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If You Aren't Mentoring, You Aren't Leading

Chip Bell explains why mentoring is a vital part of the 'learning organization.'

Chip Bell is one of America’s top consultants, trainers, and speakers on customer service and leadership. The author or co-author of 20 books, Bell has worked with Ritz-Carlton, GE, Microsoft, State Farm, Harley-Davidson, and many other companies. In this interview, I ask Chip to describe how and why leaders should make mentoring a core competency.

Chip Bell

How should a company founder or a senior executive approach mentoring, given today's hypercompetitive business environment, where speed and results seem to take precedence over everything else?

In today's time-crunched work world, mentors can often be impatient, and that renders mentoring superficial and ineffective. So, first, make it a priority. Start with where the protégé is, not where you want him or her to be. Both the mentor and the protégé must focus on the quality of the learning process rather than rushing to the outcome. This is not to say that mentoring needs to be a long, leisurely dialogue that somehow takes place away from the chaotic highs and lows of a busy enterprise. But there must be time for a complete experience, from rapport building at the beginning to a where-do-we-go-from-here? wrap-up. You have to make time for focused listening, meaningful reflection, and the sincere communication of interest and concern.

How do protégés  find mentors, and how do mentors find protégés?

For people interested in serving as mentors, start with people you directly supervise. The old-fashioned view of mentoring as working with someone outside your chain of command is no longer relevant. All leaders must be mentors, especially to those they directly influence. Arie de Guies wrote in his book The Living Company that, "Your ability to learn faster than your competition is your only competitive sustainable advantage." Leaders create learning organizations. For the would-be protégé, select a mentor who can help you be the best you can be, not one you think can help you get a promotion. And remember that you often learn more from people who are different rather than just like you.

In your book Managers as Mentors [co-authored with Marshall Goldsmith], you describe the SAGE model of mentoring. Can you explain it?

That model is built around the belief that great mentoring requires four core competencies, each of which addresses a specific challenge but which can be applied in many ways. The first is Surrendering: level the learning field so it is power free. Because learning is a door opened only from the inside, surrendering is about partnership and building rapport. Accepting is all about creating a safe, secure haven for learning.  Mentoring involves public risk taking; when mentors demonstrate curiosity and encouragement, they telegraph acceptance. Gifting pertains to sharing your advice, feedback, focus, experiences, and support in ways that facilitate insight and enable your protégé to gain true understanding. Finally, Extending promotes an effective transfer of learning from the mentoring-protégé relationship to real-world application. It is about nurturing protégé independence and self-direction. The ultimate goal of mentoring is not learning; it is learning that leads to achievement and results.

From an organizational perspective, is it important to have a culture of mentoring that starts from the top?

Today's organizations succeed if they are growth oriented, excellence focused, and innovative. Growth is all about change, and so is learning. Excellence is about a pursuit of betterment, and so is learning. Innovation is about unfreezing old ways to find new ways, and so is learning. So companies need to make learning part of their DNA. What do leaders do in a learning organization? They mentor!

If you had to fit that on a bumper sticker, how would you sum it up?

Be humble, curious, courageous, and willing to share what you know in a collaborative partnership.

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IMAGES: Getty Images, Courtesy Subject
Last updated: May 16, 2014


While Peter Economy has spent the better part of two decades of his life slugging it out mano a mano in the management trenches, he is also the best-selling author of Managing for Dummies, The Management Bible, Leading Through Uncertainty, and more than 75 other books, with total sales in excess of two million copies. He has also served as associate editor for Leader to Leader for more than 10 years, where he has worked on projects with the likes of Jim Collins, Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and many other top management and leadership thinkers. Sign up here to always stay up to date with Peter's latest columns, and visit him anytime at

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