L3 Qualities- Mentorship

Written by David Hibbs

Written by David Hibbs

Qualities of Regional Judges: Mentorship

Odds are good that, if you are reading this article, you already know the origins of the English word “Mentor.”  To ensure we’re thinking of the same origins, I’ll take a moment to review one of the earliest uses of this term:  The Odyssey.  In Homer’s story, the goddess Athena takes the guise of a man named “Mentor” to guide, to support, and to protect the hero as he carries out his journey. Without delving into a full-blown analysis of the story, Athena is the one who guides the hero along his path, helping him to grow and to achieve his goals. Does this mean that you need to have the knowledge and ability of the divine in order to be a mentor? Far from it!  Let’s look at what the L3 Advancement Procedures Manual has to say about mentorship:

Regional Judges improve the judging communities in their local regions through active recruitment, training, and mentoring of other judges. This mentorship is tailored to the needs of the judges being mentored and results in measurable improvement in those judges. This is accomplished directly at events, but can also take shape outside of events through a variety of channels (forums, mailing lists, IRC, direct dialogue with other judges, etc).  A deficient candidate shows little to no active mentorship, or mentorship that is clearly ineffective. He or she shows little effort to develop his or her local community.  An exemplary candidate has demonstrated particularly broad, diverse, and effective mentorship capabilities. His or her influence as a mentor likely extends beyond a local community of judges.

– L3 Advancement Procedures Manual

This condensed text says a few things about what a mentor in the program does and how mentorship might be measured, but it seems to me that the primary difference between mentorship and teaching is buried in the heart of this text: a mentor tailors instruction to the specific needs and goals of the student, and through their influence, the junior judge experiences measurable growth.


What is mentorship really about?

If teaching is about the transfer of knowledge, mentorship is about is about the transfer of experience.  It is a way of not only helping someone new to a skill—or simply less experienced with it—to develop proficiency with that skill, but also of avoiding the common traps and pitfalls along the way.  By sharing both raw knowledge and experience, we are able to achieve consistency across generations, and we develop a larger pool of knowledge and experience than by working alone.

Historically, a young person would be apprenticed in order to learn a valuable skill.  Consider the work of a blacksmith. It’s entirely possible that he learned his skills on his own through trial and error, but if so, his path was probably a long and difficult one. His work certainly contained flaws for a great while. Compare this path to someone whose family sought out a mentor, someone who would take that person as a student and provide supervision and guidance.  That mentor would be able to guide his student through the basic skills required and along the student’s continuing path to mastery.  This guidance is the heart of mentorship; it is the process of taking someone from little or no knowledge to the point that the student can thrive as a professional and doing so as efficiently as possible.  It is about the master, the student, and their shared journey.

The common goal in a mentoring relationship is for students to perform the task on their own.  A time will come that the student will not have their mentor at their side, so it is vital they be allowed to err and to learn while someone can help them to recover gracefully—if not to outright rescue them in the event of a disaster.

Athena, at the end of the Odyssey, allowed her students Odysseus and Telemachus to take up their own arms and do battle with the suitors.  A blacksmith’s apprentice must swing the hammer and shape the iron. So, too, must we allow our learners to hone their skills under our guidance, rather than doing it for them.

If the mentor always does something for their student, the student likely has not truly learned anything!


The Mentorship Cycle

Mentorship Cycle

Mentorship is not a one-time task; mentorship is an ongoing cycle.  This cycle of education, observation, and assessment helps a student to continually improve. Sometimes the cycle is short. Other times, the cycle is long and arduous. The purpose, though, remains constant—a focused improvement in a specific skill, ability, or vocation.

Because it is a cycle, mentorship does not have a specific beginning point; it can begin at any point in the loop.  The mentoring relationship might begin with the student listening to a mentor speak, or it may begin by the mentor observing the student, or it could even begin when the mentor hears about or sees something that the student has done.

Breaking down the cycle into its components, the most obvious thing that a mentor does is teach their student. This can be done in any number of ways, and a good mentor will make use of multiple approaches.  Some students need to see a task performed; others need to have things explained in detail; a select few can read and learn solely from text. A truly outstanding mentor will study their protégé and tailor their means of instruction to how their apprentice learns best at each step of development.

This leads to the next step in the mentorship cycle: observation. As previously noted, the learner must make their own efforts to perform the task at hand. Often, the mentor will simply watch and allow the student to act without interfering.  This is not merely watching what that person does; it is much more.  While a simple observer will note what student does and the way in which they do it, a mentor identifies something that can be improved.

This, then, presents an opportunity for assessment. What is the quality of the work product? A mentor will make note both of things that are done poorly and of those that are done well. The mentor will determine which aspects of a student’s skills to hone and guide them toward mastery. This may be as complex as identification of a product that is not of the highest quality, or it may be recognition of something done and ready for optimization. The key is that the mentor is able to identify a logical next step in the progression of a developing skill set.

This is why observation and assessment are important:  a good mentor will not waste time trying to teach their student something they already know.  Instead, the mentor will focus on what can be improved!  With this assessment of what should be the next focus, the mentor is able to resume instruction and select an approach for teaching that will foster rapid growth.

Carrying the cycle a step further, one book that I’ve read about mentorship (As Iron Sharpens Iron) explains that any person needs at least 3 people in their life to truly master a skill: a mentor who knows more about the subject than themselves; a student to teach (for what better way to measure what you know or do not know); and a peer to learn alongside with you.

In this way, mentorship is never a one-way street and the mentorship cycle does not necessarily have an end; there is no need to cease mentoring once a protégé can function independently.  While a student may achieve mastery, the teacher will also continue to learn—perhaps even from their pupil—and the cycle can continue!


How does this relate to being a Magic Judge?

This article is a single part of a series on the 12 characteristics of a regional judge.  The fact that there are 12 characteristics, each of sufficient weight to support its own article, demonstrates the far-reaching skills and knowledge required to truly excel as a Magic Judge.

As a regional judge, you are expected to have reached a certain level of mastery in a number of areas.  Further, it means that you have knowledge and experience to share!  You might find that you are an expert in rules, or policy, or even mentorship.  Part of your role within the community is to teach those around you, if not to train your own eventual replacement.

As even a very new judge, you almost certainly have some talent or ability in a few of these areas. It is entirely possible for you to identify areas where you need assistance, and for you to identify areas that you can help someone else. It is vital for both personal success and the growth of the program to exchange knowledge.

Finding a mentor today can be every bit as difficult as it was in the days when a family would pay a mentor for their time.  In some ways, it is even more difficult—especially for the particular skills required of a Magic Judge.  In days past, families could simply pay for a mentor’s services.  This financial motivation drove some to be mentors who would not otherwise have chosen to take an apprentice. Given that there is no longer this financial incentive to being a mentor, you must find it in yourself to share your expertise.  Odds are high that you will find a number of judges looking to you in the hope that you will guide them along the path.

With the knowledge that your experience and guidance are in high demand, where can you begin?

Remember that mentorship is a cycle.  You can start the cycle by giving a seminar or by writing an article.  You might start the cycle by seeing a judge do something on the floor of a Grand Prix or FNM that they could have done better.  You may just hear a report of something that went wrong and have an idea on what could have been done differently. Each of these scenarios presents a chance to step in and help other judges grow.


Connections to Other Qualities of Regional Judges

In reading the above sections, you probably noticed a few places that mentorship dovetails with other qualities of regional judges.  Without going into too much detail on these other qualities, a few areas to keep in mind as you approach mentoring are as follows:

  • Communication Skills, because you have to teach your student.
  • Assessment of Other Judges, because you must assess where your student can grow.
  •  Stress and Conflict Management, because sometimes people are resistant to change!
  • Attitude and Maturity, because all of the above is very hard—but it’s extremely worthwhile.


In Closing…

If you’re a Magic Judge, you probably love the game of Magic. What makes our beloved game continue to grow and to thrive is that there are others who love it, others to share it with!  If we don’t teach others, we will likely find ourselves without events in which to play or without a quality tournament scene. Look around you:  who in your area is going to help your community to grow and to thrive if you don’t care enough to share?

Speaking from my own experience, I once looked around at my local PTQ and realized that the judge staff consisted of an old-school L1 and a couple uncertified judges. This was a shock!  How did it get to be this way?  The answer was both simple and complex: a lack of ongoing leadership and mentorship, compounded by time and exodus both literal and figurative.  I truly hope that your own area is not so sparse as my area was at that time, but if it is, know that it is not impossible to build (or rebuild) the program in your area.  Ask others for ideas, or simply get out there and try something. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way, but that shouldn’t mean that everyone around you has to do the same. If you have knowledge and experience to share, then find someone to teach!

This is why mentorship is one of the characteristics of a regional judge:  through sharing our knowledge and skills, we ensure that the program will continue and we develop a larger pool of knowledge and experience than by working alone.


Additional resources

As Iron Sharpens Iron: Building Character in a Mentoring Relationship

by Howard and William Hendricks

5 Mentor Archetypes I’ve Met – and How to Spot Them

by Jennifer Dulski