There’s a player on a sports team who wants to become a team captain in the offensive team that she’s on. But she’s never been a team captain before. The team’s offensive coach suggests mentoring, and gives her a name and a number to call. After the usual introductions and pleasantries, the first serious thing she asks the mentor is “How do I become team captain?”
She was lucky to find a good mentor, who says to her, “I have no idea — but have you asked your coaching staff?”
The player seems frustrated by the mentor’s response. She snaps back, “Hey, aren’t you supposed to mentor me?”
The mentor says, “I’d like to. But keep in mind, I own a sporting goods chain. I’ve never even played your sport. But is the real problem here that you don’t know what a team captain does? Or is it something else?”
The player says, “Of course I know what the team captain does. I have one and I see them at work all the time doing stuff.”
The mentor replies, “Like what?”
“Well, for one thing they mediate disputes between team members,” says the player.
“So, do you typically get involved in conflict mediation?” asks the mentor.
“Oh sure I do, all the time,” says the player. But the mentor notices her voice, which is tinged with a hint of uncertainty.
The mentor asks, “What was the most recent conflict you remember?”
The player thinks for a moment and replies, “Hmm. I guess last month? It was the quarter-finals. My teammate and I yelled at each other about who should carry out a key play. The captain helped us figure it out.”
The mentor smiles slightly and says, “So you weren’t mediating, but instead you were part of the problem?”
The player looks taken aback. She hesitates, and then remembers that in a mentoring relationship, you’re supposed to be candid and honest, since it’s confidential. She takes a breath and then replies, “I… guess that’s true.”
The mentor asks, “Think back over the last season or two with the team. Do you think the situation you just described was an exception? Or was it more the rule for how you deal with conflict?”
The player ponders silently for a moment, and replies, “I guess it’s the latter.” She feels a little vulnerable. Should mentoring feel like this? She’s just mentally run through a number of arguments with teammates over the last season. “But isn’t confrontation sometimes healthy?”
“For sure,” says the mentor, “and nearly everyone gets into conflict sometimes. It’s a fact of life when your objectives run into other people’s. Definitely nothing to be ashamed of.”
The player grins and says, “That’s good to know. Otherwise I’d worry about whether I should just change careers.”
The mentor chuckles. “No need to be hasty! But as you said earlier, a team captain’s place is different. They put themselves in the role of mediator, and help teammates work through a conflict. Their teammates see them as a leader, and that helps them do their job. What do you think stops you from doing that more often? How do your teammates see you?”
“I think I get your point,” the player says. “I need to develop my own approach, so that my teammates and coaches see me as a leader. But where do I start?”
The mentor smiles broadly and responds, “NOW you’re asking the right question.”