There seems to be a crisis of heroism today. Our culture doesn’t support risk-taking and self-sacrifice as much as it does playing it safe and following the road of least inconvenience.

One of the reasons could be that we’re also experiencing a dearth of mentorship.

The relationship between mentor and apprentice hasn’t been a part of our working culture since the Industrial Revolution. Disconnected from handmade trade and shuffled into large corporations, employees learn a system rather than a craft. Sons and daughters go to work for a national brand rather than the family business.

Before we entered an industrialized culture, mentorship used to be a fundamental part of our lives, in our families and in learning a trade. It was the unspoken, yet undeniable path that guided girls and boys into the roles of young women and men, demonstrating virtue and wisdom in action. Today, we can certainly find a few opportunities for this kind of mentorship, but it’s no longer encoded into our culture, but rather a program or seminar that happens every once in a while, not on a daily, consistent, and attentive basis.

So how can we hope to bring back these character-forming relationships in our modern era? How can we reinspire mentorship relationships between parents and children, and between masters of their craft with the young apprentices entering their fields?

The Source of Wisdom for Heroes

Behind every hero is a mentor who oriented and educated them in the truths of the world. Whether it’s Socrates and Plato or Mr. Miyagi and the Karate Kid, mentors are the individuals who recognize and shape potential into power and direct it towards the ultimate good.

To be a good mentor means to be a source of wisdom and teaching, both practical and timeless, while also creating impressive amounts of value in their own work. A mentor is a leader whose resolve, loyalty, and grit have been proven time and time again. Mentors have the humility to support the careers and dreams of others. They possess the long sight required to invest in the future of their family and enterprise. And they’ve built up enough experience to give their apprentices an advantage over the human frailties that often pull us back from making brave choices in our home and work lives.

A Mentor Tells the Greater Story

At home and in businesses, the call for mentors is just as universal today as the call for heroes. Each of us needs to identify how we can serve as mentors, even in the smallest of ways. Stepping into the role of mentor starts with practicing courage and conquering our own fears of the unknown. It’s essentially paying attention to the stumbling blocks that have risen in our own heroic journeys first.

There are four basic questions every mentor can use to see their apprentice through the lens of the greater heroic story at play in their lives.

Who is your apprentice at the core?

Your first job is to discover your apprentice’s make-up. What are their current strengths and interests? You have to take the time to understand who they are at their very core in order to effectively coach them towards their potential greatness. Tap into the deepest, most meaningful parts of their identity. Talk about where they’re already experiencing energy and momentum. This way, you can harness their growth to their natural enthusiasm.

How can you model the learning process?

Once you know who your apprentice is, the first step forward is a lesson in courage and curiosity. Demonstrate that true knowledge is gained through the scientific process of experimentation, failure, and improvement. Give your apprentice permission to try in spite of fear. Whether it’s inventing new methods or having candid conversations with family members, show through your actions the value of making the attempt with sincerity and humility.

What story does your apprentice need to hear?

Mentors must have the unparalleled ability to cut through the lies that lurk and hound a hero’s conscience. The mentor always seeks to understand and asks, “What is the greater story at play?” The mentor sees the ultimate drama – what the hero and the antagonist can’t easily see because they are inside the story, too close to the action, and therefore lacking in contextual wisdom. Through their actions and their words, mentors are fellow journeyers who are narrating the greater story of life the way they see it. What heroes need in times of trouble are stories to believe in — the unvarnished struggle that they will have to endure and the true, happy ending for which they are fighting.

Stepping into the Fray but Out of the Spotlight

In many ways, being a mentor is like stepping into the shoes of the unsung hero on purpose. Mentors usually don’t get the headliner credit for saving the world — they’re lucky if they get an honorable mention in the final credits, an afterthought thank-you. Mentors work harder, longer, and might not live to see the fruit of their labor.

But if we are to support and nurture the kinds of heroes that we want to see in this world, then we need to start investing the time and energy that it takes to know and teach young heroes through their formative years and beyond. Whether we are parents or business leaders, it’s our job to override our society’s tendency to rapidly jump from one place to another. We have to stick with them for the long run and remind them to pay attention the adventure that’s happening at the heart level.

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