Leader Pathways

The Life of Leading Greatly  
February 2011

Mentoring Leaders for Bold Tomorrows

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In this Issue:

Leader Mentoring:
A Different Kind
of Conversation



   Leader Mentoring: A Different Kind of Conversation

Michael Shenkman For both mentors and mentees, entering an Arch of Leadership leader mentoring engagement for the first time can be disorienting. The people in our program are there because they care about leading, have succeeded in leading, or want to succeed. But when at the table, in their conversation, neither mentor nor mentee is a leader. Mentoring is a different kind of conversation – for both parties. A short list of comparisons between the roles of leaders and mentors shows how different the two processes are.

1. Leaders are expert in forming collaborations that accomplish goals successfully.

Mentors tend to aspirations. These delicate states of being need to be coaxed into clarity, nurtured with reflection, recollection and self-trust, and need to survive beyond any limited goal.

2. Leaders must act with resolve, in the heat and complexity of the immediate situation.

Mentors must cultivate in the mentee an awareness of the kinds of feelings, spiritedness and resolve that leaders need in their hearts and souls, if any goal of merit and significance is going to be reached.

3. Leaders have their own goals to put into practice.

Mentors have only the mentee’s aspirations at heart. If a mentor approaches the conversation with the same intense focus as a leader on meeting a goal, the mentoring bond will be broken.

For these reasons and others, confusing leading and mentoring can place the conversation at cross-purposes, and dilute the outcomes for both participants. While informal mentors who are cultivating new leaders are apt to make this mistake, the professional, trained Arch of Leadership mentors do not.

The confusion runs two ways. Leaders might think they are mentoring to make the mentee like them. No. Many people who approach us to be mentors feel qualified for this work because of their track record in successfully solving practical problems. They are surprised to find that Arch of Leadership mentors bring success to the table, but they also bring more to the engagement. Mentees can get confused as well. Some might think: “This mentor sitting across the table from me is worthy of my respect, and she is taking the time to listen to me, but won’t give me advice or clues as to how to solve my problems or meet my deadlines and goals.”

Mentors who have been successful leaders would love to offer their two cents’ worth on solving that problem, but to be successful mentors they must put aside their desire to dispense advice. Instead of thinking about solutions to problems, mentors sense, identify and reinforce the qualities mentees can call upon within themselves in order to survive and even thrive in the challenging life they have chosen, the life of leading. The mentor then lays out what the mentee can anticipate by taking up the life of leading (long after the immediate problem is passed). The mentor senses the mentee’s attitude about life, and judges whether or not that person is willing postpone or even sacrifice some ambitions in order to engage in something more expansive and more encompassing. Finally, the mentor tests whether or not the mentee has, exerts and nurtures the energy necessary in this life.

For a successful mentoring engagement, both mentor and mentee must resist the siren call to fix problems. Success in the mentoring conversation happens when the anxieties, pressures and pitfalls of everyday leading are put aside, by both mentor and mentee; when daily “doing” is deprived of its power to enthrall and overwhelm; when the mentor forgets his sense of accomplishment and the mentee lets go of that crushing sense of urgency.

Mentoring takes a step back from the front line for a moment. Together, mentor and mentee realize this: because mentoring allows aspiration to rise to the fore in a clear, informed and definitive way, leading happens.

Contact us to see how the professional mentors at the Arch of Leadership can transform your aspirations into a commitment to the life of leading.

Help us! You can then say that you too joined forces to launch a new way to develop the aspiring leaders who bring us bold tomorrows. To learn more about how Arch can work with YOUR organization, contact me personally or visit our website.

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