Chip Bell: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

Bell-Chip-149x200The author of nineteen books, Chip’s newest book (with Marshall Goldsmith) is Managers As Mentors: Building Partnerships for Learning. He is also the author of Wired and Dangerous (with John Patterson) and Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service (with Ron Zemke). He has served as consultant, trainer, or speaker to such major organizations as GE, Microsoft, State Farm, Marriott, Lockheed-Martin, Cadillac, KeyBank, Ritz-Carlton Hotels, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, USAA, Merrill Lynch, Allstate, Caterpillar, Hertz, Accenture, Verizon, Home Depot, Harley-Davidson, and Victoria’s Secret. He has served as an adjunct instructor at Cornell University, Manchester University (UK), and Penn State University.

Additionally, he was a highly decorated infantry unit commander in Vietnam with the elite 82nd Airborne and served on the faculty of the Instructional Methods Division of the Army Infantry School. His articles on training and learning have appeared in such professional journals as T+D, Training, HR Magazine, Personal Excellence, Workforce Training News, The Toastmaster, Educational Leadership, Adult Training, Adult Leadership, Storyteller’s Journal, and Journal of European Training (UK). Chip’s articles on leadership and mentoring have appeared in Leadership Excellence, MWorld, Entrepreneur, Leader to Leader, Advanced Management Journal, Sales and Service Excellence, Journal of Management Consulting, Customer Relationship Management, Quality Digest, Staff Digest, and Today’s Leaders.

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Morris: When and why did you decide to create a new edition of Managers as Mentors and do so in collaboration with Marshall Goldsmith?

Bell: The book has been a perennial seller and the publisher asked for a third edition. Since the first two editions were solo works…and, since the subtitle of the book is “Building Partnerships for Learning,” I thought writing the book with someone else would be fun and a learning opportunity. Marshall and I have talked about a collaboration for years and it seemed like a natural fit. I proposed a plan and he liked it. It was no more complicated than that! The collaboration was a gift and a joy!

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing the Third Edition? Please explain.

Bell: Not really. I think we went much deeper on the creation of insight and how partnership made that more likely. We are still uncovering new perspectives on that subject. So, the book is really a work in progress. We just stopped at a convenient spot to get out what we had been given.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the third edition in final form differ significantly from what you initially envisioned? Please explain.

Bell: This is a very difficult question to answer. And, my answer will sound weird. So, delete if you like. Books for me are not created like building a house from a blueprint. They appear almost fully complete—actually they are complete, I just cannot recall all of what appears, so I get lots of return visits. My job is more one of taking dictation. I appreciate how weird this must sound. A book arrives on its time, not mine; leaves on its time, not mine. And, assumes a life of its own until it is gone. That’s probably way more than you wanted to know about this topic. Writing for me is deeply spiritual. It is not like writing a term paper on a topic assigned. Let me sum it this way, “the muses” and I are very close friends and I have been given twenty books because I respect their power and value their gifts.

Morris: Of all the changes that have occurred in the business world since the first edition was published in 1996, insofar as mentoring is concerned, which do you consider to be most significant? Why?

Bell: Clearly the increase in the pace of work, the globalization and diversity of the work force, and the role of the Internet.

Morris: You define mentoring as helping another person to learn in partnership. How do people learn?

Bell: I am not sure. Biologically, there are chemical changes that alter and/or imprint synapses, ultimately impacting habit. But, can chemistry explain a magical aha when we are emotionally moved by a discovery? Anthropologically, certain cultural patterns are affirming causing repetition to be more likely. But, that does not explain how Mozart composed music by the time he was five. We do know there are features of a mentor-protégé relationship that makes learning more expeditious and retentive.

Morris: Here’s a follow-up question: How specifically does a mentor help another person to do so?

Bell: The word “mentor” comes from The Odyssey, written by the Greek poet Homer. As Odysseus (Ulysses, in the Latin translation) is preparing to go fight the Trojan War, he realizes he is leaving behind his son and only heir, Telemachus. Since “Telie” (as he was probably known to his buddies) is in junior high, and since wars tended to drag on for years (the Trojan War lasted ten), Odysseus recognizes that Telie needs to be coached on how to “king” while Daddy is off fighting. He hires a trusted family friend named Mentor to be Telie’s tutor. Mentor is both wise and sensitive — two essential ingredients of world-class mentoring.

The history of the word “mentor” is instructive for several reasons. First, it underscores the legacy nature of mentoring. Like Odysseus, great leaders strive to leave behind a benefaction of added value. Second, Mentor (the old man) combined the wisdom of experience with the sensitivity of a fawn in his attempts to convey the skills of warrior king to young Telemachus. We all know the challenge of conveying our hard-won wisdom to another without resistance. The successful mentor is able to circumvent resistance.

Homer characterizes Mentor as a family friend. The symbolism contained in this relationship is apropos to contemporary mentors. Effective mentors are like friends in that their goal is to create a safe context for growth. They are also like family in that their focus is to offer an unconditional, faithful acceptance of the protégé. Friends work to add and multiply, not subtract. Family members care, even in the face of mistakes and errors.

Superior mentors know how adults learn. Operating out of their intuition or on what they have learned from books, classes, or other mentors, the best mentors recognize that they are, first and foremost, facilitators and catalysts in a process of discovery and insight. They know that mentoring is not about smart comments, eloquent lectures, or clever quips. Mentors practice their skills with a combination of never-ending compassion, crystal-clear communication, and a sincere joy in the role of being a helper along a journey toward mastery.

Just like the first practitioner of their craft, mentors love learning, not teaching. They treasure sharing rather than showing off, giving rather than boasting. Great mentors are not only devoted fans of their protégés; they are loyal fans of the dream of what their protégés can become with their guidance.

Morris: For those who have not as yet read any of the three editions of the book, what is “SAGE” and what specifically does it help to achieve?

Bell: Managers as Mentors is crafted around a mnemonic — SAGE — that forms the structure of the mentoring experience as we see it.

Surrendering is all about actions that make mentoring a power-free experience. We have learned that power, authority, and command –– or at least the protégé’s perception of these traits in the mentor –– can doom the mentoring experience to a perfunctory dialogue . . . sans risks, sans spirit, and sans discovery.

Accepting in the SAGE model focuses on the value of a safe, nontoxic relationship. When the protégé believes he or she is in a relationship that is not dangerous, growth-producing risk and experimentation are more likely to occur. The perception or prediction of danger is not related to physical harm, but rather the emotional damage caused by rebuke, judgment, or criticism –– all of which yield a loss of protégé self-esteem in front of an important person. Why is this important? Without risk there is no learning; without experimentation there is no progress.

Gifting is positioned as the main event in mentoring. Many mentors start their mentoring relationships with a gift of advice, feedback, or focus. However, when offered as the first step in the relationship, the act of bestowing such gifts risks their being at best undervalued, at worst ignored, resisted, or rejected. If Gifting follows Surrendering and Accepting, it is more likely to be experienced by the protégé as a sincere gesture and a valued contribution worthy of attention, tryout, and effort.

Extending in the SAGE is about the creation and nurturance of the protégé as a self-directed learner. It is also about ways to extend the learning of the protégé beyond his or her relationship with the mentor. Essentially, it is shepherding the transfer of learning.

Morris: What are the defining characteristics of a great mentor?

Bell: Balance. Unlike a relationship based on power and control, a learning partnership is a balanced alliance, grounded in mutual interests, interdependence, and respect. Power-seeking mentors tend to mentor with credentials and sovereignty; partnership­-driven mentors seek to mentor with authenticity and openness. In a balanced learning partnership, energy is given early in the relationship to role clarity and communication of expectations; there is a spirit of generosity and acceptance rather than a focus on rules and rights. Partners recognize their differences while respecting their common needs and objectives.

Truth. Countless books extol the benefits of clear and accurate communication. Partnership communication has one additional quality: It is clean, pure, characterized by the highest level of integrity and honesty. Truth-seekers work not only to ensure that their words are pure (the truth and nothing but the truth) but also to help others communicate with equal purity. When a mentor works hard to give feedback to a protégé in a way that is caringly frank and compassionately straightforward, it is in pursuit of clean communication. When a mentor implores the protégé for candid feedback, it is a plea for clean communication. The path of learning begins with the mentor’s genuineness and candor.

Trust. Trust begins with experience; experience begins with a leap of faith. Perfect monologues, even with airtight proof and solid support documentation, do not foster a climate of experimentation and risk taking. They foster passive acceptance, not personal investment. If protégés see their mentors taking risks, they will follow suit. A “trust-full” partnership is one in which error is accepted as a necessary step on the path from novice to master.

Abundance. Partnership-driven mentors exude generosity. There is a giver orientation that finds enchantment in sharing wisdom. As the “Father of Adult Learning,” Malcolm Knowles, says, “Great trainers [and mentors] love learning and are happiest when they are around its occurrence.”1 Such relationships are celebratory and affirming. As the mentor gives, the protégé reciprocates, and abundance begins to characterize the relationship. And there is never a possessive, credit-seeking dimension (“That’s MY protégé”).

Passion. Great mentoring partnerships are filled with passion; they are guided by mentors with deep feelings and a willingness to communicate those feelings. Passionate mentors recognize that effective learning has a vitality about it that is not logical, not rational, and not orderly. Such mentors get carried away with the spirit of the partnership and their feelings about the process of learning. Some may exude emotion quietly, but their cause-driven energy is clearly present. In a nutshell, mentors not only love the learning process, they love what the protégé can become—and they passionately demonstrate that devotion.

Courage. Mentoring takes courage; learning takes courage. Great mentors are allies of courage; they cultivate a partnership of courageousness. They take risks with learning, showing boldness in their efforts, and elicit courage in protégés by the examples they set. The preamble to learning is risk, the willingness to take a shaky step without the security of perfection. The preamble to risk is courage.

Ethics. Effective mentors must be clean in their learner-dealings, not false, manipulative, or greedy. Competent mentors must be honest and congruent in their communications and actions. They must not steal their learners’ opportunities for struggle or moments of glory. Great mentors refrain from coveting their learners’ talents or falsifying their own. They must honor the learner just as they honor the process of mutual learning.

Morris: What are the defining characteristics of a workplace culture within which mentoring is most likely to thrive?

Bell: One that is happy, curious, interested in innovation and is affirming. One that views people as important enough to progress to invest in. One that has eliminated fear from the workplace.

Morris: What is Feedforward?

Bell: A term coined by Marshall to mean giving people helpful information aimed at improvement that focuses on the future, not on a rear view perspective.

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Here is a direct link to Part 1.

Chip cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His website link

The Chip Bell Group link

His Amazon page link

YouTube videos link

LinkedIn link

Twitter link

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