The Toyota Landcruiser bounced along the potholed back road in Uganda, its occupants hoping for safe passage to their destination. That seemed questionable when they found themselves facing a group of Ugandan soldiers at a road block.
One of the soldiers approached the vehicle, and Dr Stephen Hobbs found himself on the business end of a machine gun. Shaken, Hobbs managed to stay calm and answer a barrage of questions, despite the fact that the gun barrel never moved away from his head. Something inside him said to be quiet and listen.
Occasionally, he moved the gun barrel aside gently. Eventually, it began to wobble. The soldiers behind the one who was doing the questioning began to laugh as they realised that the gun was growing heavy in the hands of their comrade.
After three nerve-wracking minutes, the soldier gave Hobbs' driver a nod and the vehicle was allowed to move along. A glance at the young soldier in the side mirror left Hobbs wondering what sort of life lay ahead for that 13- or 14-year-old girl.
The experience touched Hobbs deeply and has impacted much of his work life ever since that day in 1987.
From white-water rafting guide, to air operations co-ordinator for relief operations flying into a war zone, to sharing stories with kindergarten kids in Australia or developing an HIV/AIDS help promotion program for Uganda, Hobbs has led a colourful life, living, visiting or working on six of the seven continents. Throughout his many careers, there has been a common thread: First and foremost, Hobbs is a man who loves to learn - and who loves to see others learn, too.
With a diploma and four degrees, including a doctorate in Adult Education, Hobbs has put his love of learning to good use. Currently, he is Chief Mentoring Officer of a brilliant and relatively new website called GOmentr.com, where people can share their wisdom and life experiences with those who can benefit from them.
He adds that traditional mentoring was called "push mentoring," in which the mentor imparted his or her wisdom to the "mentee." Today, "pull mentoring" is preferred, allowing the mentee to "pull" information from the mentor by asking questions.
Hobbs notes that there is a substantial difference between coaching and mentoring. Coaching is more about the coach asking questions and working with the client in terms of accountability and making sure that certain tasks are completed, whereas mentoring is about the mentor sharing lived experience and wisdom gained.
"The beauty is you've not learned everything until a child has taught you something," acknowledges Hobbs. "Mentors come in all ages."
It's a stroke of genius that this service was created, allowing anyone who has learned experience to share - whether a 15-year-old who's a whiz at website building, or an 87-year-old horticultural expert - to sign up and give and/or receive information and education on a wide variety of subjects. Some charge for their mentoring service; some do not. Some give their fees to charity.
The GOmentr platform works well in a closed system, too, such as for a business. Employees on all levels of a company using this system have a way to share and gather information among themselves, thereby helping and supporting each other - and the business - in a way that might otherwise never happen.
Of the dozen or so books that Hobbs has penned, two of them are on mentoring: Help Them Help You Manage - Lead, and Managing Leading Mentoring in the Workplace. Both are loaded with information, insight, wisdom and practical advice that could help virtually any business or organisation to function more effectively and meaningfully.
"The key is tapping into this lived experience," reveals Hobbs. "So if you can find someone who has a vast lived experience with many areas, it can become a lifelong friendship."
Hobbs' creativity and love of learning and education prompted him to consider how amazing it would be if some of the best known teachers or inspirational leaders of our time could mentor others using this platform. Hobbs speculates that they might do it for one hour a month and they might "...say hey, you want an hour of my time it's $10,000 and maybe (they give) it to charity...think of the mentoring concept that could happen in the world..."
My last question to Dr Hobbs was, "Why is this so important to you?"
It was the little girl soldier. "I had to listen to her." He goes on to share a phrase built from his experience with her. "When you listen, you learn; when you share, you educate."
He concluded, "You're always learning when you're listening. And I always remember that there are two ears and one mouth so do a lot more listening...GOmentr is a platform to help me do that."