Leader Pathways

The Life of Leading Greatly  
May 2007

Mentoring Leaders for Bold Tomorrows

Individual Mentoring or Custom In-house Group Programs

Publishing and Speaking

In this Issue:

Mentoring: Whence the Premium?
Part 2 of a 4-part series

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In Michael Shenkman's book The Arch and the Path we see how great leaders embark on a strenuous life path in order to transform mere possibilities into more expansive and encompassing opportunities for all. Shenkman vividly portrays how the life of leading is a journey of the mind, heart and spirit that is like no other.

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   Mentoring: Whence the Premium?

Michael Shenkman Part 2 of a 4-part series

Success vs. Leading Greatly

“Mentoring, you might say, is about experiences and futures, rather than principles and outcomes.”

Last time, we asked whether it was worth the effort to distinguish between mentoring and coaching. Some people see that the one-on-one format is what’s important. Others prefer to avoid the use of the term “mentoring” altogether. Another client of ours wonders if attempting to make the distinction might only risk confusing our clients.

Let me begin today’s message by saying, I do think it is worth the effort to make the distinction. I’ll start by directing my thoughts toward someone on the CEO level: The distinction between mentoring and executive coaching is important to make because it gives an organization’s leaders the choice as to what kind of attention it wants to offer others. It reflects a sophistication in perceiving employees’ needs and designing programs to meet them.

Coaching is remedial: It fixes people’s lapses in performance; it reminds people of the skills and resources that they have available within themselves so that they can match them up with the resources of the organization and the situation it is in; it helps employees fully understand their roles and learn as completely as possible how to perform at their highest level.

Offering mentoring to your prospective leaders, we propose, delivers something else. Mentoring inspires and evokes the creative spirit of potential and aspiring leaders: By offering mentoring to your best leader prospects, you are saying, “As your leader, I see the leader in you, and am willing to offer you the best resources available to make you into the best leader possible. I understand the arduous personal commitment that becoming a leader requires, and I am willing and I desire to be a part of your life in helping you meet those demands. As a leader, I am offering you the best I can in order to influence, affect and inspire your life as a leader.”

From the executive’s point of view, there is another reason to make this distinction: There is a time and a place for coaching, but there is also a time and a place for mentoring. An awareness of the difference between mentoring and coaching permits an executive to make a clear determination as to the state of your organization, and the range of needs it is facing at this point in time. An executive gets to consider whether a firm operational focus of coaching is appropriate, or whether the longer term, more future-oriented and personalized focus provided by mentoring is appropriate for leaders you are counting on. In a case we will cite in a later installment one of our client executives used both coaching and mentoring, he combined and targeted these different resources simultaneously, for different people in the organization in order to achieve a maximal release of vision and energy, competence and commitment.


Both executive coaching and mentoring take place within the context of an organization striving to succeed. Coaches and mentors are hired because of the insight of the organization’s leaders that an outside resource would be helpful in catalyzing and concentrating everyone’s best efforts. But the very idea of what constitutes “success” from such a resource differs in the coaching and mentoring worlds.

“Success” is a term that encompasses what an existing organization is capable of accomplishing. It reflects, to some extent, how well a leader has already implemented aspects of his or her vision. But it does not speak to the state of one’s mind, heart and spirit as one faces the next challenge.

Thus the standard of “success” is an operational measure, and is important as a yardstick for coaches, not for mentors. Driving toward success depends on execution happening in just the right way so as to match the problem at hand. It depends on there being available in plentitude just the right resources of talent, energy, capital, equipment, etc., to deal with the problem.

Success is also relative, strictly depending on other people’s perspectives on a situation. Who declares that something is a success? And for what ends? For whom is something successful versus someone who would view it differently? If “success” is gained at someone else’s expense, and that other organization just as legitimately seeks success on its terms, which is “successful” in that case? I have heard for example how some executives actually become dependent on their coaches’ validation of their successes. When that happens, coaching has turned sour.

Coaches coach to success. Like catalysts that concentrate people’s attention and abilities on the task at hand, they shape peoples’ perceptions around the immediate events that are contributing to or detracting from the likelihood of success. They then help people quickly sort out the responses, decisions and actions that will most likely yield success.

Please understand: coaching offers an utterly invaluable and completely necessary function if any organization is to accomplish its missions. Executive coaches provide invaluable services at this level and to these ends.

It is just that mentors, as we have said, look at things differently.

Leading Greatly

Mentoring people to “lead greatly” definitely envisions success and wants to help people to “get to that mountaintop.” But its scope of vision and conception of a person’s motivations toward leading organizations points to something other than the immediate results that can be measured and that can betoken success or failure. Mentoring individuals to a life of leading greatly speaks to guiding their attention to things other than operational proficiencies or even market successes.

When we ask people to describe who they consider “great,” we are as likely to get answers that include parents or teachers or mentors as we do generals, presidents or founders. Why? Because whomever people identify as being “great” are people who exert impact, and a profound changing influence on their lives.

They say of these “great” people, “He/she saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.” Or, “He/she lived what they said. If he/she could be so genuine, I knew I could too.” Or, “He/she never lied to me. They lived and spoke in a way that I knew was true.” Mentoring, then, helps people to get to that greatness, via other individuals (mentors) who so elevate and enrich them that great things result.

This points to another difference between mentoring and coaching: mentoring concentrates, with discipline and focus, on enabling leaders to affect others’ lives, to change lives while fully engaged in the life it will take to accomplish something large, expansive and more encompassing. Mentoring you might say, is about experiences and futures, rather than principles and outcomes.

Mentoring helps people see how their own lives are worthy of bringing to another the impetus to move into larger, more expansive and encompassing efforts in order to make this human endeavor (the whole thing, at the highest levels of our action and vision) viable, abundant and joyful.

With that difference firmly in mind, in the next issue we can consider how the two processes differ from one another in actual practice, so that mentoring is chosen when the situation calls for it. Thus my next message is entitled “The Time and Place for Mentoring.” 

To learn more about how Arch can work with YOUR organization, visit www.archofleadership.com.

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