I recently listened to a person, world-class in his field, talk about his experiences being mentored.
When he first entered his field, he was paired with a mentor who took great interest in what he was doing and how he was doing it. The mentor critiqued him, giving him feedback to improve. This mentor was the best there was in the kind of work they were both doing, and he felt honoured to receive his feedback. After some time, however, he started to feel that, perhaps, the work was no longer for him. He did not feel that he was progressing and considered leaving the field altogether.
Circumstances changed and he got a new mentor. The new mentor was positive and friendly. More often than not, he pointed out what he was doing right, supported his choices, and laughed off his mistakes with him. He also pointed out that he was one of the best he had ever seen in the field. It was a message he had never heard before. He went on to be more influential, even more than his original mentor.
Only in retrospect did he realize that his first mentor never had a positive message for him. His first mentor’s sole way of working with him was to point out what he was doing wrong. He could get it 98% right and the entire discussion would be on the 2% that was wrong.
That original mentor almost cost the world one of the best teachers ever and a teacher who went on to inspire thousands of other teachers, parents, and leaders—Dr. Hal Urban.
I take away from this story the importance of focusing on the positive and helping people understand their gifts, while providing the critique necessary for improvement and on focusing on the gifts much more than the critique.