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".
“Because that’s how we’ve always done it” is a cringe-worthy statement. It’s worse than sharp nails running down a dull chalkboard. It allows us to get trapped in a pattern of mindlessness. It leaves us stuck in ineffective traditions.
The story below highlights what happens when we stop asking questions about effectiveness - and mindlessly engage in work 'because that's how we've always done it':
Just prior to World War II, a military officer was visiting an overseas counterpart to study and learn from his maneuvers. It was a reconnaissance mission. The two officers looked on as an artillery battalion deployed from their trucks and prepared their cannons for a mock attack. The visiting officer leaned toward his counterpart and asked why seven men were assigned to each cannon.
It was clear from the arrangement that there were only six active cannon positions—the seventh simply stood at attention. The host officer quickly shared that there had always been seven-man teams, but he was not sure why. He promised to look into it the next day.
The next morning, the two were enjoying breakfast together when the host officer reported his findings:
"There have always been seven-man teams because the seventh member was responsible for holding the
horses," he noted.
The visiting officer let out a disbelieving chuckle. “But we don’t use horses anymore…”
When we stop asking questions about effectiveness, we get trapped in a pattern of mindlessness.
How often do we pause and reflect on our current processes and practices? How many of us have that 7th Man or Woman standing at attention—not assisting in any meaningful way? Leadership is about taking these Because-that’s-how-we’ve-always-done-it moments and transforming them into opportunities for change.
What are great leaders doing differently to make their organizations thrive and grow?
In her TED Talk, Roselinde Torres ponders the possibilities of this question (see below).
The premise of the pondering is that regular leaders—the majority of us—are not positioned or prepared to serve as great 21st century leaders for our organizations. Although more resources are being spent on leadership education and development than ever before, there is a significant concern that our current development and education experiences are not equipping us to serve as the effective leaders our organizations need.
In other words, she suggests there is a leadership crisis! Over the course of a year, Torres researched this crisis under the guise of the question, “what are great leaders doing distinctively different to thrive and grow? She found three critical differences:
How are you helping yourself, your colleagues, and your organizations thrive and grow?
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