleaning. A volunteer fire company, city hospital, educational academy (which would become the University of Pennsylvania), and the first subscription library all were the direct result of these mentoring gatherings.
LiDER utilizes group mentoring to enhance the leadership learning of our participants. For example, our Leadership Training Certificate Program utilizes group mentoring to cultivate synergistic relationships and to more deeply explore leadership theories, effective leadership practices, and facilitation skills necessary to train others in leadership. For more information on group mentoring, see LiDER Executive Director Jonathan Kroll’s article:
"What is Group Mentoring".
LiDER is a start-up non-profit leadership institute that provides training, resources, and mentorship to students, women, and entrepreneurs.
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