How Mentors Lead, Follow, and Get out of the Way

In leadership, it’s really easy to make people dependent on you for their growth and progress. In fact, when we mentor emerging leaders, it’s very tempting to make ourselves the end all answer for the mentee. In her book, The Art of Mentoring, Dr. Shirley Peddy offers a great reminder of our role in mentoring: “A mentor’s principle purpose is to help another develop the qualities he needs to attain his goals–without a mentor.”

Understanding that phrase, “Without a mentor”, is the difference-maker in mentoring. Our purpose is not to make people co-dependent, unable to function in leadership without us. Rather, as Dr. Peddy observes, our job is to embrace a mentoring process in which we lead, follow, and get out of the way. She observes:

“I think of leading as showing the way by role modeling, experience, or example; following, as advising and counseing (when asked) and getting out of the way as the art of withdrawing from a supportive relationship, while leaving the door open for a more collegial one.”

The only way to lead, follow, and get out of the way is to help mentees develop four essential qualities so they can attain their goals without becoming dependent on us. These four qualities include:

1. Wisdom

Peddy refers to wisdom as an understanding of how the “system” works. In every organizations there is a culture, a system, and processes that people must understand in order to function well and achieve success. As mentors, it’s our job to help the people we serve develop this “wisdom” so they are “accepted as an integral part of the organization.”

2. Judgment

Every decision and action has consequences. Dr. Peddy observes, “A mentor, with objectivity and perspective, can help a mentee understand the long-term impact of his choices.” Mentors don’t make the decisions for their mentees, but rather ask the right questions so that emerging leaders can evaluate their alternatives and assess likely outcomes.

3. Resilience

Dr. Peddy observes, “Resilience is learning from mistakes and coming back with renewed confidence, strength, and determination.” Good mentors use their own failures as opportunities to coach mentees and offer valuable perspective in the journey to success. Their perspective helps emerging leaders bounce back from failure and put setbacks in the proper light.

4. Independence

Mentors have the ability to affirm a mentee’s growth, achievement, success, abilities, and potential. They help emerging leaders grow in confidence and as a result “accept increasing challenges and reasonable risks.” Independence occurs when a mentee receives the necessary support to confidently leave the nest and venture into new territory.

“Leading” allows for wisdom and judgment to develop. “Following” fosters an environment for resilience in which the mentor becomes a sounding board for the mentee. And “Getting out of the way” enables the independence necessary for the mentee to spread their wings and pursue their goals.

Question: What else can mentors do to lead, follow, and get out of the way?