Tuesday, November 3, 2009
The Mentoring Project
In Portland, Oregon there is an author and teacher named Donald Miller who founded The Belmont Foundation, “a not-for-profit foundation working to recruit ten-thousand mentors through one-thousand churches as an answer to the crisis of fatherlessness in America.” The Mentoring Project (TMP), The Belmont Foundation’s main project, seeks to accomplish this endeavor “by inspiring and equipping faith communities to mentor fatherless boys” by providing mentor training and resources, and consultation to the volunteers as well as financial assistance to the mothers of the mentored children.
After reading his biography and part of his memoir, Blue Like Jazz, it’s clear that Don founded TMP, and serves on President Obama’s task force of Fatherhood and Healthy Families, so that young boys in America can live healthier, more-fulfilling lives than he lived while growing up without a father. His personal experience is a key motivating factor for his service to the fatherless youth in America.
Regarding TMP alone, and leaving out his writings, book tours, lectures, etc., I see Don as having some aspects of a few key leadership theories, but does not fit perfectly into any one of these alone: servant leadership (Greenleaf, 1991), visionary leadership (Sashkin, 1989), transformational leadership (Burns, 1978), and leadership as relationship (Burns, 1978, McGregor, 1966, Stogdill 1948).
Nowhere in Don’s biography or websites is he referred to as a leader, but instead, as one who serves a greater need in our nation. Is Don a servant leader because he is the founder of TMP or is he the founder of TMP because he is a servant leader? (Sendjaya and Sarros, 2002). Or do neither one of these premises hold true for Don? It is my opinion that Don is a servant leader, and then founder of TMP, because he is visionary and wants to make a positive change in the lives of fatherless boys and more broadly, in America. He became the founder after he first made the decision to serve in this ‘crisis’. With that, can Don change the world through his servant leadership? In the lives of the boys who are mentored, yes, the foundation changes their world. Mentors help the fatherless boys by fulfilling their lower level needs and moving them toward self-actualization, which Smith defines as the success of servant leadership (2004). In conjunction with this, mentors also serve as role models to the boys; supporting optimism and utilizing two-way personalized communication, which Smith defines as elements of transformational leadership (2004).
The mission and goals of TMP, to inspire and equip…to answer to the crises, etc., is also visionary in that the founder not only communicates the vision though numerous outlets, but acts on it himself, and makes the vision possible in several ways and places, such as through the giving of time by mentoring, financially supporting the program, or volunteering consultation skill and time to improving the mentorship process (Sashkin, 1989).
I’m not sure that Don would go as far as calling himself a leader because he founded TMP, and if he did call himself a leader, it would probably be in sarcasm because he is a bit of a comedian, which, on a side note, is one small element of why I also think of him as a charismatic leader. Despite his awareness of being a leader or not, Don aligns with Greenleaf’s philosophy of servant-leadership because The Belmont Foundation emerged through his searching, listening, and expecting that a better life for these fatherless boys was possible, and this expectation for a ‘better life’ is now in the making (1991). When he started this foundation, Don was not seeking to help himself, but instead, was devoted toward the needs of fatherless boys. At the same time, Don’s motivation and passion to serve others in this capacity emerged largely because of his personal experience of being a fatherless boy. Does this direct personal interest make his endeavor through TMP any less servant-minded? I don’t think so. The leader’s values help form the leader’s vision.
Don’s vision is bigger than just helping the fatherless through reliable quality time and mentorship. He is attempting to raise our value of mentorship through this project by explaining it as a step toward positively transforming the communities of our nation. Burns would likely refer to Don as a transformational leader because TMP has already mobilized hundreds of people toward the vision and changed the lives of several fatherless boys and single mothers, thus passing the test of leadership (1978).
Lastly, regarding leadership as relationship, Don seeks to develop the relationship between the TMP mentors, the children and mothers, the communities in which they live, and the churches of America that Don challenges to meet the needs of the foundation’s causes. Essentially, as Burns, McGregor, and Stogdill would agree, the leadership relationship is complex and is not about the individual, but about the situation at large.
In considering all the ways that Don fits partially into a few leadership frameworks, is it possible that he is not a leader, but simply a determined role model on a mission?
References and photo: