Mentoring as Part of the Leadership Role

How many of you have had a mentor who helped you learn the ropes in your new job, who took on the role of teacher and demonstrated the “right” way to do things? Me too! In fact, that was the way mentorship was presented to me back in my previous life. And, it turns out that this approach only ensures compliance with the “right” way to do things, and leaves a very shaky foundation for creativity and innovation.

The authors, Chip R. Bell and Marshall Goldsmith, of Managers as Mentors: Building Partnerships for Learning, go on to distinguish “coach” from “mentor” by telling us that “coaching is a part of the leadership role specifically aimed at nurturing and sustaining performance. Mentoring is that part of the leadership role that has learning as it primary outcome.”

And, after making that distinction, they go on to say that the labels of “leader,” “manager,” “coach,” and “mentor” can be used interchangeably. Confused. Don’t be. As a leadership coach, I strive for all of that, and will continue to use the terminology that works for me and my clients.

The book uses the mnemonic SAGE to describe the mentoring process. Briefly,

(S) Surrendering – Surrendering is about creating a co-active learning relationship. The mentor learns as much (and sometimes more) than the person receiving the benefit of mentorship. In coaching, we often call this “dancing in the moment.” Mentors must let go of any sense of being on a different playing field, and pay close attention to the cues, shifting currents and ideas that occur during their time with their “mentee,” sensing what is most important, what skill just showed up, and learning to ask the best questions – in the moment. A major building block in the relationship is trust.

Partnerships are journeys in becoming. They are always divine relationships in the making. They are hopeful pursuits of magic, not efforts valued only at completion. (page 56)

(A) Accepting – Once trust is built, it grows strong within a safe environment. One in which the mentee is free to fail, learn from their mistakes, and step forward again – without fear of rejection. I often tell my clients that my role is to hold the space wide open for them to take the risk, and know that whatever happens will perfectly position them for the next right step. The perfect tool: Learn how to ask the right questions in the right way.

Acceptance entails actions that communicate unconditional positive regard. Acceptance is confirmation without concurrence… Acceptance is a living announcement of worth.  (page 94)

(G) Gifting – I love the distinction between gifting and giving. Giving is the bestowing of abundance while expecting something in return. Gifting is the bestowing of assets without and expectation of return. It changes the nature of the relationship from guilt-based (expectations) to joy-based (thriving)! Isn’t this a great concept? How do you do this – by letting the mentee know that the pleasure received from the mentoring process is ample reward, and nothing more is required. In a mentoring relationship, we often gift our mentees with advice, feedback/feedforward and focus, without generating resistance and resentment.

(E) Extending – The ultimate goal of any mentoring or coaching engagement is to “let the bird leave the nest”; to have extended the tools of learning to the degree that the coachee/mentee stands on their own and no longer needs you.  How do you get there? Be there to help when needed, watch for challenges to learning, and encourage informal learning through reading, networking, and organizational activities. And, focus on the effect of learning!

Mentors who grow champions zero in on surfacing the best, nurturing the best, and affirming the best. (page 178)

Overall, I liked what Chip and Marshall had to say about mentoring as part of the role of leader. I consider it to be heavily intertwined with coaching. As I watch today’s leaders, I hope that both skills become  an integral aspect of their position and how they interact with employees, peers and those in positions higher in the hierarchy. They are skills that should be in play in everyday activities and with all members of the organization, not just with those that have been identified as someone worthy of mentorship or coaching.

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