November 23, 2009

Coaching and Mentoring and the Issue of Intent Part 2

The Four Concerns

As with all of these models that we have developed, the Four Concerns are based on the insight that like the process of the move from birth to death is an incremental process, so too the process of the maturation of intent is an incremental process. If we used a metaphor of shade to describe this incremental process and we likened unconditionally being here to get as absolute dark and unconditionally being here to give as absolute light, then what the process of maturation represents is an incremental process of the gradual lightening of the shade. What this suggests is that as we mature there is a change in the proportion of the mix of our intent from more self focused in the beginning to more other focused in the end. This suggests that one can delineate four broad types of shade in this process. In so far as the mentor’s project should be the maturation of the mentee, it is important to some insight into each of these stages, and what facilitation the mentor could offer to progress the mentee along these stages.

1st Concern: I am Here to Get

Because mentoring relationships are unlikely to deal with infants, I will provide a cursory overview of the 1st Concern: In my experience infants seem fundamentally concerned with physical comfort. They seem to have very little concern for the other at all. There is so little difference between stimulus and response that infants inhabit a word where there is very little distinction between self and other. When they are hungry the shout till they are fed, when they have cramp they shout till they are burped, when then are soiled they shout until they are cleaned. There is a single strategy to all things: the shout. There is no necessity to engage a complex strategy to pursue satisfaction. It is as if happiness is tied to the other side of the voice, and the voice commands reasonably immediate gratification of whatever the physical requirement is at the time. However, at some point the young child recognizes two related insights: the self and the other are disconnected and, horror upon horror, the other has the power to withhold the good auspices of the self. At this point it becomes apparent that shouting is not good enough, you have to be nice to them to get something out of them. You have to give to get. Out of the squalling infant to toddle a charming little girl is born!

2nd Concern: I Give to Get

Young children are rarely truly rebellious. They are charming and seek the approval of adults all the time. They have come to realize that if you tantrum every time you want something the adults in your world are likely to start resisting you. You cannot scream if you don’t get what you want from them now. You have to be nice to them now to get something out of them tomorrow. The key strategy of pre teen children is therefore appeasement. The dictum seems to be that you can get from you what you want when you get them to like you. This seemed to be the key strategy engaged by my children up until the day before their 13th birthday. The monster that emerged from the bedroom on their 13th birthday was unrecognizable. I was tempted to ask him “who are you and what have you done with my son”. Gone was the sweet kid who wanted nothing more than for me to ruffle his hear and give him a hug. Being liked clearly was not that important to him anymore. Far more important was being significant. It is as if he realized that if he is always nice and acquiescent with people they don’t always take him seriously. Nice is not nearly as interesting as important. Important people get what they want for more effectively then liked people. Important people don’t have to negotiate, they can demand. They have to be taken seriously. The strategy of life therefore moves from being fundamentally acquiescent to being fundamentally competitive. From a mentoring point of view it is very apparent that this adolescent way of being persists with many people into their dotage. It presents as a fundamental incapacity to listen, to spend much time being outraged on the basis of the infringement of their rights and being deeply envious of and competitive with others. It is also associated with a deeply seated expediency which easily overlooks doing what is right on the basis of doing what is comfortable. Assuming that the mentor has managed to develop some rapport with the mentee, then the mentee’s narrative will present the following 5 kinds of useful material from a diagnostic point of view:

i) Narcissism: The mentor will experience this person as deeply narcissistic. Their own account will be fundamentally more interesting than the other’s account. This person will therefore present poor listening skills. When I answer you back before you have finished speaking it means I am giving attention to my agenda rather than yours. In order to give attention to your agenda I have stop giving attention to mine. Listening is a moral skill. For me to listen to you I have to suspend my agenda to give attention to yours. One can describe giving as the ability of suspending one’s own agenda for the agenda of the other in this situation. Because people in the second concern are fundamentally interested in their own concerns, they will interrupt often and be at pains to indicate just how much their position is different and unique.

ii) Rights and Needs Focus: This person will be far more concerned with the injustice done to them than the injustice that they do. Their narrative will present as a litany of complaint. Because their attention is fundamentally on what they are getting from the other they will naturally present themselves as far more concerned about their rights as their duties. The effect is of this that they will fundamentally account for misfortune based on what the other has done. There will there for be a deep disavowal of any sense of accountability. Consistent with this will be a sense of victimhood and powerlessness.

iii) Discontent: Because all this person’s motives are conditional, they will display a fundamental discontent about their lives. The reason for this is that the degree to which intent is conditional is the degree to which are discontented, by definition. If I do something to get something else then the thing that I am doing is the price I have to pay in order to get what I want. The idea of paying a price is never pleasant. It is always seen to be onerous, as losing something or as having to sacrifice something. The problem here is that the thing that you want is in the future, and the paying of the price and the suffering it entails is in the present. Of the two, it is the present that exists, which means that while you do something for conditional motive you will be discontented.

iv) Insecurity: If a person’s security is based on what they are getting from the world, because the world rarely gives anyone exactly what they wanted at that particular point in time that person will always be insecure. You will be insecure if you base your security on things you have no power over and you have no power over what you get, this is perennially in the hands of the other.

v) Conflict: Because second attention people are deeply competitive they are constantly in conflict with the world around them. This is rooted in the logic of conditional motive. If I want something from someone else, that person’s ability to withhold what I want gives them power over me. They therefore are potentially dangerous to me because they can manipulate me. However because I want something from them I am dangerous to them. Which means , while I want something from some else they are dangerous to me and I am dangerous to them When two people are fundamentally dangerous with regard to each other the logical outcome of this will be conflict.

Of these five conditions associated with the second attention the narcissism and needs focus are causal and discontentment, insecurity and conflict with the other are the effect. In my experience the mentor can, over time, enable the reflection space to make it possible for the mentee to move on to the third concern by indicating how the attributes of discontentment, insecurity and conflict are rooted in narcissism and need focused behavior. This is enabled by reflecting the consequences of a focus on others and of attention to duties and values.

In the first instance this is made possible by indicating to the mentee that it is logically possible to give attention to the agenda of the other in a given situation because what it requires is to stop giving attention to one’s own. Further to this, that there is a difference between what is right in a situation and what is expedient, and all the discontent, insecurity and conflict which the mentee is experiencing is an attribute of giving attention to their needs rather than what is right. It is important for the person to understand that this is not about a negotiated settlement. You do not scratch the other’s back so that they can scratch yours in the longer term. It is about committing oneself to doing what is appropriate in principle, and to base your security and fulfillment on that. Clearly, if I base my security and fulfillment on the quality of what I am contributing at any given point in time I am basing my security and fulfillment on what I have power over. I will therefore be secure and fulfilled.

Further to this, if I shift my attention from what I want from the other to how I can be helpful to the other the other can no longer withhold what I want. I therefore escape from the other’s hold over me and I become free and safe from the other. Simultaneously, because I now want to be helpful to the other the other does not experience me as a threat but rather as being helpful to them. They are safe from me. When the self shifts attention from what it wants from other to how it can help the other the self is safe from the other and the other is safe from the self. There is harmony between them. It is this theme of conflict with the other that serves as the most useful material to work with to enable the second attention mentee to recognize that the struggles that he is engaged in is an attribute of his own intent. I often use a little story of Shaykh Muhammad ibn al Habib to help to make this point:

A student of the shaykh once complained to him bitterly about his wife, saying that he did not know why he had married her, that she was a bad tempered shrew of a woman and was making his life miserable. The shaykh listened for a while and then got irritated and told the fellow to shut up. ‘Why, shaykh?’ the student wanted to know. ‘Because,’ said the shaykh, ‘you clearly do not understand the purpose of a spouse. The role of a spouse in a person’s life is like the role of water in a vessel. It is the nature of the water to find where the cracks in the vessel are. It is poor courtesy of the vessel to complain when the water finds the cracks!’

This story very eloquently indicates that we suffer the other where we have cracks. The misery that another person causes us is an attribute of our own conditional motive and actually has very little to do with them. It remains perennially true that resentment is a poison one drinks in the hope that someone else will get sick. At some point it is appropriate to stop drinking the poison, particularly when you quite sick of your own resentment. Another strategy that is useful to enable people to shift beyond the second concern is to enable some enthusiasm for a benevolent intent that they can commit to. If the person is already working then it is useful to centre the discussion around the usefulness of what the person does for others and the contribution which is made to the world by the person doing what they do. If one is dealing with an adolescent then enabling some curiosity with regard to being helpful to others in a way that resonates with that person is of benefit.

3rd Concern: I Get to Give

As a mentor you know you are dealing with a person in the 3rd concern if the narrative of the person centers around the issue of duties, the significant people in their lives and their relationships. Initially the picture will feel wholesome. The person will be a walking metaphor of social integration and adjustment. If the person is married or has children much of what genuinely concerns them is the wellbeing of their family. This person is also likely to be comparatively stable in their work life and would seem to be at peace with frustrated career aspirations because this is what one had to do to provide and to live up to one’s responsibilities. The phrasing of ‘I get to give’ is appropriate to describe this period of a person’s life. Actions are fundamentally done with a benevolent end in mind, but they are still conditional. A person would say, for example, that they do work to earn a living, but the money that they earn us not just for themselves, it is for their families. They need to get the money to give to provide for t heir families and live up to their responsibilities.

The fundamental intention is benign but it is conditional, and the condition is fundamentally about what is expedient or good for the social other. This suggests that when people are in this period of their lives they are capable of doing things that are unconscionable but excuse it on the basis that this is what is required by the group. There is therefore confusion between what is morally right and what is expedient for the group or the organization. One often sees executives struggle with this. Will the senior sales person bribe a client to secure the contract that will keep 200 people in their jobs? Will the general manager of the factory provide a golden handshake settlement to a dismissed union member just to avoid the possibility of the person being re-instated by the state after a tribunal hearing?

The 3rd Concern commences with the intent to settle down and make a life and or a career. It represents the period in an adults life when their custodial charge over a segment of the world is their central concern. This custodial charge could be their business or their family. The custodial charge is based on the assumption that the self is capable of looking after the other, that the self can secure the other and be a capable steward of the other. This assumption is, of course, flawed. The other that is being protected is itself a cast in transience and decay. The children grow up and leave home, the business gets run by someone else. At some point we all realize that there is a deep futility associated with all human endevour when that endevour seeks to produce an outcome, even a benign one. All things come to an end, even the noble ones. This slightly self important illusion of being able to be of benefit to the other therefore starts to show cracks in the façade.

The first sign of trouble for someone in the 3rd Concern is if the person frequently complains of poor work/life balance, marital issues as a result and a general feeling of disappoint or boredom with their lives. There a may also be a general sense of malaise and tiredness that could have an associated onset of health issues. In this period of one’s development as a person the benefit of having been a good citizen does not necessarily square up to the price that was paid. In its extremity the narrative of a mentee in the latter stages of the 4th concern will present some of the following features:

Depression: There will be a real understanding that the slip of flesh from the chest to the waistline has a measure of inevitability to it. The vitality of youth will never be regained and the grim reaper seems a lot more proximate than before. There is a sense that this is it. The fundamental variables of the life have been cast and there is no going back. The will also be a feeling of irritation at the mediocrity of day to day life. Things would have become boring and ordinary. The passion for life seems to have waned. It is as if the Technicolor and vibrancy of the experience of youth has been replaced by the slightly dingy black and white movie of middle age. The person may also indicate having issues with alcohol, drug dependency or obesity.

Stressed Relationships: It seems a rare event for marriages to survive the respective mid life crises of either of the partners. This is partly due to each person making the other person accountable for the general sense of disappointment that their life seems to have delivered them to. There may also be a sense of disappointment with children. Further to this there may also be some discontentment associated with thwarted career aspirations and some level of hostility toward bosses or co-workers. People are especially vulnerable to experience of betrayal at this time. The infidelity of a spouse or the sudden loss of a career because of restructuring are more especially distressing at this point because there seems to be a fundamental betrayal of a contract: A contract that says if I commit to you will not abandon me.

Moral Disquiet: A person may start to exhibit a moral discomfort with some of the things that they did earlier on in their life that were concerned with executing their custodial charge. I have heard many older executives speaking regretfully of the things they did earlier on in their career in order to get ahead. The operation that was closed in order to save some costs, the people in a foreign subsidiary that were retrenched to satisfy some business process re-engineering exercise. Many parents look back at the early childhood of their older children with a sense of regret. The refrain seems to be ‘if only I had been a bit kinder, a bit less judging, a bit more affirming. If only my concern was more for the happiness of my child than for their success.’

Spiritual Yearning: Very often people start asking themselves fundamental existential questions which are not satisfied by how success is construed by most 3rd Concern people. It does not seem adequate to simply be a good or exemplary person. There has to be more. In fact there is something about being a good person which almost robs one of some of one’s own vitality and authenticity. The latter end of the 3rd concern therefore presents itself as a deep suspicion about having to knuckle under in the interest of being good and dutiful. This rebelliousness is appropriate. We are on this planet to deal with far more weighty matters than purely being good citizens. Our appointment here is with the Totality of the other, not just with the social other. Finding the nonsense of being a good citizen irksome is a very appropriate response to the sense that the grim reaper is sniffing around outside. What is not appropriate is how we often deal with this rebellion.

One morning John Doe wakes up and looks in horror and the snoring and pudgy woman he has shared a bed with for the last 25 odd years. Their children have all left, he is no longer the picture of masculinity and his career has been beached on a sandbank of corporate politics. He has been cheated out of his life and he realizes: ‘I HAVE TO GET MY LIFE BACK!’ He leaps out the bed, storms out of the marriage, grows a pony tail, buys a Harley Davidson, and gets puts his blonde secretary on his knee. Sheila, his wife, does something similar, except that she suddenly discovers yoga and adds to the condition her righteous indignation at his infidelity. Both of them are saying ‘I HAVE TO GET MY LIFE BACK!’ and they respond to this deep prompting from their dyeing spirit by referring back to the last time they knew rebellion: adolescence.

Mentoring someone who is charting these stormy waters is about helping them to aim their rebellion inward rather than outward. Helping them to understand that it is not the context or the world that needs to be overthrown, it is their assumptions of what life is all about. They need to see that they are suffering the consequences of their own intent. This makes possible a shift from a view that the key accomplishments of life are feats of action to a view that the key accomplishments of life are feats of perception. We are not here to fix things or to make them work. We are here to see that they work, breathtakingly, amazingly, by a genius which is infinitely bigger than human intelligence. It is as if we can only be the witness to the true actor once we have vacated the stage. This help facilitates the move of the mentee to the 4th Concern.

4th Concern: I am Here to Give

The statement ‘I am here to give’ implies being completely unconditional. If it is truly unconditional it will there also have very little regard for outcomes. A person who is truly in the 4th concern will do what is right even if it means great loss and sacrifice for the group. This person will have very little tolerance for expediency, even the benign expediency of doing what is good for the group. This person will indicate the following about their experience:

i) Process over outcome: They will place far more emphasis on process rather than outcome. Doing something well and enjoying the process of doing it will be far more interesting that the outcome or the result of doing it.

ii) Managed Internal Dialogue: The person will, be very deliberate about avoiding things that create them distress. They will show far greater maturity in terms of what they entertain in their internal dialogue. Their internal dialogue will present a register of gratitude and awe. They will have a very keenly developed sense of what they can do something about and what they can’t do something about and they will consistently concern themselves with the former. Further to this the person will demonstrably present mastery over their own internal dialogue. They will be able to silence their internal dialogue at will.

iii) Transformed Self: In the extremity of the 4th concern the experience of the subject is radically altered. In all other concerns the self is experienced to be encapsulated by the Totality of the Other. In the zenith of the 4th concern the other is experience to be encapsulated by the Totality of The Self. The macrocosm is realized and felt to be the Subject, not the Object.


I have sought to demonstrate that both coaching and mentoring cannot succeed should the intent of the coach not be seen as the critical variable that requires work and attention. Further to this I have sought to demonstrate that the process of mentoring is fundamentally concerned with assisting in the process of the maturation of the intent of the mentee. In this process the most valuable times are the periods of transition. For most adults, mentoring relationships are particularly useful at the point of transition between the 2nd and 3rd Concerns, and the point of transition between the 3rd and the 4th concerns.