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The Magic of Mentoring

 “Mentors focus on the qualities of wisdom and judgment. By sharing what they have learned from experience, they provide perspective. They tell us the unspoken rules and point out the imaginary lines one should not cross. They help us explore the consequences of our decisions.” ~ Shirley Peddy, The Art of Mentoring: Lead, Follow and Get Out of the Way, Bullion Books, 2001

When people think of mentoring, they often associate it with an older executive who counsels a promising newbie. The senior leader advises the junior employee on his career, navigating office politics and what’s needed to get ahead. But mentoring has dramatically changed over the last few decades.

Maybe you find yourself stuck in a career rut or itching to broaden your skills and take on new challenges. Perhaps you’re eyeing a higher-level management role or other professional advancement. If you wait for senior managers to notice you and “bring you along,” you’ll be disappointed with the wait—assuming a promotion ever happens.

Effective mentoring is essential for leadership development. Done right, it’s one of the most powerful tools for gaining wisdom, reaping the rewards of job growth and achieving a strong competitive advantage in today’s job marketplace. Successful leaders mentor, coach and partner with their employees instead of practicing command-and-control management. Top organizations are more adaptive, innovative and smart about bringing out the best in their people. Employees are always learning, and managers are always teaching.

That said, it’s up to you to cultivate a beneficial mentoring relationship—and to pursue it with rigor and commitment.

Mentoring Vs. Coaching

“Mentoring magic 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.” ~ Chip R. Bell and Marshall Goldsmith, Managers as Mentors, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Third Edition, 2013

At its most basic level, mentoring is the simple act of helping someone learn. But the relationship between the helper and “helpee” changes significantly when performed as a learning partnership. Today’s competitive organizations need “learning entrepreneurs,” whose curiosity is valued over conformity.

Words like “mentor” and “coach” are sometimes used interchangeably, but there’s an important distinction:

   Coaching is specifically aimed at nurturing and sustaining performance.

   Mentoring focuses on learning; its primary outcome should be competence, proficiency, skill, know-how and/or wisdom.

Coaching is practiced by managers who are responsible for meeting performance goals and by executive coaches who are hired to boost personnel development. Mentoring can be practiced without the supervisory constraints imposed by the organizational hierarchy.

While coaching and mentoring are similar, this article will assume that a mentoring partnership:

  1. Exists between two people (usually one more experienced than the other)
  2. Is dedicated to promoting self-directed learning and development

What do we need to understand about mentoring, and how can this relationship be most helpful? How do you know when it’s the right time to find a mentor? What’s the best way to start a mentoring relationship?

Mentoring Myths

In the last decade, the concept of mentoring has changed, but the need for career counseling has not. In fact, mentoring is more important than ever because most careers take numerous twists and turns in a rapidly evolving world.

In “Demystifying Mentoring,” a February 2011 Harvard Business Review blog post, Contributing Editor Amy Gallo identifies four common mentoring myths:

Myth #1: Mentoring is a formal long-term relationship. Because the business world moves fast and people frequently change jobs, a long-term advisory relationship may be unrealistic. Mentoring can be a 1-hour session; it needn’t be an official 6-month assignment.

Instead of focusing on the long term, think of mentoring as a tool you can access when you need it. Of course, advice and guidance may be more relevant if they come from someone who knows you and understands your goals. But you still need to build relationships so you have connections in place when you require advice. In some instances, you may wish to consult people who don’t know you as well, but can offer a fresh perspective.

Myth #2: You have to find one perfect mentor. It’s actually quite rare these days for people to get through their careers with only one mentor. In fact, many people have several esteemed advisors. Seeking a variety of perspectives on a crucial issue may be warranted.

Myth #3: Mentoring is just for junior-level employees. Many people assume they need a mentor only when starting their careers. In reality, professionals at every developmental stage can benefit from a mentoring relationship. You may be surprised to find that reverse mentoring often occurs (a senior manager, for example, learns technology skills from a junior employee).

Don’t wait for problems to occur to find a mentor. Whether you are making a career change, taking on a new role or contemplating leaving a job, solicit advice from someone who has experienced a similar transition.

Myth #4: Experienced professionals mentor out of the goodness of their hearts. It can be an honor to be asked to mentor someone, but the relationship is about more than respect for a trailblazer. Mentoring should be useful to both parties. Think about what you can offer a potential mentor:

   Can you provide a unique perspective on his role in the organization?

   Do you bring valuable outside information that can help your mentor in her job?

While not a direct barter, you may be able to offer your prospective mentor a promise of future assistance.

Do’s and Don’ts

Mentoring can take many forms, but your goal is to find the right kind of advice, from the right person, at the right time.

Gallo offers the following guidelines in her Harvard Business Review article:


   Build a cadre of people you can turn to for advice when you need it

   Nurture relationships with people whose perspectives you respect

   Think of mentoring as both a long- and short-term arrangement


   ssume that your success or experience precludes your need for a mentor

   Rely on one person to help guide your career

   Expect to receive mentoring without providing anything in return

“The most powerful yet difficult part of mentoring is being who you are,” write Bell and Goldsmith. “This is not to imply that a mentor must be some kind of super-hero without flaws, doubts or the capacity for making mistakes. Fundamentally, mentoring is about growing—mentors growing with protégés, protégés growing with mentors.”

Encouraging Reciprocity

An effective mentoring relationship can be best described as a mutual search for wisdom. It’s grounded in a true partnership that thrives on reciprocal facilitation of learning.

Such reciprocity requires the mentor to surrender power differences to build rapport and trust. Learning cannot occur with fear in the room.

Bell and Goldsmith encourage the “SAGE” approach to forming the foundation for an effective mentorship:

S = Surrendering. Power, authority and command (or the protégé’s perception of these traits in a mentor) can doom the dialogue necessary for learning.

A = Accepting. Strive for a safe relationship. The protégé must trust the mentor to provide an environment that encourages risk and experimentation.

G = Gifting. A mentor should supply advice, feedback and/or focus. This stage is actually the most delicate. If the mentor has failed to pave the way for Surrendering and Accepting, the protégé may ignore, undervalue, resist or reject the gift of knowledge.

E = Extending. A mentor must help the protégé apply information to real-life experiences so self-directed learning may occur. Creative teaching tools include role-playing, feedback and storytelling.

Quick Tips for Mentors and Protégés

The quality of your mentoring relationship will determine its ultimate success. Each partner must accept responsibility for making it work. When something isn’t gelling, be sure to communicate your concerns. When expectations are met, let go and move on.

Bell and Goldsmith offer some fundamental tips in Managers as Mentors:

For Being a Great Protégé:

   Select a mentor who can help you be the best you can be—not the one who can ease you into a promotion.

   You can sometimes learn more from people who are different from you.

   Clarify your goals and expectations for the mentoring relationship, and communicate them in your first meeting.

   Be yourself. Be willing to take risks with new skills and ideas.

   When given feedback, listen well and say thank you.

For Being a Great Mentor:

   Mentoring is a partnership to help your protégé learn. It’s not about being an expert or authority.

   Don’t instruct; foster discovery. Ask powerful questions instead of giving smart answers.

   Be authentic, open and sincere. Establish a comfortable and safe environment.

   Act more like a friend than a boss.

   Be curious and attentive.

   Give feedback with a strong focus on the future, not the past.

Are you working in a company where executive coaches provide leadership development to help leaders put strengths-based leadership into action? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to build a company culture built on trust? Transformational leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more fulfilling future.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I a transformational leader who inspires individuals and organizations to achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy and achieve levels of effectiveness difficult to attain otherwise?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching to help leaders create a culture where respect and trust flourish.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-i 2.0, Hogan Lead, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help leaders nurture strengths-based conversations in the workplace. You can become an inspiring leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

Working Resources is a San Francisco Bay Area executive coaching and leadership development firm helping innovative companies and law firms develop emotionally intelligent and mindful leaders.

...About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman

Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach|
Trusted Advisor to Executive Leadership Teams
Mindfulness & Emotional Intelligence Workplace Expert

I coach leaders to cultivate clarity, creativity, focus, trust, and full engagement in a purpose-driven culture.

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist and executive coach. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies select and develop emotionally intelligent leaders. 

Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica.

 “Maynard Brusman is one of the foremost coaches in the United States. He utilizes a wide variety of assessments in his work with senior executives and upper level managers, and is adept at helping his clients both develop higher levels of emotional intelligence and achieve breakthrough business results. As a senior leader in the executive coaching field, Dr. Brusman brings an exceptional level of wisdom, energy, and creativity to his work.” — Jeffrey E. Auerbach, Ph.D., President, College of Executive Coaching

The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded rare "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development. Alan Weiss, Ph.D., President, Summit Consulting Group

Are you an executive leader who wants to be more effective at work and get better results?

Did you know that research has demonstrated, that the most effective leaders model high emotional intelligence, and that EQ can be learned? It takes self-awareness, empathy, and compassion to become a more emotionally intelligent leader. 

Emotionally intelligent and mindful leaders inspire people to become fully engaged with the vision and mission of their company.  Mindful leadership starts from within.

I am a consulting psychologist and executive coach. I believe coaching is a collaborative process of providing people with the resources and opportunities they need to self manage, develop change resiliency and become more effective. Utilizing instrumented assessments - clients set clear goals, make optimal use of their strengths, and take action to create desired changes aligned with personal values.

I have been chosen as an expert to appear on radio and TV, MSNBC, CBS Health Watch and in the San Francisco Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Time, Forbes and Fast Company.

Over the past thirty-five years, I have coached hundreds of leaders to improve their leadership effectiveness.

After only 6 months, one executive coaching client reported greater productivity, and more stress resiliency helping her company improve revenues by 20%. While this may depend on many factors most of my clients report similar satisfaction in their EQ leadership competence leading to better business results.

You can choose to work with a highly seasoned executive coach to help facilitate your leadership development and executive presence awakening what’s possible. 

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