Can ‘YouTube’ be a mentor?

If YouTube videos can teach us how to wire a smoke detector, can they also teach us how to lead? That may seem like a ridiculous question, but in our evolving ‘conversation adverse’ culture, are we turning to videos to provide guidance in the workplace?

Think about your first job, your first day at work. Aside from the anticipation, you might as well have been visiting another planet. Perceptions collided with reality as you navigated your way through the first days; an amateur anthropologist alert to  any clue to success in this new society you had joined. Who could you trust to advise you on your journey?

That is the question we all ask at some point in our first weeks at work. All is new and colleagues seem equal. Then the sorting begins as you filter conversations and observe interactions among colleagues and the leadership team. A picture begins to emerge of the culture, the influencers and the business problems to be solved. For most of us, we wing it. We take our experience, as limited as it may be, and experiment. We offer solutions. Find they are not well constructed. Go back and revise and then venture back with the edited proposal. It’s a process of trial and error as we independently craft an answer.

We find ourselves at a turning point. We need help. Where do we go to find it?

There are thousands of articles that define the role of mentors, how to find one, how to manage the relationship, but it was the first paragraph of an article I read a few weeks ago that introduced a significant hybrid approach to how we learn to work.

In early August, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times on the topic of servant leadership, putting others first and leading from the heart.

“From the earliest days of Starbucks, I’ve been captivated by the art of leadership. I was mentored over three decades by Warren G. Bennis, the eminent professor and scholar on leadership. I’ve gathered insights from peers, and I’ve drawn inspiration from our 300,000 employees. But nothing I’ve read or heard in the past few years has rivaled the power of the image I viewed on my cellphone a few years ago: Pope Francis, shortly after his election, kneeling and washing the feet of a dozen prisoners in Rome, one of them a young Muslim woman, in a pre-Easter ritual.”

In one short paragraph, the CEO describes a combination of activities that build upon each other to form his leadership style. He relies on a mentor from outside his business, gathers insights from peers and employees and in the end it’s an image from the internet that provides the inspiration for his leadership view.

Can YouTube be a mentor? There is no substitute for human interaction and advice. Learning to work is a lifetime quest and hard work. But the ability to access online courses, TED Talks and podcasts provide an essential element in our professional development.

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