Are You a Disruptive Mentor?

“Disruptor” has become the “feature-of-choice” for contemporary leaders on the move. It is a moniker that signals the pursuit of innovation and rapid change, not a cautious incremental improvement. It telegraphs a leader who is cutting-edge and transformational; one who cultivates risk-taking and experimentation. It is a convenient tag that often camouflages the real enabler—curiosity.

Examine the elements of cultures that yield breakthroughs, discoveries, and inventions. Granted there is a noble purpose, a style that pushes authority to the lowest level, and a reliance on teamwork. But, the spirit that blows through the halls of innovative organizations is fanned by leaders with a thirst for learning coupled with a recognition that every great leader today must be a mentor.

What makes a leader a great mentor? What elements stir others to find insight, not just gain competence; to gain wisdom not just education. In searching for a role model, I had to explore no further than my father.

Ray Bell was never my teacher in the formal sense of that word. His influence, however, changed my life. He disrupted my teenage pursuit of mediocrity to channel it toward excellence. His impeccable ethics honed values that encouraged wholeness, honesty, and respect. As such, his acumen provided me valuable touchstones for my life’s work as a change agent.

Great Mentor-Leaders Are Judgment-Free

Daddy could be a tough disciplinarian. He expected the best and demonstrated the best. However, when the goal was learning, he shifted to a different style. He never snickered at my unknowingness nor scorned my naiveté. Great mentor-leaders are quick to confirm; slow to correct. Their body language speaks acceptance and affirmation. They suspend critique knowing judgment impedes risk-taking and experimentation, both tantamount to effective learning.

Great Mentor-Leaders Are Participative Partners

“How ‘bout getting the tractor and parking it in the barn?” Those sweet words were music to my ears when I was a ten-year-old growing up on a farm. It was daddy’s way of nudging along my maturity. To get the very special privilege of driving and parking an expensive tractor communicated trust and respect.  It as a mark of partnership. Great mentor-leaders perpetually seek ways to include. They would rather facilitate than lecture; ask great questions over giving smart answers.

Great Mentor-Leaders Show Perpetual Curiosity

Daddy asked questions to which he did not have answers.  That was different than what I witnessed with my friend’s parents. My buddies got parental questions asked by the slam of a bear trap. “Do you know what time it is?” was not really an “I lost my watch” question. Daddy never used questions that way. When he asked a question it always meant he was in search of an answer. Great mentor-leaders never stop being curious and passionate and unabashed in their exhibition of non-stop inquisitiveness.

Great Mentor-Leaders Show Obvious Pride

Ray Bell experienced life first hand; he also experienced life second hand. When my hard-earned competence was displayed in some public presentation, it was as if he too was on the stage or down the court. And, it never had a possessive “That’s my boy” credit seeking tone. He was just thrilled to see how it all worked out. Great mentor-leaders bubble over with pride when witnessing the effects of their mentor-protégé relationships. They are champions of their relationships.

Great Mentor-Leaders Have Impeccable Ethics

The most important lesson I learned was this: teaching is an ethical act! Effective mentor-leaders stay clean in their learner-dealings, not false, self-serving or greedy. They are honest and congruent with their communications and actions. They do not steal their learners’ opportunities for struggle or moments of glory. Great mentor-leaders refrain from coveting their learners’ talents. They honor the learner just as they honor the process of mutual learning.

If curiosity is the cultural goal, the enabling leader role is mentoring. Since learning is a door opened only from the inside, great mentor-leaders focus on nurturing a learning relationship laced with humility, compassion, courage and a commitment to help insight turn into innovation.