We come across many sorts of people. Some educated, some uncouth, many ‘lost’, all searching for something. And that’s why we help them, because they are searching. Of course, it’s not always easy to tell whether a person is genuinely searching or merely window-shopping. If the latter they sometimes go on to be window-shoppers for the rest of their lives. Nothing wrong with that if it is what they really want. But a sad end if all you can say of your life is ‘I window-shopped’. And it is theft of the time of anyone you have asked to help you make more of it.

One such came to us many years ago. Nicely presented, decent, reasonable sense of humor provided you told the jokes. He had a PhD but didn’t seem to use it. Financially poor enough to qualify for free mentoring. Really didn’t know what he wanted. We tried to help, it sort of fizzled out. Then he appeared again, many years later. Still rather lost. We tried to help again, this time befriending, even doing some work with him. He was still reliable, decent, charming too.

But he didn’t make real progress. We tried to analyse what was wrong. A certain lethargy, perhaps. ‘Reluctance to respond’ described his situation well. ‘Casual’ was another word that cropped up. But what kept happening was ‘Distracted’. Whatever effort we made he would get so far and then be distracted by some passing fancy, some ship floating by that might be useful but that, as it turned out, invariably wasn’t.

Unwilling to be defeated by such a dilettante approach to life we sought to analyse the cause of this failure. We did not delve into childhood deprivations or early adult life experiences that could have been severe. You cannot undo the past and, short of psychological illness, which did not appear to be our client’s problem, excusing behaviour – and lack of it – is unproductive and pointless. Empathy ‘yes’, Kindness ‘yes’, Failure ‘no’ is our approach to mentoring and coaching.

It is one thing to find the going hard, quite another to ignore the help you are getting perhaps to the point of rudeness. How do we define rudeness in this context? Obviously we are not talking about outright unpleasantness. Two strikes of that and you’re out anyway, as far as we are concerned. Rudeness in the context I am referring to is more subtle, more about non-response. It is best summed up in the phrase ‘the only real failure is the failure to try’.

Of course, we never really know how much someone tries, we only know outcomes. You can usually tell when effort is being rationed. Our client was certainly rationing his effort. Not the effort of doing what he was asked to do but the effort of thinking about what he should be doing. The critical element of mentoring, coaching and training – indeed of any help of any kind – requires a contribution by the client. Even in hospital after an operation, the patient’s effort largely determines the rate of recovery.

So would you consider someone limiting their effort like this was being ‘rude’? It’s a curious way of looking at it, perhaps. But I think it is the right way. Franklin D Roosevelt made the following statement at his inauguration in 1933: “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”

Creative effort is the politeness a good client exhibits.

For their own sakes.