Are you a mentor?

At every workshop I do with experienced credit union leaders I ask for a show of hands, “Are you currently mentoring someone?”

The results are surprising––and somewhat disheartening! In a room with 50 participants, the average response is about 2 to 3 hands. I also ask aspiring CU leaders if they have a mentor; the response is about the same. Year after year, workshop after workshop the results are woefully consistent.

I usually ask the question after showing a slide citing a Stanford University Study. This study revealed the most pressing professional development needs identified by leaders today. Here’s what’s on the slide:
“Another critical area of development for CEOs was mentoring skills––developing internal talent.”
ANOTHER critical area? I lose my mind every time I show this slide…


What is more important than developing the people you serve, particularly in the area of leadership? Put another way––how much can you accomplish by yourself?

No leader operates as a lone wolf. In fact, the very definition of “leadership” rests on your ability to coordinate, inspire and provide guidance to other people. Your effectiveness as a leader depends entirely on your capacity to cultivate the talents and abilities of the people you serve and your ability to inspire their best efforts.

Your power as a leader, that is your ability to get things done grows in direct proportion to how much you empower others. And there is no method more powerful in developing new talent than mentoring.

In my “8 STRATEGIES for EFFECTIVE LEADERS,” number 7 is: “Be a dedicated teacher, coach, and mentor.” 
That’s what the idea of THE SENSEI LEADER is all about. The word “Sensei” is used in the martial arts world to designate a teacher. The most effective leaders are those who understand that leadership is sharing.


You share leadership by teaching––helping others develop. The most direct way to help an aspiring leader develop is by serving as a mentor.

One argument I hear is that no individual leader, especially the CEO, can possibly commit the time required for effective mentoring to everyone in the organization.

First of all, please note that I do not ask how many people you’re mentoring––I simply ask if you’re mentoring anyone! I fully acknowledge that mentoring is an intimate process. I cannot imagine anyone capable of mentoring more than one or two people effectively at any one time––unless mentoring is your full-time job.

Mentoring is a very personal relationship. You should choose someone who you feel would benefit from your interest and wisdom, and someone who will be responsive to your personal and professional style.

For most leaders, the most important person you should be mentoring is your potential successor!

Now believe me, when we discuss this in workshops there are any number of reasons someone might be hesitant to groom a replacement. These reasons are understandable, but they are shortsighted. I’d go one step further to say that unless you’re grooming your replacement, you’re simply not doing your job.

In a good culture, the type of culture I find in most CUs, there should be no worries. Training your replacement should not constitute a threat to your position. If you’re an effective leader in a strong organization, they’re not going to move you out––they’re going to move you up!

Training the next leader assures that you can explore new opportunities knowing you’re leaving your organization, your department or your team in good hands.

So how to find someone you can mentor…

It’s not complicated.

First of all, someone may be looking for YOU!

Who is asking the most questions?

Who seems most engaged and most interested in what you’re doing?

Who has expressed the most interest in advancement?

Who is acting before they’re asked? Demonstrating positive autonomy?

Who is taking the most advantage of training opportunities?

Who most embodies your vision and sense of purpose?

Who shows the most character, emotional intelligence, and interpersonal skill?

Of course, you must still weigh professional competency. Knowledge in one’s domain is crucial for leadership, however, bear in mind that it is far easier to bring someone up to speed in technical areas than in character development or soft skills.

Finally, be sure this is someone you trust. You will be sharing your knowledge, wisdom, and experience on a deep level. You certainly do not want to enter a mentoring relationship with someone who will abuse your trust and confidence.

Once you identify someone you truly feel you can help, then simply ask. You don’t need to be intrusive or patronizing, just express your recognition of their potential and offer to share what you can to help them reach their goals.

Tom Peters wrote:

“Leaders don’t create followers. They create more leaders.”

That’s what it’s all about. Mr. Peters most definitely understands the meaning of “Sensei!”

Jim Bouchard

Jim Bouchard

Jim Bouchard is an internationally recognized speaker, Leadership Activist, and founder of The SENSEI LEADER Movement™. He’s the author of 8 leadership books, and hosts Walking The Walk, a ... Web: Details