Principles of Mentoring

Are you mentoring someone?  Thinking about mentoring someone?  Are you being mentored?  The importance of mentoring is regularly discussed, but often, there is little practical advice about how to go about it.  Here are some key principles to keep in mind during a mentoring relationship.  

(The video below contains highlights of keynote address delivered by Kathy Coder and Valerie Faust to the PA Federation of Republican Women on May 19, 2012.)

Importance of Leading Oneself

Leadership is about influence, service, and transformation.  First, leadership does not come from positional authority; rather it is based on influence.  Second, it is the leader’s job to serve the people.  For as leadership-expert Larry Spears states, “True leadership emerges from those whose primary motivation is a deep desire to help others and see them grow” (1998, p. 3).  Finally, successful leadership is about transformation—the transformation of individuals, organizations, and even broader culture.  It is in this transformation piece where professional development plays a key role.

Transforming culture requires transforming organizations and institutions, and transforming organizations and institutions requires transforming individuals.  Therefore, culture cannot be transformed without individuals being transformed.  As Peter Drucker (1999, p. 11) writes, “The need to manage oneself is therefore creating a revolution in human affairs.”  Essentially, one must effectively lead oneself before attempting to lead others.

Once one has taken the time to understand oneself: personality, learning styles, strengths, weaknesses, etc., one has the responsibility to understand that others are just as unique.  Then, instead of rejecting those differences, one is able to see them as complements.  It allows one to create and lead a team where others’ strengths balance one’s own weaknesses.  Or, in the words of strengths-expert Marcus Buckingham (2008), “A great team player volunteers his strengths to the team most of the time and deliberately partners with people who have different strengths.”

The important question then becomes, how does one lead oneself?  One important way one can learn to lead oneself is through professional development.  Some professional development tools we use at Inta-Great include: the DiSC Profile, The 360 DiSC, StrengthsFinder 2.0 and Strengths Based Leadership, The Truth About You, and a listening profile—among other things.  All of these assessments are meant to help individuals understand more about themselves and the way they think, feel, and act.  On top of these tools, identifying personal values, writing personal mission and/or vision statements, setting SMART goals for one’s life, and developing a relationship with a mentor are all great professional development exercises.  And more formally, professional courses/seminars and advanced education also constitute professional development.  And yet, professional development is not only confined to resources outside of oneself, for as Donald Schon (1983) is quick to point out, the reflective practitioner is a resource onto himself.

The reflective practitioner is one who engages in reflection-in-action as a means of professional development.  Reflection-in-action takes place when one thinks about what he or she is doing while he or she is doing it.  This allows one to conduct mini-experiments, apply theory to a situation, and, in real-time, evolve the theory until the desired results are achieved.  This reflection-in-action allows one to recognize the tacit understandings which have been guiding one’s actions, perhaps even hindering one’s effectiveness (Schon, 1983).  Schon (1983, p. 68) sums it up when he says, “When someone reflects-in-action, he becomes a researcher in the practice of context….[he] constructs a new theory of the unique case.”

Overall, professional development, through both external resources and internal reflection-in-action, is the foundation of self-leadership.  Then, self-leadership is the basis for personal transformation.  And finally, personal transformation is “the breath that sustains our ability to lead others” thereby transforming organizations and institutions, and ultimately culture (Manz, 2001, p. 16).


  • Buckingham, M. (2008). The truth about you: Your secret to success. [Video]. (Available from Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN)
  • Drucker, P. (1999). Managing oneself. Harvard Business Review, 77(2), 64-74.
  • Manz, C. (2001). The leadership wisdom of Jesus. San Francisco: Brett-Koehler.
  • Schon, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. NY: Basic Books.
  • Spears, L.C. (Ed.) (1998) Insight in leadership. New York: Wiley.

Leading Change

New years tend to bring new resolutions. Are you trying to implement some changes inside your organization?  If so, remember, consistent communication reinforces the change process.  What some more information?  Here’s a link to an overview of John Kotter’s classic article, “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail.”