Everyone Needs A Mr Pigden…

There is a lovely video clip circulating on social media at the moment. Ian Wright was a famous footballer, now turned pundit and activist. A few years ago he was filmed for a life story. During that filming he was reunited with a gentleman called Sydney Pigden, a teacher from the primary school Ian Wright attended in South-East London. Ian had not seen Mr Pigden for more than two decades, and Ian’s reaction, on that show, to the surprise emergence behind him of Mr Pigden was one of deep and raw emotion. ‘Mr Pigden, you’re alive?’ said Ian. ‘I can’t believe it, someone said you was dead’ he uttered before they embraced. ‘I’m so glad you’ve done so well for yourself’, remarked Mr Pigden. Later, after the surprise reconnection Ian went on to comment: ‘I don’t know what to say, I can’t believe it. Now I realise how important he was in my life, the first positive male figure that I had, trying to guide me. He had me as his special guy’.

Whether you like football or not, a fan of Arsenal or Ian, or not, this is a beautiful clip. It encapsulates, for me, what mentoring is all about, it’s immense power and the legacy it leaves. Ian has been coached by many but very few have mentored him. The reaction was pure gold. Here appeared a mature, wise, humble person (Mr Pigden) to meet one of his former pupils who happens to have achieved success in a very high-profile environment. The impact Mr Pigden had on on Ian’s life was clear to see, as was Mr Pigden’s pleasure at Ian’s success. I wonder how many other people had benefitted from Mr Pigden’s guidance over the years (quite a few I’d guess). I’m also dead certain he’d say ‘I’m so glad you’ve done so well for yourself’ to almost all of them regardless of whether they’d become a hero to millions, or just a hero in their own home.

Mr Pigden himself, prior to his teaching career which spanned 30 years, was a Royal Air Force fighter pilot who flew Spitfires, Hurricanes and Typhoons during World War II. Like every mentor he had his own back-story that gave him his experience to help guide others like Ian.

The Mentors In My Life

The clip reminded me of the mentors in my life too. As I get older I don’t always remember what I did yesterday, but I do remember the moments when a well put and neatly timed piece of advice lifted me up when I needed it. Two, in particular, stand out:

  • Being the smallest (physically) in my year at primary school it would have been easy to get pushed to the periphery in sports. Bigger, more mature lads (and girls) tend to be picked first, but my PE teacher spotted that vulnerability together with my intense enthusiasm to participate and made a virtue out of my size in front of all others. It became cool to be small, and he engineered opportunities where being small made me succeed. He gave me confidence, and as a result others had confidence in me.
  • Then at my first proper job; having been demoted for wearing a cardigan, no amount of persuasion (not even that demotion) got me to change my attire until a new certain boss came along, and found a way to disarm my stubborness, with some wise but totally non-judgemental words. After 3 years of intransigence (and unfashionability), over-night I spent an extra 10 minutes ironing a whole shirt and leaving that woolly item at home.

Mentoring VS Coaching

Mentoring is deeply personal. Unlike coaching, it is not so structured and process-driven, but in many respects it runs much deeper and leads to at least as much profound change / impact, probably more. I haven’t seen enough of it happening. Why that is I can only speculate, but you can change that too.

In coaching (an industry in itself and not just a leadership style) the ‘client’ or coachee ultimately draws the conclusions and makes the changes. It’s an accepted practice and courses/programmes/literature/videos abound on ‘how to do it’. I’ve done a few coaching courses myself. Building a mutually trusting relationship (within a coaching process) is naturally key to its success, but it’s all about performance improvement in a measurable timescale.

Mentoring is, however, different. It’s more like a grandparent to grandchild relationship…not necessarily in terms of the age gap but the ‘I’ll love and support you whatever’ approach. You are not trying to take the ‘mentee’ through a formal process or predict a precise outcome you are just there to listen, not judge, but support and ultimately, just give them a little of what they need in that moment. ‘That moment’  is just when the mentee needs it most. Those moments of mentoring, are the ones that often last in perpetuity and are remembered deeply for the impact they had. They can also drive immediate positive outcomes just as well as coaching can, if not faster – don’t be fooled by it’s relative informality.

A carefully chosen wise-word or two, some thoughtful encouragement, a nudge in a certain direction, an arm around the shoulder, offer of support, a little story spoken from experience….and so on. As a mentee it’s about being able to go to someone whose only vested interest in that moment is you, your well-being and happiness.

Having been a Board Member in many businesses over a couple of decades you are surrounded by people but we all know how lonely that place still is. Non-Execs and Chairs can be good mentors but that type are few and far between; they are often too wrapped up (necessarily so) in the success of the business to be a truly independent and non-judgemental mentor. They have mentoring moments but are not able to be a true mentor. A true mentor needs to be more ‘removed’ from your immediate world, and more relaxed about the decisions you take provided you are happy, and experience ‘growth’ as a result.

During this protracted pandemic I’ve acted as a voluntary mentor for several SME’s and individuals. I’ve loved it and I hope the mentees have got something from it too…at least we are still speaking to each other so something I add might be of use. I might not (yet) have played a role in helping to guide the Ian Wright’s of this world, but I’d suggest so many more people could do with at least one ‘Mr Pigden’ in their lives!

Do you need a mentor in your life?

At Tessiant we host a range of Senior Industry Experts that have been there and done it. Being able to offer you real insight into their wisdom and lessons they have learnt. Allowing you to gain valuable support, whilst becoming a better leader and building a better business. Find out more here.