Don’t Get a Mentor

I have developed and implemented plenty of mentoring programs over the years.   I have done the match-making and developed and led the workshops.

The truth is, after 2 decades of living and leading in organizations, my feeling is, these programs typically don’t work.

What I do believe in is investing time, energy, and commitment into real relationships with great people you stumble on throughout your career.

Like any other friendship, if you keep your eyes, heart and mind open, these folks will show up.

The classic Harvard Business Review article, Discovering Your Authentic Leadership, highlights the importance of having deep two-way mentoring relationships.

“Many leaders have had a mentor that changed their lives.  The best mentoring interactions spark mutual learning, exploration of similar values, and shared enjoyment.  If people are only looking for a leg up from their mentors, instead of being interested in their mentor’s lives as well, the relationships will not last for long.  It is the two-way nature of the relationship that sustains it (George, Sims, McLean, and Mayer, 2007)”

My advice to young leaders:

  • find a mentor early
  • keep adding them along the way
  • invest time and energy
  • care about them as much as they care about you
  • be deliberate about keeping the magic alive

Why have more than one?

I was recently on a hiking tour of the Utah National Parks with my son.  After the first big day of hiking, Seb (6)  looks at me and says, “if we are going to do this again tomorrow, we will need some help…let’s each pick 3 Pokemon to take along…we can summon them up as needed… they’ve got some good skills that can help…”

Turns out he leverages Pokemon like I engage mentors.

I have wonderful “mentors” turned life-long friends who I can rely on (and they can rely on) as needed.  At this stage, I can pretty much anticipate the reaction I will get depending on who I call.

  • One keeps challenging me to take weird jobs
  • Another encourages me to develop my interest and practice of spirituality in leadership (ironically, because it’s important to me,  not because it’s particularly important to him)
  • Another I call when I need to be humbled, or get ahead of myself
  • And, another I call when I am down and need someone to tell me I am “wonderful”
  • And others…

Once I find a good mentor, I never let them go.

One of my favorite such mentors, Gary, died several years ago.  I keep his help alive by thinking “what would Gary say…”   Sometimes his advice just seems to surface when I am on a long run, or really stuck…  I know he is still impacting my life and career.

Give it back

The best part of having had great mentors, is the chance to give it back (same rules apply).

And when it’s real, I never let it go.

This is mentoring week on letsgrowleaders.   I will address a mentoring topic each day.  I hope you will join in the conversation.

Where have you found great mentors?

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Steve Borek on June 25, 2012 at 6:41 am

    I coach leaders and their teams. The key to being a better leader is to have a coach over a long period of time. Consistency and longevity are the keys for success.

    Other relationships such as friends, consultants, and mentors have an emotional attachment to your outcome. These relationships are all well and good, though I challenge how much one receives towards their own growth.

    The reason why some workshops don’t deliver is because of the lack of follow up. In my Leadership Challenge workshop, I work with a leader for 18 months after they walk out the workshop door.

    There’s no “I Dream of Jeannie” solution. You can’t send someone to a workshop and think they’re going to be transformed over night. It takes consistent follow up over a long period of time to ensure success.


  2. Thanks so much for your comments. I do believe in coaches and have used one at different points in my career and received value. I agree with you that one of the problems with formalized mentoring program is the short-term nature… the other from my experience is that people are often “arranged” with one another. Even when this is based on interests or values, most find it awkward.

    I actually believe that the emotional investment of the naturally occurring mentors (which evolve into friends) can have substantial value. They have seen you evolve. They can help you to remember your hopes and dreams. They can tell if you are just reacting to something or if the problem is bigger, because they have seen you come and go through good and bad times.

    in either case, having some great people along with you for the long haul is key.

    Thank you!


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