Saturday, August 20, 2011

Willy Wonka's Mentorship Factory

It happened again. This time it was my birthday outing to see the live musical Willy Wonka. I've seen the movie many times, and yes the Gene Wilder version still scares me. I've always enjoyed the story, but just as my most recent experience watching my son's play, The Pied Piper (Please Say "Rats!"), the story changed dramatically, or was it me who changed? This time, Willy Wonka was not about the exploration of a magical candy factory and the unfortunate "accidents" that sealed the fate of four obnoxious children. Instead, it was a story of mentorship and succession planning.

The story I saw last Sunday was about one leader's quest to mentor young men and women who he believed were worthy of his time. It was about one man's desire to nurture young adults of character to replace him at the helm. In my mind, it was no longer a chocolate factory, but a mentorship factory.

Unfortunately, each protégé found a way to sabotage the relationship Mr. Wonka was attempting to create before it even began to take shape...

- Augustus refused to follow simple rules and fell into the chocolate lake

- Violet ignored cautionary advice and swelled up like a blueberry after chewing the 3-course dinner gum

- Veruca showed poor judgement by trying to grab a squirrel and is thrown into the garbage chute

- Mike tried to use the Wonkavision machine and ended up shrunken to about 6 inches high

In a game of attrition, Charlie Bucket becomes the protégé of choice after demonstrating a willingness to be accountable for his actions, acknowledging his mistake, and demonstrating integrity and character (either that twist was unique to the version I saw last weekend or I never noticed it before).

Few of us are as eccentric as Mr. Wonka, but many of us share his desire to help others achieve their potential, to create mentor/protégé relationships, and to help ensure our organization is postured for success after we leave (Succession Planning). The challenge appears to be in identifying potential protégés who want the same. We need not wait for a golden ticket from a mentor to see them as such, and if we do receive such an overt invitation, we should be as deliberate about our response as Charlie Bucket and make the most of the opportunity. I can attest to the fact that I have reached out to people like Augustus, Violet, Veruca, and Mike only to be disappointed by their reciprocate actions. Yes, as leaders, we have a responsibility and should have the desire to help all under our charge. But, for me, the only people in whom I repeatedly invest are the Charlie Buckets of the world. The individuals who want to personally grow, who give as much they receive, and who make others want to block on their behalf (Where are Your Blockers?).

So, if you are reading this, please consider this an invitation of mentorship, a golden ticket, if you will. Reach out to your mentor of choice and commit to the role of protégé. If you already enjoy the benefit of a special mentor or better yet, a Personal Board of Directors, consider letting him/her/them know how appreciative you are for the time invested in you.

Remember, if you veer off course, watch out for the Oompa Loompas!


  1. "Watching out for the Oompa Loompas" as in those who provide the opportunity to learn from others mistakes? I've been thankful for the Oompa Loompa song subjects in my life; those (brave?) pioneers who exhibited the fortitude not to fear failure and left behind them an Aesop Fable of sorts. Some people I know are a bountiful tree of mistakes ripe for the picking. May my mistakes not go unheeded; hopefully some little people can sing about my bone-head moments so others can forego the lumps and earn their right to ride the success that is the Wonka-vater.

  2. Well said, "Bull No More." It's your willingness to both learn from others and allow us to learn from, through and with you, that will ensure you and those fortunate enough to serve with you ride that Wonka-vater. Thanks for all you do!