Managers as Mentors Building Partnerships for Learning Autopsy

Image of Managers As Mentors: Building Partnerships for Learning
Release Date: 
July 1, 2013
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The consequences of the intersection of explosive knowledge creation, tumultuous markets, and perpetual change, are: (1) what might have worked yesterday may no longer work tomorrow and (2) to be competitive you must learn new ideas.

In recent years many organizations, especially established enterprises seeking to assert their viability in the dynamic new economy, have proclaimed themselves “learning organizations.”

As with many management fads, the “learning organization” is more talked about as a feel-good, sound byte concept than operationalized in explicit managerial programs. What does learning in the context of the workplace mean for managers? For workers? Answering these questions is the mission of Managers as Mentors Building Partnerships for Learning.

The philosophy of authors Chip Bell and Marshall Goldsmith, who when not writing books—they have some 50 between them—work as an organization development trainer and executive coach, respectively, in that mentoring is a shared learning discovery partnership: “Mentoring is that part of the leadership role that has learning (competence, proficiency, skills, know-how wisdom) as its primary outcome.”

They distinguish mentoring from coaching, which is that “part of the leadership role specifically nurturing and sustaining performance.”

Their perspective is that the mentoring act of facilitating learning has the objective of imparting wisdom, leading to judgment and promoting innovation, as distinguished from imparting skill and technique.

In making their case for this mentoring style, they assert, “What emanates from a wisdom-building approach is creativity—the foundation of innovation. Competitive organizations today need, ‘learning entrepreneurs.’ Today, curiosity almost always trumps conformity.”

To this end the authors Bell and Goldsmith part company from the “stereotypical approach, using their expertise to teach rather than facilitate; demonstrate instead of enabling discovery . . . they leave them temporarily capable, but unwise in the long run.”

They write, “Over the course of our lives, learning comes from many people in many places, and through many events.”

Because there is more to learn, it follows, then, that effectiveness in the 21st century shall necessarily derive from exposure to more places, more people, and more context. And managers responsible for the outcomes of their enterprises increasingly will achieve those to the extent they are effective in enabling learning, so that those individuals may be more capable of discovering what is needed by compressing the time to learn lessons from experience, to draw on broader knowledge to be more creative, to install wisdom to initiate innovation.

As with any endeavor offering a high payoff, mentoring is not easy.

Authors Bell and Goldsmith write, “Mentoring can be like panning for gold among the sand. Insight is generally not lying on top ready to be found in policy. As for easy pickings, the help of a mentor would be unnecessary. It lies beneath the obvious and ordinary. It is lodged in the dark sands of irrational beliefs, myths, fears, prejudices and biases. It lurks under untested hunches, ill-prepared starts, and unfortunate mistakes.” Helping your protégé to discover this gold is the work of the mentor.

Mentoring “cannot be a solo performance. It is not a one-way, master-to-novice transaction. To be effective and lasting, it must be accomplished through a two-way relationship—the synchronized efforts of two people.” This shared learning journey of mentoring are “what gives it a dance-like quality.”

In this spirit, they write, “Fundamentally, mentoring is about growing – mentors growing protégés, protégés growing mentors. The core of a mentor relationship is more about a mutual search than about imparting wisdom. The collective pursuit, mentoring works best when mentors are focused on building, not on boasting.”

The authors assert that theirs is the only book, “we know of that is grounded in a true partnership philosophy.”

Just as mentoring is necessary to compress the learning time, the very pace of mentoring must be accelerated, not deliberate. As authors Bell and Goldsmith observe, “The futurists tell us that the days of ‘take your time!’ are over for the business world; a ‘time’s up!’ pace, where the blessing occurs, is not essential to success. At the same time, employees must remain up to date on mastering new skills. Superior mentors will be those who can competently tutor on the run.”

They advance most helpful counsel re coping with the challenge in which the full lesson requires more time than available, suggesting that the mentor cover the most crucial part thoroughly, rather than seek to compress and condense the entirety of the topic, for “solid learning on a key part will create confident momentum and enable the protégé to learn the rest of his or her own.” This teaching follows from their premise that competence in one element “is better than vague awareness of the whole.

The presentation is organized around the SAGE mnemonic that provides structure to their view for the mentoring experience:

• Surrendering(s) is manifested in action sans power authority and command

• Accepting (a) embraces the essence of a safe relationship without risk, judgment, criticism, rebuke, or toxicity

• Gifting (g) of focus, feedback or advice, which the author asserts are “the main event of mentoring.”

• Extending (e) to nurture “the protégé as a self-directed learning” through “shepherding the transfer of learning.”

They advocate modeling qualities of great mentoring: balance, truth, trust, abundance, passion, courage, and ethics.

The presentation blends philosophy, an instructive case study with lots of practical tips, actionable techniques, and wise counsel. Among the central mentoring principles they advocate are: listening, feedback, paraphrasing comments to encourage more interactions, affirming, storytelling, focus, avoiding why questions.

Early on, they introduce the Mentor Scale, consisting of three aspects of effective mentoring relationships:

· Sociability – preference for being with or apart from others;

· Dominance – preference for being in charge;

· Openness – how easily you trust others.

Authors Bell and Goldsmith advise, “For effective mentoring . . . push towards the high side of sociability and openness, towards the low side of dominance.”

This accessible overview and handbook, the third edition, can be advantageously read by parents, teachers, and professionals as well as managers. In particular, the “Quick Tips to Protégées” section can be worth 100 times the price of the book.