Managers as Mentors: A book review by Bob Morris

Managers as MentorsManagers as Mentors: Building Partnerships for Learning
Chip R. Bell and Marshall Goldsmith
Berrett-Koehler Publishers (2013)

Once upon a time, about 3,000 years ago….

According to Homer’s account in The Odyssey, before departing with his troops from his kingdom in Ithaca for Troy, Odysseus retained Mentor to supervise the education of his son Telemachus, heir to the throne. Hence the origin of a term that remains current 3,000 years later. Similar relationships developed in Athens when Socrates mentored Plato among others, who then mentored Aristotle among others, who then mentored Alexander among others….

Today, mentors tend to be the elders in families but could also be classroom teachers and athletics coaches as well as members of the clergy; mentors in companies tend to be older and certainly much more experienced than those they guide but age is far less important than their business knowledge and skills. My own experience suggests that the best coaches — in business and elsewhere — are both great teachers and great students. They demonstrate a passion for what they can explain as well as an almost insatiable curiosity to learn more, to understand more.

This is the revised and expanded Third Edition of a book that was first published in 1996. What differentiates it from the previous editions? First, Marshall Goldsmith’s contributions, including Chapter 7, “The Person in the Mirror: Mentor Humility Creates Protégée Confidence.” Also, “there are many chapters in this edition not found in the first or second. We [Bell and Goldsmith] have learned a lot from the feedback of readers of the second edition, and from participants in the mentoring workshops we have conducted and keynote addresses we have delivered. They helped us crystallize our thinking and enabled us to get a lot clearer on concepts that were somewhat vague in the second edition.”

The primary focus in the book is on SAGE: The Model for Great Mentoring. That is, a system by which to nurture mastering “through a mentoring partnership focused on learner discovery and independence, in a climate that reduces boundaries and encourages risk.” Here are the essentials of the acronym:

SURRENDERING: leveling the learning field for personal growth and professional development

ACCEPTING: creating a safe haven for risk taking

GIFTING: the core contributions of the mentor, what Bell and Goldsmith characterize as the “Main Event”

EXTENDING: nurturing protégé independence and self-reliance

These are among the dozens of passages of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Bell and Goldsmith’s ’s coverage.

o Traps in Mentordom (Pages 23-24)
o SAGE: The Model for Great Mentoring (31-34)
o Assessing Your Mentoring Talents: A Self-Check Scale (43-50)
o The Components of Rapport (60-63)
o Marshall Goldsmith on “Mentor Humility Creates Protégé Confidence” (75-78)
o Three Dimensions of Partnership (82-85)
o Invitation to Risk #2 (96-97)
o How to Ask Questions (101-105)
o Use Raffle Listening: Focus on Focus (109 and 111)
o The Magic of Mind-Set (114-115)
o Giving Advice Without Getting Resistance (130-132)
o Serving the Breakfast of Champions: Five Steps (137-138)
o Eleven Reasons to Try FreeForward (140-143)
o Why Before What and How (146-148)
o Setting the Stage for the World of Enchantment (156-162)
o Mentoring Long Distance: Remote Learning (199-204)

Readers will especially appreciate the provision of a case study (each in the form of a probing interview of a CEO) in Chapters 1-6: “Every Knock’s a Boost,” Mark Tierce, CEO of The Nature Conservatory; “Fail Faster, Liz Smith, CEO of Blooming’ Brands; “Simply Listen,” Deanna Mulligan, CEO of Guardian Life Assurance Company of America; “Grace under Fire,” Joe Almeida, CEO of Covidien; “Fly High Dive Deep,” Fred Hassan, Managing Director of Warburg Pincus; and “Respect Every one,” Frances Hesselbein, CEO of Francis Hesselbein Leadership Institute. These six interviews — all by themselves — are worth far more than the cost of the book, as is “The Mentor’s Tool Kit” in Chapter 7. The material that explains six tools consists of invaluable information, insights, and counsel.

As I worked my way through the last few chapters, I was again reminded of an observation by Michael Hammer: “A successful career will no longer be about promotion. It will be about mastery.” That is certainly true of mentoring, a never-ending process during which mentors and those they mentor are partners in learning. Over the years, I have worked with and include among my closest friends men and women I consider to be great business mentors. All of them, at one time or another, in one way or another, expressed the same wish: That those they worked with will learn at least half as much as they learned from them. The best classroom teachers share that same hope.

If you seek a single source that will help you to learn more and understand better so that you can then help others to learn more and understand better, look no further. I commend Chip Bell and Marshall Goldsmith on a brilliant achievement.

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