Sunday, 17 October 2010

Nobody Needs A Mentor

Those readers of HR Case Studies who are familiar with the work of David Clutterbuck will inevitably be aware of his highly successful book Everyone Needs a Mentor. If it does what it say on the tin:
Mentoring is the most cost efficient and sustainable method of fostering and developing talent within your organisation. Talented employees can be stretched to perform even better by exposure to high performing colleagues. Experience can be passed on more effectively one-to-one. Mentoring works. This book tells you how.
As it's a Sunday, let's look at an alternative approach, once more culled from the management wisdom of Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago.
I've been asked literally thousands of times to be a mentor to someone. On occasions the request came from people who flew from another continent for the sole purpose of waiting by my car to get the opportunity to ask me personally to mentor them.

What concerned me more than their temerity was the expectation behind the question - "Would you be willing to listen to and counsel me, mold me and shape me, direct me and instruct me and hold me accountable? Would you, O Great Mentor-to-Be, please serve as my all-knowing, all sufficient, all powerful, omnipresent confidant and master, teacher and exhorter, friend and guide?

Truth be told, they didn't really want me. They wanted Obi-Wan Kenobi. One basic problem: He isn't for hire.
Hybels gives some sound advice which is well worth thinking about by all those involved in any form of mentoring:
  • There are hundreds of mentors that are available to any individual. Don't see one person as the fount of all knowledge, It may take several different mentors to find what you're looking for, so think creatively about enlisting mentorship aid.
  • You don't need to have met someone to be mentored by them. Listen to great leaders speak. Go to hear them at conferences and on TV.
  • Get mentored by dead people. Find the writings of people who cover the areas you need mentoring in. As Hybels puts it, "The men themselves are long gone, but their mentoring influence lives on. How cool is that?"
In short, follow the advice of Hybels:
There's no quicker way to repel an accomplished leader than to beg him or her to be your own personal wizard. Ditch the Obi-Wan dream and instead seize creative opportunities to learn from a distance from thousands of mentors who have a wealth of wisdom to share.


  1. Great post.

    As a mentee, I'd agree that Hybels's advice is spot on. I am required to have a single mentor as part of my current personal development programme and, whilst I gain incredibly valuable insights from my relationship with her, I think my mentor would agree that I learn from a range of people - both within my organisation and from other walks of life, whether I know them personally or not.

    We also agreed from the outset that she would not have all the answers but that she would present a different point of view and challenge me sometimes and, on that basis, it seems to be working...

  2. Thanks for the post Jennifer.

    Good to have a view from someone who's actually involved in the process. I think that there's a link between the idea expressed in Hybels' comments and those in the "HBS: Harvard Business School or Half-Baked Silliness?" item and it's this: if an idea seems to good to be true, it probably is, regardless of whether that idea is putting all your eggs in the basket of one person to solve all your problems, or "just relaxing" your way to business success!