What is mentoring? Define the power of helping others develop.

Mentoring Defined
In this series on mentors it is proper to offer a brief description about what I mean when I use the word “mentor.”  What do I mean by the word mentor?

Mentoring is a multidimensional relationship where a mentor and a mentee work together to make specific, mutually defined goals that focus on developing the mentee’s skills, abilities, knowledge and thinking. (Zachary)

Mentoring is a relationship between two people, usually a senior and a junior employee, whereby the senior employee teaches the junior employee about his/her job, introduces the junior to contacts, orients the junior employee to the industry and organization and addresses social or personal issues that arise on the job. (Allen, Finkelstein, Poteet)

Mentoring is to serve as a catalyst in drawing out the potential that God has given to His people and to give people what they need for the work of ministry that God has given them. (Fukuda)

Mentoring is a relational process, in which someone who knows something (the mentor), transfers that something (empowerment and resources such as wisdom, advice, information, emotional support, protection, linking to resources, career guidance, status) to someone else (the mentee) at a sensitive time so that it impacts development.  (Clinton)

Mentoring is a relationship between two individuals that allows individuals to address concerns about self, career, and family by providing opportunities to gain knowledge, skills, and competence and to address personal and professional dilemmas. (Kram)

Mentoring is a kind of sacred archetype, a capacity to illuminate a role of often-hidden yet rare power in the drama of human development. (Daloz)

Definitions offer a helpful howbeit incomplete definition. What is the activity of mentoring?  In some cases mentoring takes place even when there is no direct relationship between a mentor and a mentee.  This is important to understand particularly as a busy executive or leader experienced in the tension between developing leaders around you and meeting the demands of the organization.  From the definitions above several observations are important to identify. Mentoring is:

  1. Relational/personal/intimate – assumes that one of the two has the degree of emotional intelligence needed to endure immaturity because of the potential seen in another person.
  2. Intentional – because of his or her experience the mentor sees what is needed to succeed in the larger context, the mentee sees what is needed in the immediate context.  This reciprocal agenda is characteristic of adult learning styles.
  3. Empowering – the result of this relationship is that the mentee is empowered in their capacity of accomplishment and being.
  4. Opportune – these points of empowerment are fitting to specific periods of development. Mentoring needs change with time and the developmental stages of the mentee.  This relates back to the dynamic character of the mentoring relationship.

Functional Categories To expand the definition of mentoring toward actionable strategies researchers identify a variety of distinct mentoring functions that also occur in a continuum of involvement indicating more deliberate to less deliberate or more intensive to less intensive personal involvement. All researchers essentially start with the mentoring types identified by either Kathy E. Kram or J. Robert Clinton to define the activity of mentoring and its empowering function toward the mentee.  The Table 1 below identifies their respective lists of mentoring types.

Table 1: Mentoring Functions Identified


Clinton and Clinton[2]

Exposure & visibility




Challenging assignments

Role modeling

Acceptance – confirmation






Contemporary model


Historical model

Divine contact

Spiritual guide


Notice the similarities and the differences in the two lists. Clinton and Clinton write from a faith-based perspective used in many Christian organizations and congregations.  Kram writes from a business perspective familiar with the demands of a global enterprise. Kram further differentiates her list by identifying career and psychosocial functions thus paying attention to a holistic development in leadership i.e., the reality that without solid social skills great technicians make lousy leaders.[3]

  • Career: those aspects of relationship that enhance career advancement.
  • Psychosocial: shoes aspects of the relationship that enhance sense of competence, identity, and effectiveness in a professional role.

Clinton and Clinton further differentiate their list by identifying a continuum of involvement in terms of the kind of empowerment, deliberateness, depth and awareness of effort.  Clinton differentiates these three aspects of the continuum based on the dynamics involved that determine the depth and awareness of the effort involved.[4]

  • Active mentoring: implies that both the mentor and the mentee must be active in their respective responsibilities inherent in the dynamics i.e., attraction, relationship, responsiveness, accountability, empowerment.
  • Occasional mentoring: implies that the degree of involvement needed is less intensive than active mentoring and that the dynamics involved include attraction, responsiveness and empowerment but not necessarily relationship and accountability.
  • Passive mentoring: implies the least intensive involvement of the mentoring types where the dynamics include attraction, responsiveness and empowerment but are devoid of relationship.  Accountability may or may not be a part of these functions.

I synthesize the models of Kram and Clinton in my work in developing leaders cf. Table 2.

Table 2: Wheeler’s Synthesis of Mentoring Functions


Active mentoring

Occasional mentoring

Passive mentoring

Career Functions

Coaching – skills, insight to informal and political processes

Trainer – knowledge and its application

Exposure & visibility – preparation for greater responsibility

Protection – reduction of unnecessary risks or criticism

Sponsorship – opportunity for advancement

Challenging assignments – development of technical or managerial skills

Psychosocial Functions

Discipler – habits, spiritual formation

Counseling – advice on personal concerns

Role model – values identification & clarification

Friendship – a sounding board, perspective

Acceptance & confirmation – self-differentiation in a relationship in which conflict is safe

Divine contact – guidance in decisions

It is important as a mentor to differentiate between the functions and types of mentoring for several reasons:

  1. Identify your own strengths as a mentor and focus on those mentee relationships or encounters that you can leverage best for the mentee’s development.  Passive mentoring functions show that direct long-term personal involvement is not a prerequisite to every mentoring action.   This is important particularly for those leaders whose scope of responsibility is large thus cutting down on the amount of time available for hands-on mentoring assignments.
  2. Identify the time constraints required in the functions and types of mentoring activity.  Leadership development is the first order of task for a leader – however highly effective leaders already have full schedules.  Awareness of one’s mentoring style and the amount of time demand inherent in the functions and types of mentoring activity allow the leader to sequence their involvement in the lives of emerging and established leaders.
  3. Conduct a mentoring function analysis of available mentoring functions within your organization.  Determine whether the organization possessed the mentoring bandwidth to effectively develop leaders at all levels of the organization or if it needs outside assistance.
  4. Conduct a mentee need analysis to decide what types of mentoring activity an emergent or an incumbent leader needs to help them through a boundary period in their development.

Conclusion Mentoring often takes place without the official titles of mentor and mentee.  Any time informal training takes place (that is training outside the classroom or outside the training room) a mentoring function transpires. The definitions above outline the advantages of formalizing definitions of mentoring.  It is obvious in the research literature that those organizations that commit to developing a highly functional mentoring culture show a higher degree of success in reproducing leaders.  Where organizations fail to give a high degree of facilitation and oversight mentoring occurs far less often and with much fewer results. Mentoring contributes to employee retention and a higher quality of leadership interaction in organizations that develop mentoring programs.  As will be clear in the next article, effective mentoring – such as that modeled by Jethro and Moses in the earlier article, http://raywheeler.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/7-tools-mentors-use-to-affirm-effective-leadership/, is particularly important during times of organizational transition. Dollar for dollar the use of mentoring in any organization shows a much higher return than any other form of employee development because mentoring is (1) just in time input based on the learning needs and style of the employee; (2) mentoring requires far fewer resources than any other form of training and (3) mentoring adapts to market conditions faster than any other form of training.

[1] Kathy E. Kram. Mentoring at Work: Developmental Relationships in Organizational Life (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1988), 23.
[2] J. Robert Clinton and Richard W. Clinton. The Mentoring Handbook: Detailed Guidelines and Helps for Christian Mentors and Mentorees (Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1991), 2-24.
[3] Kram, 23.
[4] Clinton & Clinton, 2-24.


The Leadership Challenge – Why Mentors are Needed
Is it better to improve what exists or create what isn’t yet?[1]  Today’s context requires that a leader do both.  Leaders face the tension of living in the present and the future simultaneously.  In today’s world the rate of change often exceeds a leader’s ability to define change.  As one author points out change has changed.

Leaders today must own two important factors of success.  First is faith.  Faith summons us to live in the present as though the future were here now.  Without faith leaders tend to show the mediocrity that leads their organizations to live as though they were bound to the past than the future.  Even once great organizations find themselves irrelevant, powerless and more connected to the past than the future.  Their best people seem muddled and their leaders hamstrung.

Second, effective leaders all have mentors. If any leader in history seems to be exempt from the need of having a mentor it was Moses.  Moses had a face to face and daily relationship with God according to the scriptures. Who needs a mentor when one can check in with the Almighty?  The lesson seems to be that connection with God does not make independent super hero as much as it shapes authentic humanity that recognizes the interdependence of relationship that plays such a significant role in human development.

Moses and the children of Israel had experienced one of the greatest miracles of history in the Exodus from Egypt but when they landed in the wilderness they faced a problem, the success of the past would not carry them into the future unless they connected to the future than the past as their point of reference.  Moses ran smack into the limitations of leadership capacity on the one hand and the necessity for expanding his capacity as a leader on the other.

Mentors Play a Critical Role in Leadership Development

When entering a harbor ship Captains often use experienced “pilots” to guide their vessels safely to dock.  A pilot is familiar with the channel, hazards, currents and traffic the ship will face.  As great a leader Moses was he needed a pilot at one point – a mentor to help him understand his own blind spots and develop an appropriate strategy for moving forward.  Jethro served as Moses’ pilot or mentor.  Jethro “piloted” Moses through new leadership terrain (cf. Exodus 18).  Jethro modeled the tone as well as the content of an effective mentor.  The encounter between Jethro and Moses offer seven insights into an effective mentoring relationship.  Consider the following insights. How do these observations reflect the approach you take with mentees?  What insights can you glean to improve the effectiveness of your own mentoring?  I extracted the observations below from Exodus 18:1-27.  What tools did Jethro use to enhance Moses’ leadership capacity?


Jethro journeyed to the wilderness to meet Moses and Israel.  Principle: Effective mentoring occurs out of relationship.  Mentoring or consultations of any type do not take place or give help if engaged in as a backseat driver or detached prognosticator.  Mentors are often incarnations of divine assistance. The bottom line is a mentor knows you, initiates contact and identifies with your unique situational challenges and strengths.


Jethro heard of all that God had done.  Principle: Effective mentors are attentive to the needs of their mentees.  They act on what they hear or see.  Mentors have the ability to see the wider perspective of purpose and meaning.  Mentoring is not a one-size-fits-all approach but an approach that seeks exposure to the leader’s context, a larger frame of reference and sensitivity to the direction of the Holy Spirit. It is a personal and at times nearly an intimate interaction that identifies with the leader and empathize with their situation and personal victories and challenges.


“I your father-in-law Jethro; am coming to you.” Principle: Effective mentoring possesses and expresses a passion for leaders.  Jethro’s relationship to Moses resulted from the marriage of Moses to Jethro’s daughter.  If a mentor does his or her job well they will foremost act out of care and respect for leaders. Benevolence as a motivation helps reduce barriers to advice and understands that a foundation of honest communication and respect is an essential ingredient to building trust.


“Jethro said, ‘blessed be the Lord, who delivered you…’”  Principle: A mentor must not only see things to improve they must start with things to celebrate.  Note that up to this point Jethro had done nothing but see and understand the context, goals, past and present work Moses was involved in.  A significant part of any mentoring engagement or consultation takes place in celebrating the accomplishments and the passion from which the leader draws both courage and vision.  It reinforces the leader, demonstrates respect for what the leader has accomplished and sets the stage for the leader to express or recognize any boundaries to the development of their capacity as a leader as demanded by their situation.


“You will surely wear out; both yourself and these people…Now listen to me.  I will give you counsel.” Principle: The benefit of mentoring is introduced – Jethro’s observations based on his wider perspective and appreciation for the great work God was doing in Israel had two primary goals; that Moses successfully engage his task with energy and endurance and that the people embrace their changing destiny and situation with peace.  Jethro diagnosed and prescribed with sensitivity to the context and the insight of experience and intuition.  Warning: a double jeopardy exists in an overburdened leader – the leader and the people wear out.  This one-two punch guarantees that an organization will eventually suffer a collapse and if left untreated die.


Moses listened.  Principle: The best mentors in the world are worthless if a leader or leadership team is unwilling to listen to questions, direction and carry out a plan that applies the advice.  Mentoring and consultation is a partnership that culminates in new implementation and immediate follow-through.

Punctuated Time Frame

“Then Moses bade farewell to his father-in-law, and did all he said.”   Principle: Effective mentors know when to disengage from directive communication. When the mentee owns the implementation of a new concept mentoring is a success.  This is sometimes called “freezing change” – mentors know when change must be frozen and consolidated in action.  When Moses and Israel accepted the need for altering their leadership and followership behaviors they experienced a revitalized perspective.  This observation reinforces the reality that effective mentors own a clear sense of their own identity and do not engage leaders as trying to shore up their own sense of importance, value or influence.  This is not to say that mentoring is not rewarding but that mentors who work out of their own need for recognition ultimately attempt to suppress the important step toward differentiation and interdependence the mentee most make to be a healthy leader.


Jethro’s approach to Moses illustrates a mentoring framework that mentors today would do well to use. Notice that Jethro’s approach builds a foundation and then leverages Moses’ capabilities forward.  See Figure 1.

Figure 1: A Model Mentoring Approach

Figure 1 represents a model approach to mentoring that provides guidance to emerging and experienced mentors alike.  Try working through these steps in your next mentoring conversation and see how it impacts the readiness of the mentee to listen to advice.

Who are your mentors? Are you listening?  In what ways have you altered your behaviors as a leader?  Who do you mentor?  Do you know when to engage and when to disengage?  Do you exercise the discipline and skill of honest feedback? Do you celebrate your mentee’s successes with them in front of their followers?

In the next article I will offer a synthesis of this approach to mentoring and organizational development cycles.  I invite your comments – share your experience.

[1] Ken Blanchard and Terry Waghorn.  Mission Possible (San Francisco, CA: McGraw Hill, 1997),  xxi.


When Leaders Hide – Bureaucracy or Structure what is the Difference?

Bureaucracy by definition is a system of administration based upon organization into bureaus, division of labor, a hierarchy of authority, etc.: designed to dispose of a large body of work in a routine way.  Bureaucracies work well if the work is routine. However a limited number of tasks in today’s environment of rapid discontinuous change that are best done by systems.  Bureaucracies work well in interfacing with government regulations or analyzing past performance.  What makes bureaucracy go wrong?  Bureaucracies go awry when leaders lose courage, lose energy or fear they not be able to arise to the challenges at hand it is easier to create barriers to protect the status quo.  Hiding behind the status quo is never a means of identifying and releasing new leaders or of refining the effectiveness of an organization’s operations.
Bureaucracy becomes a means by which management insulates themselves from the fierce conversations they must have with their employees and direct reports when it takes on any of the following characteristics. Here are a few of the poor practices I have seen and suggestions for reversing these poor practices.

  • Erect buffers and baffles. One VP created a web-based form to manage requests for interaction from his direct reports to avoid face to face interaction. After creating the form he hired a secretary to serve as an extra buffer.  Suggestion: take time to interact with your direct reports especially in times of conflict.  Insulating yourself not only frustrates direct reports it undermines trust, sets up power plays that cut efficiency and contributes to an exodus of your best talent.
  • Design policies to avoid dealing with a problem employee.  The director announced a new organization wide policy designed to address the misdeeds of one person the result was not enhanced efficiency – it dispirited and penalized the most productive by imposing ridiculous restrictions. Suggestion: personally debrief the problem employee offering feedback on what behavior is unacceptable and set proper limits for future behavior.  Define the consequences of future violations and then stick to guidelines outlined in the feedback.
  • Absorb, avoid and redirect.   The president simply ignored his emails and refused to acknowledge those who attempted to talk with him about anything he deemed controversial. This behavior ignores critical communication.  Suggestion: listen to the feedback of your direct reports – it provides insight into the impact of your behavior on others and insight into the situation that demands your attention.
  • Launch into threatening tirades. When leaders feel threatened or challenged by creativity or differences of opinion some launch intimidation tactics meant to subdue the perceived threat.  Suggestion: stop and think.  What has triggered your anger?  A threat? Before launching on the employee explore the theat.  Use the opportunity to mentor your employees and test your own responses. After your interaction debrief with your coach to check your own leadership capacity.
  • Responsibility hopscotch (also called delegation on a bungee cord).  Leaders who don’t know how to mentor and name their direct reports’ capabilities may panic when they see assignments go sideways. Rather than intervene with questions and directives that name capability gaps they pull back key assignments and do it themselves. While this may serve the short-term to “save” a project or assignment it does nothing to develop the employee’s capabilities. Often it does little more than train employees that they can by-pass accountability knowing that the boss will step in and do it himself. Suggestion: ask yourself how well the pattern of “rescuing” your employees is working.  Who is doing your job if you are doing their job?  Is this pattern of behavior sustainable?  Does it generate value? Seek out feedback from a trusted mentor or coach to expand your leadership capabilities.
  • Demand performance based on assumed communication and standards.  Unspoken expectations are unknown. While this makes sense when I write it I am still surprised when I watch leaders express react in anger and frustration because their employees could not intuit their preferences. There is a difference between employees practicing critical thinking and demands that they intuit personal preferences. Suggestion: explain your expectations as well as the task and ask employees to clarify what you have said to make sure that you have communicated effectively.  Do not rely on written instructions alone when a significant assignment is on the line. Written instructions often contain implicit background or expectations that the reader does not have.


How do you handle a boss who exhibits this kind of behavior?  If you are the boss how did you change?  What was the catalyst to change?