Leaders as Mentors – Three Golden Rules

Having a mentor in your life, whether it is for work or to help you grapple with your private life, is of immense value! A leader as a mentor brings something additional to the table.

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Who Are My Mentors?

I have been fortunate to have had two mentors in my life: Doug and Mark. Both mentors are leaders of the highest order and have been available to me on an informal basis over many, many years.

Doug is an engineer of substantial renown. He is held in high esteem by the energy industry and was responsible for the implementation of a range of key electrical and gas supply operations, projects and major reforms in Western Australia.

Mark is one of local governments great representatives, not just here in Australia (actually, Mark is a Kiwi, but we don’t hold that against him), but on the world stage. He has been active throughout the Asia Pacific Rim, Europe, Africa and has even presented at The Hague.

Doug and Mark are not only my friends, but I have worked with both of them at the operational level and at the strategic level. I have learnt so much. Doug’s advice over many years helped me in my formative years as a manager, executive and then as a CEO. Both men are very down to earth and know how to deal with issues in the most humane way, but with a will of iron underneath.

So, last week I had a pleasant surprise. Doug dropped by to say hello. He had stopped into the Wasteless Pantry Greenwood, which is not far from where we live and thought he would see how we were getting on. Doug and I haven’t seen each other for a little while, and straight away fell back into that familiar discourse we have always had.

What is a Mentor and Mentoring Anyway?

The Mentor Support Network comments that mentoring is sharing knowledge, skills and life experience to guide another towards reaching their full potential: it’s a journey of shared discovery. In short, a mentor can help you bloom and grow.

Vineet Chopra and Sanjay Saint in 6 Things Every Mentor Should Do (HBR, 2017) postulate that the best mentorships are more like the relationship between a parent and adult child than between a boss and employee. They’re characterized by mutual respect, trust, shared values, and good communication, and they find their apotheosis in the mentee’s transition to mentor.

Julia Fawal commenting on Anthony Tjan’s Ted Talk – The 5 Types of Mentors You Need In Your Life (TED, 2018) provides a summary of the types of mentors you can access:

  1. The Master of Craft. This person is the Jedi Master of your industry. Their experience knows no bounds.
  2. The Champion of Your Cause. This person will talk you up to others!
  3. The Co-pilot. This is your best work bud. They will talk you through the project warts and all.
  4. The Anchor. A person not in your industry who can keep you grounded and focus on work life balance.
  5. The Reverse Mentor. This is where you learn from the people you mentor e.g. bloggers perhaps!

When we boil it all down, mentors in the traditional sense require you to sit down with them one on one (or video conference as the case may be). You follow a regular timetable consisting of objective discussion and observation and this is done against the backdrop of where the mentor acting as your confidant.

I have a fluid and flexible view on who and what a mentor should be. If possible, find a mentor who is a seasoned leader. It doesn’t always have to be a formal path that is followed with your mentor either. And, as we can see from Anthony Tjan’s list above, a leader does not have to be a CEO. Remember: leaders do come in all shapes and sizes. A true leader has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to tackling those awkward and difficult problems or taking advantage of opportunities, regardless of who or what the problem or opportunity is. Theodore Kinni in his article: Do you really want a CEO to be a role model? goes so far as to warn against using celebrated CEO’s – ones who are not exactly paragons of good behaviour. So, the take away from Theodore’s article is this: make sure you are actively involved in who your mentor will be, including picking someone who aligns with the behaviours and values you need to adopt in order to ensure you will bloom and grow. 

Rule No. 1 – Respect That Their Time is Valuable (As is Yours)

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Leaders are busy people. They generally have a lot going on in their lives and time is a precious commodity. So, if you develop a mentor program together that has a dedicated timeline, make sure you are available when you say you are. If the mentor has to change the timing of the mentoring schedule, it may be more prudent to just cancel the impacted session rather than rescheduling it. Afterall, you are both busy and you need to be sensible when resolving a time conflict in the most simple way possible. Cramming the conflicted session into an already busy schedule will not benefit your mentor program and development at all.

The above aside, you may be able to put in place an informal arrangement like I have, which has worked very well over a very long period of time. Time is fluid with my mentors and when we contact each other, it’s because it is understood there is something that needs our respective valuable input. There is no doubt I have been very fortunate regarding both mentors and in terms of their generosity with their time.

Rule No. 2 – Work Out The Best Method To Engage

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Originally, I knew of Doug, but I hadn’t had any interaction with him until we started working together. One thing I did know though was he was an awesome operator, had lead key divisions within the State Energy Commission and with one other engineer oversaw the dismantling of this institution leading to the current energy regulatory reforms that we now exist under where I live.

Because Doug was hired to assist the organisation where I was working at the time, he and I were able to work out very quickly that we could have lunch together on a regular basis that this was the most effective way to pick his brain. However, our lunch time get togethers didn’t happen automatically. I had to introduce myself and get to know Doug. Anyway, we seemed to hit it off. Sometimes our lunchtime discussions were insightful, they were about pushing limits and boundaries, other times it was about what was happening at home.

My experience with Mark was similar. I had spoken to him in the past, corresponded through several emails and his family and my family had had dinner together out our respective homes a couple of times. However, it wasn’t until I received an SOS phone call from Mark asking my availability, that we would have the opportunity to work together and put in place an ongoing mentoring arrangement.

Of course, Mark and I wouldn’t know how it would all go until after I had flown into where he was CEO at the time. I am pleased to say, after I landed, Mark met me at the terminal and then took me on a tour of the airport (as this was one of my areas of responsibility to sort out). Such a discourse allowed me to quickly access some organisational and cultural aspects through asking the right type of questions and showing/sharing my knowledge at the same time. I can honestly say, we have never, ever looked back as a result.

Rule No. 3 – Put Into Practice What Was Discussed

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Even to this day, when I come up against a particular situation, I will reflect on how both Doug and Mark might handle the issue I need to address. Then, I look at whether I can apply some of the wisdom they have imparted to me. One thing to note here though, is that this situation shows the difference between mentoring and coaching. Coaching is more immediate and something that managers and team leaders need in order to help you and others in your team deal with issues on an ongoing basis. Mentors on the other hand, are about the long term view.

So, as mentors, Doug and Mark have passed on to me a reference point regarding the thoughts I may have regarding important issues that I face. This includes developing a suitable strategy and course of action to deal with such a matter, whether positive or negative.

I know from experience, once I have settled on a plan or course of action, I need to dust off my “dancing shoes” and act on it. Will the result be perfect? Who knows until I act on the decision made! Down the track when you are reflecting on key issues with your mentor, they will be very happy for you and pleased that they were able to make a difference to how matters unfolded. This also helps reinforce their personal investment in you.

The bottom line – you will never grow and develop if you do not put into practice what was discussed and resolved with your mentor(s) – and yes, practice makes perfect 😉

Of course, now we have blogging mentors! And how great are they?

They are wonderful people who take you on the journey of how to be a better blogger. Not only that, they share some amazing insights about a whole range of stuff!!!

17 Comments on “Leaders as Mentors – Three Golden Rules”

  1. One of the most inspiring mentors I have ever met is a young woman from Mongolia. Offered the opportunity to work for a large firm in Seoul with connections to the USA, she has instead chosen to reach out mentoring young people in her home city of Ulan Bator, Mongolia.
    Though she is coming along a little late to mentor and old guy like me, her work invigorates me to keep reaching out to those in need.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much for your comments. This is truly a wonderful program and she is very inspiring. Never too old for a mentor, in my book. I wish you every success with what you are doing in reaching out to those in need.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Pingback: Leaders as Mentors – Three Golden Rules — strategic teams – The Seb

  3. I’ve never had an official mentor, but I’ve had a few people who have at least briefly acted as mentors in my life. Thanks for your tips on how to properly cultivate those invaluable relationships. I’ll make sure I keep them in mind when next I have an opportunity to connect with a potential mentor!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great insights!
    My mentors are not in leading roles. They know me, my positives and limitations and help me gain clarity when needed. One of them also holds me accountable to my own set goals and I do the same for her. I think the most important ‘role’ of mentor is to challenge you, holding up a mirror. Of course, a relationship based on trust is required. To me a mentor is a friend, counselor, coach, active empathic listener, all in one, wanting nothing more as the best for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your feedback, Patty. You clearly have great mentors and the two way interaction is fabulous. It is never easy looking into that mirror, either. You have encapsulated what a mentor is so simply and quite beautifully, in fact.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Leadership – Three Variations on a Theme – strategic teams

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