The dead, mangled body had long since been removed, and the crew had been sent back to their hotel rooms. A critical-stress debriefing councilor was on the way, but would be a few more hours yet before arriving. I had never met this crew before. I had been asked to investigate the accident as an outside party. My role was to investigate the death of a young worker called a floor hand, who had been working on an oil and gas drilling rig. I was not there to point a finger, but to determine root cause and future solutions that would prevent such an accident from occurring again. As I sat down with the 24 year old driller, the dead crewman’s supervisor, I could see his eyes were still puffy from the tears he had shed over the last few hours. This man’s life had been changed forever. Only time would tell, if he would ever lose the guilt, justified or not, of cause.
After an introductory dialogue that seemed to last for hours, I enquired of the driller, how he supervised the deceased differently than he supervised other crewmembers. His response shocked me: “I supervise them all the same way.” When I enquired why, his response shocked me even more: “because I was told by my boss to treat people equally.” Upon further investigation, I learned that the driller had recently been sent on a supervisory course which focused on mentoring. This had been the only supervisory course this young driller had ever taken. He had decided, to his credit, to try to apply his learning in the real world. When I asked him what mentoring meant to him, he responded, “to lead a person by being more of a friend then a boss.” I then asked the driller, who was mentoring him. His answer lead me to discover the ultimate root cause; “no one.”
Although the details of this investigation are fictitious, it is rooted in my twenty-one years’ experience working within and consulting to companies in the Canadian and American oil and gas industry. The story above represents many years of investigating accidents as a Safety Manager and then Consultant. The outcome of this fictitious interview has repeated itself more times than I care to imagine. Young supervisors set up to fail by a system that often gives lip service (measured by lack of bottom line investment) to the role that leadership development plays in the health and safety of its workforce. In this case, as is often the case, the driller took good training, however, it was the wrong training for him and when it came to application, he had no one to help him.
This case also highlights the need to understand the difference between two constructs; mentoring and discipling. Although both mentoring and discipleship are needed in an effective leader-follower relationship, what the deceased, in this case, needed to ensure his safety was to be discipled, not mentored. A key-determining factor of leadership style needed in this assessment was the lack of experience of the deceased; less than 6 months.
While the term discipleship is most commonly used in faith-based circles, it can have a much broader application. Discipleship is an end goal of having followers mimetically imbue their leaders’ vision and values (Winston). According to Cunningham, “a disciple is a learner… and becomes an imitator of the teacher.” (Cunningham, 1998, p. 35) Mentoring, however, is a:
relational process between a mentor, who knows or has experienced something and transfers that something (resources of wisdom, information, experience, confidence, insight, relationships, status, etc.) to a mentoree, at an appropriate time and manner, so that it facilitates development or empowerment. (Cunningham, 1998, p. 35)
When comparing the definition of mentor from its origin in Greek mythology to today, Peddy (2001) writes, “today, the word is most often used to mean a friend and role model, an able advisor, a person who lends support in many ways to one pursuing specific goals.” (Peddy, 1998, p. 24)
At first, these two terms may not seem very different. However, when one understands the purpose of each, the differences become evident. According to Peddy (1998), “the mentor’s principal purpose is to help another develop the qualities he needs to attain his goals.” (p. 25) Peddy goes on to identify and define these qualities as “wisdom, judgment, resilience, and independence.” (p. 25) Peddy defines resilience as “learning from mistakes and coming back with renewed confidence, strength and determination.” Here-in-lies the problem with the application of mentoring in hazardous industrial work, in as much as it deals with new or what the industry calls “green” workers. There is often no room for resilience or learning from mistakes. Although mentoring may have worked in other aspects of the job, or with a more seasoned and experienced veteran, what the young driller needed was a safety disciple; what Winston and Bekker would define as ‘becoming like the master’ when it comes to safety.
According to Bell (2002), “mentoring [is] defined as the ‘act of helping another learn.’” (p. 3)(Bell, 1996). However, within this learning, the mentoree does not necessarily do things the same way the master does (as is the case in discipling). Such learning in a hazardous working environment can only occur once effective discipling has brought young workers to a point where they are safe and have a clear grasp of knowing proper procedure and what they don’t know. It is here that the trust which Bell (2002) identifies as so crucial to the mentoring relationship is built. A key factor of trust building when working in a hazard environment is that the worker and his peers goes home every night and hugs his spouse with all his fingers and toes in tact. This is even more evident when a quick review of Canadian occupational health and safety statistics shows a direct relationship between low worker tenure and injury or death (Breslin FC., 2006)
The inter-relationship of these two leadership constructs is best illustrated by Blanchard’s Situational Leadership II model which uses the leader behavior constructs of directive behavior (discipleship) and supportive behavior (mentorship). In a hazardous environment, new workers need highly directive ‘do as I tell you’ type leaders to ensure their safety. As they become more experienced and confident in the task, the leader adopts more of a mentoring style, often using what Bell (2002) refers to as a Socratic questioning process.
Discipleship and mentoring are key constructs in effective leader-follower relationships. Nowhere is this more evident than when the lives of our workers depend on it. Supervisors need to be skilled at both and be able to seamlessly interchange them. However, the training to develop the skills to balance both these constructs does not happen in the form of a single leadership course. It develops over time and requires an organizational investment in training, mentoring and discipling. The historical response of Industry to safety concerns has been policy. However, this is not the key solution. People from all over the world visit our Alberta Petroleum Training Center (ENFORM) to learn our policies and procedures and subsequently take them back to their own countries. We have excellent policies and procedures, yet continue to kill young workers. Our failure to properly equip supervisors with the leadership tools and support needed to ensure they can effectively transfer the knowledge contained in our policies and procedure is an ethical epidemic in our industry. I must ask, what is the difference between us and Enron: they were unethical with money and we are unethical in how we deal with the root solution to worker safety.
Whether you believe Jesus is the Son of God or not, it would be hard to argue the positive results on improved worker safety if industrial supervisors discipled their young protégés as effectively as He did His.
Bell, C. R. (1996). Managers as mentors : building partnerships for learning. San Francisco, Calif.: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Breslin FC., P., Smith. (2006). Trail by fire: a multivariate examiniation of the relation between job tenure and work injuries. Occup Environ Med, 63, 27-32. doi: 10.1136/oem.2005.021006
Cunningham, S. (1998). Who’s Mentoring the Mentors? The Discipling Dimension of Faculty Development in Christian Higher Education. Theological Education, 34(2), 31-49.
Peddy, S. (1998). The art of mentoring : lead, follow and get out of the way. Houston, Tex.: Bullion Books.
Winston, B., & Bekker, C. The Difference Between Mentorship and Discipleship. Leadership Talks at Regent University. Virginia Beach.