Unexpected Mentoring Insights From Kevin Bacon's Killer TV Show

Look for mentors to emulate who are both extremely observant and don't jump to conclusions. Instead, they discuss what they see so the team can quickly look for corroborating evidence -- or the lack of it.
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It's disconcerting to hear that there are an estimated 300 active serial killers in the U.S. That's the chilling premise of popular new TV show The Following. Serial killers, led by a psychopath, manage to communicate with each other and recruit other killers into their network. This dark, fast-paced crime show is an unexpected place to get mentoring insights, yet we can. This column is co-written with LaRae Quy, an undercover and counterintelligence FBI agent for 25 years.

Mike Weston, a smart, young FBI agent seeks out an unwilling mentor, Ryan Hardy, played by Kevin Bacon. Hardy retired, he's a broken man after being stabbed in the heart in the course of arresting the killer Joe Carroll back in 2003. When Carroll escapes, Hardy agrees to help track him down. Now, someone else is in charge of the investigative team. Many on the team initially see Hardy as a liability, yet he knows more about this psychopath than anyone else.

Tip One: Seek out the mentor who knows the most about the exact thing you most want to learn, even it it means overlooking distracting behavior. For Weston, Hardy represents a double win. He's an expert in interpreting the serial killer's behavior, and he has extraordinary, if sometimes unorthodox investigative skills.

Tip Two: Ask your mentor to not only assess your strengths but also help you hone them. FBI agents come out of the academy with an awareness of many of their strengths, but mentor colleagues can guide their continuing mastery in actual experiences.

Tip Three: Expect that honing your strengths under a mentor's eye will feel uncomfortable at times. If Hardy does not move Weston into his discomfort zone, Hardy is not doing his job. It does not take outstanding intelligence to be an expert; instead, it requires a willingness to move beyond the complacency that often sets in. Finding the sweet spot at the edge of Weston's current competence is the key to helping him learn faster.

Tip Four: Consistently supporting your mentor and showing that you value his advice, even when he makes you uncomfortable as you learn, often causes the mentor to gradually value your presence more and give you more guidance. Hardy is no longer in charge of the investigation, and while others are skeptical of Hardy's capabilities, Weston is among the first to show Hardy respect when Hardy joins the team. Weston seeks expert feedback in simple, precise responses so he can quickly make adjustments in his thinking and behavior. Conversely, Hardy does not give too much feedback all at once, and though Hardy seems emotionally distant at times, the tension in their relationship is not strained, because Hardy doesn't overwhelm Weston with too much theory or information that interferes with learning.

Tip Five: The more your mentor feels he want to redeem himself or to grow in mastery and reputation for another reason, the more accelerated your learning is likely to be with him. Hardy feels like a broken man and sees his path to emotional recovery in stopping the killer and the network of killers Carroll is recruiting.

Tip Six: It's instinctively human to make assumptions rapidly, as we are uncomfortable with ambiguity. Consequently, we are inclined to stick with those first decisions, look for reinforcing evidence and ignore evidence that we are wrong. Instead, we must quickly make and test suppositions, or what Peter Sims dubs "little bets."

Look for mentors to emulate who are both extremely observant and don't jump to conclusions. Instead, they discuss what they see so the team can quickly look for corroborating evidence -- or the lack of it. FBI agents understand that small steps are more productive than giant leaps when moving into hostile and volatile environments.

Tip Seven: When performing at their best, the FBI team members are exchanging fresh intelligence and ideas. They have each other's back, an increasingly vital trait in our increasingly transient, disruptive world, according to Give and Take author Adam. M. Grant. Team building is not a luxury for the FBI; it is a priority. Training does not end at the FBI Academy -- agents spend time training every couple of months throughout their career. To hone your skills of collaboration and reciprocity, look for a mentor who is adept at both acknowledging and using help, and at giving apt advice and other support.

Despite disputed reports that serial killers are on the decline, along with the public's interest in them, this show is attracting an audience. Tune in and tell us what other examples of productive mentoring you see. As Benjamin Franklin wrote, "Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn."

What's a tip you have learned about how to leverage the benefits of mentoring?

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