How Many Mentors Should a Leader Have?
By: Randy Wolken, President & CEO

There is a lot of talk these days about having mentors.  I know of some companies that also have reverse mentors so that senior leaders can be guided in how to best work closely with the younger staff members of their organizations.  So, how many mentors should a leader have?

I recently heard that each of us should embrace the following equation:  + – = (plus, minus, equal).  Essentially, we usually only truly learn important lessons by having a mentor (a plus), someone we teach or mentor (a minus), and someone to challenge us (an equal).  Makes sense to me. Why not learn from others’ experiences.  Also, we learn best when we teach what we know to someone else.  And, we go the extra mile when we are challenged.  If this is the case, and I have seen its power in my own life, then everyone is someone we can learn with and from.  And, by its logical extension, we can have an unlimited amount of mentors and be one for anyone willing to learn from us.

Learning something from each person we meet and offering our experience to any who wish to have it sets the stage for a continuous learning experience. However, it does take one important characteristic – humility.  For if we “know it all,” we certainly cannot learn much.

This is where leaders seem to make the biggest error.  We believe we get paid to know the answers instead of for asking the right questions.  Ever seen a job posting where “asks great questions” is listed as a desired qualification?  Probably not.  I know I have never seen one – and, in my role, I get to see lots of them. Why is that?

Over the course of our careers we are rewarded for “knowing” and “doing” stuff.  And, the longer we work, we get reward for knowing and doing more.  I think the time has come to start rewarding our team for asking great questions, for seeing and utilizing everyone as a + – = (plus, minus, equal) and for being humble enough to admit we do not know it all.  Would such a process help your organization?  I bet it would!

So, how do we “get the ball rolling”?  We model it.  We use such phrases as “can you help me?” and “what do you think?” and “can I help you?” frequently.  We say things like “honestly, I don’t know” and “can you mentor me on this issue?” and “can I share something that works for me?”  When we acknowledge that we can use their help and offer ours humbly, the whole dynamic within a relationship changes.  We are in it together – and not trying to make it alone without the assistance of others.  We can then express, gratitude for all that the other offers or allows us to offer.  Reciprocity is the secret to a satisfying relationship – and growth.

January is the time for New Year’s Resolutions.  Maybe one of this year’s resolutions should be to see everyone as a + – = (plus, minus, equal) and use this approach to value all that each person can be for our on-going growth and development.