It’s your responsibility to mentor leaders
Peter Drucker is the person who clarified this in my mind. Back in the eighties, a small group of leaders and I spent several days at a retreat with him. On our last day together, he looked at the dozen of us in the room and said, “Everything I have said to you up to this point is not as important as what I am about to share with you now. Who are you going to mentor?” He spent the next couple of hours talking to us about our responsibility as leaders to mentor other leaders. It marked my life.
What is a mentor?
A mentor intentionally invests their best into the lives of others.
My friend Dale Bronner, a very successful businessman and pastor who has served on my nonprofit board for years, wrote a book on mentoring, and I love the way he described credibility in a mentor:
Mentors have what the French call “savoir-faire.” The literal translation of savoir is “to know,” and faire means “to do.” Consequently, savoir faire means “knowing how to do.”
The underlying purpose of mentoring is not for people to act differently, rather to become different. And it doesn’t happen overnight. The process is evolutionary, not revolutionary
Whether you’re seeking a mentor or seeking to be a mentor, the following questions need to be answered positively to indicate that someone has the potential to be a good mentor. As you read them, answer the questions about the people who mentor you. And also think about how others who desire to be mentored by you would answer them about you.
- Does the Mentor Have Credibility?
Credibility is everything when picking a mentor. You don’t ask someone to coach you in an area where he’s never demonstrated success. You don’t seek business advice from a person who’s never run a successful business. You don’t get fitness instruction from someone who is out of shape and fifty pounds overweight. You don’t ask a mediocre speaker to coach you in communication. It just doesn’t make sense.
Competent mentors possess a credibility that comes from both knowing and doing. For this reason, they can help people evolve over time through action as well as knowledge. If you’re seeking a mentor, look for credibility. If you plan to be a mentor, develop it. And when you mentor others, do so only in your areas of proven success. As your credibility grows, you can expand the areas in which you mentor others.
- Is the Mentor’s Strength Compatible with Yours?
Before you engage in a mentoring relationship, it’s important that you know this truth: we teach what we know, but we reproduce who we are. The reason mentoring is so powerful is that good mentors possess the ability to reproduce their abilities in the lives of the people they mentor, but that is only possible if the mentors and the mentees share similar strengths.
It’s fine to admire talented and accomplished people. It’s great to partner with them if there’s something you can accomplish together. But if you don’t have common strengths, a mentoring relationship isn’t going to be mutually beneficial. The mentor will become frustrated, and the person being mentored won’t be capable of executing what the mentor teaches. It would be like LeBron James trying to teach basketball to a five-foot-eight couch potato.
The two areas where I mentor people most are leadership and communication, because those are my greatest strengths. And the people I work with not only have ability in one or both of those areas—they typically also have already developed those skills. So when they ask questions, they are often very specific or highly complex, and it gives me great joy to share from my fifty-plus years of experience. The more skilled and experienced they are, the more competent questions they ask. That’s as it should be. There’s another implication to the importance of a mentor and mentee sharing strengths: everyone needs more than one mentor.
No one does everything well, and no single person shares all of your strengths. I seek out different people to help me develop different areas of my life. You should too. Never expect to become a be-all mentor to anyone. You can cover a lot of ground as a mentor with beginners. But when mentoring higher-level leaders, you need to specialize.
- Does the Mentor Reproduce Other Leaders?
Reproducing leaders only happens if the mentor produces leaders. If you’re not identifying, attracting, and equipping leaders, you don’t yet have credibility as a leadership mentor. You need to do the groundwork to develop credibility. And if you’re wanting to be mentored in leadership, don’t try to connect with anyone who hasn’t proven himself or herself as someone who produces leaders. Years ago, when I had the opportunity to be mentored by Coach John Wooden, I jumped at the chance. He was a great basketball coach, but I didn’t want to learn about basketball from him. That’s not my strength. If I’d admired only his basketball ability, it would have been fun to meet him once, but it wouldn’t have made sense to be mentored by him. But John Wooden developed leaders. His basketball players acknowledged that he taught them more about life and leadership than he did about basketball. That’s where I focused my questions whenever we met.