Mentoring Leaders for Bold Tomorrows
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In this Issue:
Three Things Leader Mentors Do
In Leader Mentoring: Find, Inspire and Cultivate Great Leaders, Michael Shenkman makes the case that mentoring differs from instruction, teaching, and coaching in that it emphasizes not talents and skills used in executing a project but the qualities and values of life that are needed to sustain oneself in the creative endeavor. "No mentors, no leaders," he says, adding, "I want my new book to strongly advocate for leader mentoring as an essential, premium developmental service that aspiring leaders and their sponsors, bosses and partners need to invest in."
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Leader Pathways welcomes Ron Detry as our guest writer for this month’s edition. Ron is a retired vice-president from Sandia National Laboratories where he was heavily involved in creating its culture of leadership development and mentoring. He now participates in the Albuquerque community’s Arch of Leadership program, “Next Step Leadership Mentoring.” The following is excerpted from a speech he gave at one of Next Step’s luncheon events.
Preparation for a lifetime of leadership requires three important steps, and a mentor plays a crucial role in all three.
The would-be leader first must develop a deep, realistic self-knowledge. This is difficult. We construct a self-image that is comfortable, flattering and untrue. Introspection that leads to a more realistic self-image is threatening and painful, so we avoid it. An important role for the mentor, to quote the poet Robert Burns is to be the power that gives us “the gift to see ourselves as others see us.” Burns did not say, “Tell us how others see us.” He said much more: give us the “gift to see ourselves as others see us.” In other words, mentors should teach us how to be introspective: how to really examine who we are, what we value, and how we are perceived rather than how we think we are. Learning how to look within and be honest with one’s self is not a one-time exercise. Rather, it should establish a life-long practice of meaningful introspection.
We must also Trust Ourselves. If we do not, how can we expect followers to put their trust in us? We can err by trusting ourselves too much, ignoring advice, discarding caution, becoming rash. But more commonly, we trust ourselves too little. Despite past success, we cannot muster the resolve to proceed in the face of current uncertainty.
In his book, Confessions of an Accidental Businessman (page 17), James A. Autry reflects: “Looking back at my career…I understand the overall lesson: We frequently underestimate ourselves, we frequently know more than we think we do, and our instincts and judgment are more reliable than we think.” The role of a mentor is to guide us while we consider our experience and preparation, our past successes and failures, and help us place appropriate trust in our instincts, in our judgments, in ourselves.
Once we know ourselves and trust ourselves, we must then Share Ourselves. The most effective way to share ourselves is through storytelling. Compelling stories convey principles, values and beliefs more effectively than any sermon, essay or treatise. Stories make us feel like participants as the protagonist struggles to resolve a dilemma. So we as leaders must use stories to draw in those we want as followers, to engage them emotionally as well as intellectually in what we hope to do. Mentors help us draw out of our experiences the stories that shape and define us, stories that reveal who we are and what values we hold dear - meaningful and moving stories that we can use to share ourselves with others. Stories of successes build confidence in us. Stories of our failures show that we are vulnerable, fallible – human, like everyone else.
So to summarize, mentors help leaders by
That’s all. Only three things, but what incredibly important things they are.
- Holding up a mirror and demanding we look deeply into it to know ourselves;
- Helping us find within us the courage and confidence it takes to trust ourselves so we can move forward with resolve in the face of uncertainty and the possibility of failure;
- Helping us share ourselves by understanding the stories that shape and define us, and by telling those stories in a frank and compelling manner.
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