In praise of mentoring

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With all the frequent and necessary talk about technology, equipment costs, fuel economy, among many other vital topics in this industry, we often forget that at the end of the day trucking is really at its heart all about people.

I mean, without skilled and safety-minded drivers, trucks don’t deliver their loads either on time or in one piece. And it goes without saying that that there’s always a high element of risk present when piloting an 80,000 lbs. big rig at 63 miles on hour on a crowded highway.

And even though motorists are more likely to trigger a crash involving a tractor-trailer, quick-thinking action by the truck driver can often nip a potentially bad situation in the bud – if that driver has the right personality and training that is.

Thus we come to the subject of mentoring.

In Greek mythology, “Mentor” is an old man who became a friend to the legendary Odysseus and who served as co-guardian of the estate and son of Odysseus, Telemachus, when the Greeks sallied forth to the Trojan War in the Homeric epic "The Iliad."

In an interesting plot twist, the goddess Athena disguises herself as Mentor in order to help Telemachus stand up to the rapacious suitors for his mother Penelope’s hand (everyone thinking that Odysseus had perished in the Trojan War.)

Posing as Mentor (the old white-haired fellow in the photo at left), the goddess thus encouraged Telemachus to stand up to the devious suitors and then go abroad to find out what happened to his father.

When Odysseus finally returned to his home in Ithaca, Greece (after 20 years of wandering adventures chronicled in Homer’s second grand epic “The Odyssey”) Athena appeared briefly in the form of Mentor again at Odysseus' palace.

It’s because of Mentor's relationship with Telemachus, and the especially the disguised Athena's encouragement and practical plans for dealing with personal dilemmas, that the name “Mentor” made its way into the English language as a term meaning “someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less experienced colleague.”

In trucking, at least from where I sit, mentoring is an often-overlooked asset especially when it comes to finding and keeping good drivers (and you can go here and here for more examples of what I mean.)

Truck drivers themselves also make great mentors, especially in terms of passing on their accumulated knowledge regarding highway safety to the next generation. Trucker Buddy International is one group that’s done great work in this area and you can click here to see an example for yourself.

Yet the main reason I’m posting on this topic today is that I lost my very own mentor back on July 4 – a great lady by the name of Nancy Coe Bailey (at right).

She was my very first editor; the one who patiently taught the basics of journalism to a long-winded Civil War history major (that would be me) and got me started in the business of writing about trucks for a living over two decades ago.

The “trucks” I first started writing about were utility vehicles; the ubiquitous bucket trucks that service overhead power lines, pickups for work crews, and the like. Nancy taught me how to put myself in the minds of our readers – in this case electric and gas utility company fleets managers – to better focus my reporting.

Her mentoring proved very critical in helping me learn the craft of “truck writing” as many in the industry now call it and the lessons she taught me remain with me to this very day.

Even though I hadn’t spoken with her in almost a decade since I’d moved to Fleet Owner and got happily entangled raising a family of three girls, her presence in my writing remains and I am eternally grateful for it.

This isn’t to say mentoring like what I experienced from nancy makes for a "slam dunk” in trucking, especially where driving is concerned. But it’s something to keep in mind as the industry continues to search for ways to impart better skills and a better mindset to those in charge of hauling freight across the U.S. day in and day out.

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